Depression: more than feeling low

We all experience intense sadness from time to time. This could be a result of grief over the loss of a loved one, a particularly difficult break-up or a stressful work environment. However depression is different.

What is depression?

According to the NHS choices, “depression is more than simply feeling sad or fed up for a few days”. Symptoms range from lasting feelings of hopelessness and tearfulness, to a loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy. Many people with depression also have symptoms of anxiety, and feel guilt-ridden, irritable and intolerant of others, often without any explanation. Contrary to popular belief, depression also has physical symptoms, which include moving or speaking more slowly than usual, a change in appetite or weight (usually weight loss), constipation, unexplained aches and pains, a lack of energy or lack of interest in sex, changes to the menstrual cycle and disturbed sleep. 

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How is it treated?

If you suffer from these symptoms every day for more than two weeks, your should seek advice from your GP. Some of us still do not recognise that depression is a real illness, however it is not something you can simply ‘snap out of’ or dismiss. It needs specific treatment, and the type of treatment will depend on its severity. If you suspect that you may be suffering from depression, a chat with your GP will not only help you to diagnose the condition, but also establish what sort of depression you are suffering from and what treatment is best for you. There are no physical tests for depression specifically; it is most likely that your GP will carry out a physical check of your general health first, to make sure that there are no underlying medical problems such as an underactive thyroid (a symptom of which is depression). Once other possible problems are ruled out, your doctor will ask you a lot of questions about how you feel mentally and physically to try and determine if you have depression and how severe it may be. It is extremely important that you are as honest as possible with your doctor, as the sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you will start to feel better. Once you GP has made a diagnosis, the next step will be formulating a treatment plan based on whether the depression is mild, moderate or severe. 

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How to cope with…

…mild depression

If diagnosed with mild depression, the good news is that your depression may go away by itself. The best treatment is to incorporate exercise into your daily routine – a proven aid in the battle against depression. Also, talking through your feelings with trusted confidents such as close friends, family or a local self-help group is also incredibly beneficial. This will help to assure that you are not alone, and there is plenty of support available out there. Your doctor will keep a close eye on you during this period, and will monitor your progress in order to determine whether your condition has improved or whether you need further treatment. 

…moderate depression

If after a few more weeks you find you still have mild depression, which is not improving, or becomes progressively worse, your GP may recommend a type of psychotherapy or ‘talking therapy’. The most common type is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which teaches you how to overcome negative thoughts and challenge hopeless feelings. You could also undergo counselling or interpersonal therapy (IPT), which focuses on your relationships and the way you communicate with other. 

…severe depression

In instances of severe depression, your GP will prescribe medication in the form of antidepressants. Your doctor will also recommend a combination of both antidepressants and therapy, depending on the severity of your depression. A combination of CBT, IPT or counselling together with an antidepressant, usually works better than just one of these treatments. A team of mental health specialists including psychiatrists, psychologists, and specialist nurses will be on hand to monitor your progress and provide intensive sprecialist talking treatments.

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