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What is depression?

Depression is an illness that can affect how you feel and behave for weeks or months at a time. When you're depressed, your low mood lasts, affecting your sleep, relationships, job and appetite. Some people may even feel so bad that they have thoughts of suicide. Even though you may be feeling bleak, there is much you can do to help get onto the road to recovery.

Depression is a change in mood, behaviour and feelings that can have subtle or dramatic effects on:

  • how you think
  • how you regard yourself, your life and the world
  • how well you cope with life’s problems
  • your ability to perform daily activities or still get satisfaction or enjoyment from them or the company of others.

The exact cause of depression is unknown. Sometimes depression appears out of the blue, other times something seems to trigger it.

Depression can start at any age - from childhood through to old age. Most often it starts in the mid-20s, and it is more common in the 25 to 45-year-old age group.

People with depression often have other problems such as anxiety disorders, substance use disorders and personality disorders, and may engage in deliberate self-harm. Very severe depression can result in symptoms of psychosis (loss of contact with reality).

Depression can be effectively treated, and people will usually recover from it. The earlier effective treatment is started, the better the chance of recovery.

If you think you or someone you know is depressed, look for the signs and talk to them. Your support is important.

What to look for

Not everyone with depression will complain of sadness or a persistent low mood. They may have other signs of depression such as sleep problems. Others will complain of vague physical symptoms.

Signs to look for in yourself or a loved one include:
  • persistent low, sad or depressed mood 
  • loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities
  • irritable mood
  • change in sleeping patterns
  • change in appetite
  • decreased energy, tiredness and fatigue
  • physical slowing or agitation
  • thoughts of worthlessness or guilt
  • thoughts of hopelessness and death
  • difficulty thinking clearly.
Depression is very common and can affect anyone.
  • One in six people sometime in their life and one in seven young people, experience depression.
  • It affects women more than men, but men seem less likely to recognise the problem and seek help.
  • Men are at risk of dismissing the signs and become anxious, angry or fatigued by it or use alcohol to try to shut out the feelings.
  • Depression is also common during and after pregnancy.
  • Other risk groups include older people or people who are unwell due to other illnesses, or after surgery.

If some of these symptoms affect you often over the course of a few weeks it may help to talk to your doctor. If your thoughts include self-harm or suicide you should get urgent medical help or free call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 anytime for support.

How can you look after yourself?

There are a number of things you can do that may help you in overcoming depression:

  • Talk to someone
    • a friend or family member
    • your GP – who will talk with you about the best treatment options
    • a counsellor or member of your local community mental health team (contact them via your GP).
    • your pharmacist - who can connect you with support teams.
  • Keep active – going for a walk or doing something active has been shown to improve mood and wellbeing. 
  • Refuel yourself with healthy food such as 5+ fruit and vegetables per day, water rather than juice, less packet food or junk food. 
  • Make time to plan and enjoy cooking a special meal at home with friends or family
  • Eat a healthy breakfast every day
  • Eating fish or taking fish oils may help.

Improvements to three aspects of your daily life can greatly affect your mood: sleep, exercise and the use of alcohol or drugs. It's really important to look after your physical wellbeing. Make sure you get an annual check-up with your doctor. Being in good physical health will also help your mental health.