Depression can affect anyone, at any time, regardless of gender or social background, but it can be difficult to tell whether you’re suffering from depression, or if you’re in fact lonely, sad, or run down.
By Sarah D Rees
How can you tell if you’re depressed? Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. According to Mind, depression is one of the most common, with more than 3 in every 100 people suffering from it.
Depression can affect anyone, at any time, regardless of gender or social background. But despite the stats, it can be difficult to tell whether you’re actually suffering from a bout of depression, or if you’re in fact lonely, sad, or run down. So how can you tell to ensure you receive the correct treatment?
What are common signs of depression?
Depression is much more than just feeling sad or fed up and it is experienced differently by each individual person, however there are a number of common symptoms. Depression is where you are experiencing a few of these symptoms persistently, for a number of weeks.
Common depressive symptoms usually include one or more of the following:
- Depressed mood most of the time
- Feeling tired all the time
- A sense of hopelessness
- Having reduced energy or and motivation
- Social withdrawal
- Poor sleep
- Early morning wakening
- Not gaining any pleasure from previously enjoyed activities
- Changes in appetite
- Having a sense of worthlessness
⚠️ To be diagnosed with depression you should consult your general practitioner.
How can you tell it’s depression?
Depression can creep up on us. Sometimes there’s a triggering event and often there’s not, which can make it difficult to pinpoint. You would notice not wanting to do things that you previously enjoyed or when you do you get little or no pleasure from these previously enjoyed activities.
You may notice feeling disconnected from other people and wanting to withdraw and keep yourself isolated. You may notice an increase in negative thinking patterns about yourself, your future and your life. Depression can feel like you are wearing dark glasses with a negative cognitive bias.
Sometimes there’s a triggering event and often there’s not, which can make depression difficult to pinpoint.
People close to you will be asking if you are OK and be concerned. It’s tempting to always say “I’m fine”, but use this as a way to actually check in with your emotional environment.
Other prominent indicators of depression are poor sleeping patterns; especially waking 1-2 hours earlier than usual and changes in weight from either comfort eating or having a reduced appetite.
Tips for coping with depression
Firstly it’s important to know that you are not alone, you are not weak and you can get better, as depression is very treatable. If you recognise any of the symptoms above, the first step is to go and see your doctor. It is also worth incorporating the following into your routine:
✔️ Don’t give up
Depression can feel like you are carrying around heavy weights. With every other illness you wait to feel better until you make some changes, but with depression it’s important to do things that you previously enjoyed and know the feelings will follow.
✔️ Try antidepressant activities
It can be useful to imagine that all your feel-good chemicals are low and they need to be re-energised through antidepressant activities that will stimulate them. Regular exercise for example is a great way to get your feel good chemicals stimulated and don’t feel like you have to get to the gym. A walk, being in nature and having sunlight shine on you can have some great results for mood.
✔️ Maintain your routine
Keep a good day-to-day routine ensuring that each day you do something you enjoy, something you have been putting off and something that gives you a sense of achievement. The 3 areas of enjoyment, achievement and doing something you have been putting off have been shown to improve mood.
✔️ Practise self-care
It’s important not to forget the basics; depression is an illness and will respond to lots of self-care. Keep hydrated, have regular nutritious meals and prioritise your sleep.
Depression is an illness, it’s not your choice or your fault. To work towards recovery we need to support and care for ourselves as we would do for someone we love. Developing self-compassion is an important tool in the recovery process and is about having the strength to acknowledge your suffering and being able to turn towards your suffering, so you can start to work towards getting better.
✔️ Be kind to yourself
In my clinical experience I find that people’s relationship with themselves is often a significant maintaining factor for depression as the way we speak to ourselves can be extremely harsh and critical.
CBT and depression
In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) we initially work in a behavioural way with people because a person who is depressed has a negative thinking pattern, which means talking things through can make things feel darker.
One of the first steps in CBT is to develop a detailed idea of what a persons mood is doing each day, hour by hour and then look at when their mood is better and look at what they are doing at those times and increase those mood enhancing activities.
Mindfulness and depression
Practising mindfulness can be an important step in the process of recovery. Mindfulness is helpful in allowing you to become more of an observer of your thoughts, so you notice negative thoughts and let them go rather than feeling like every negative thought depression brings to your attention is a fact.
When should you seek medical advice?
People should seek medical advice at any point if they are concerned about their mental health. If you have been experiencing low mood for over four weeks medical advice should be sought and more urgently if you experience suicidal thoughts.
Mental health support
If you think you might be suffering from depression your first port of call should be your GP. For additional support, try one of the following resources:
✔️ Anxiety UK: a charity which specifies in helping those suffering from anxiety.
✔️ The Samaritans: a charity providing support to anyone in emotional distress.
✔️ Mind: a charity that makes sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.
✔️ CALM: helping to reduce stigma and reduce rates of male suicide.