Depression: Symptoms, causes, treatment & support
What is depression?
Depression can be described as feelings of sadness, loss, or anger that interfere with a person’s everyday activities. Depression could affect any of us at any time, with one in five people in the UK reporting feeling depressed or anxious, so, if you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone. With the right treatment and support, it is possible to manage the symptoms of depression and make a full recovery. Learn more about:
- Types of depression
- Signs and symptoms of depression
- What you do to help yourself
- Treatments for depression
- How Ben can help
Most of us, at some point in our lives, experience a low mood or feeling down, which can last a few days or even a bit longer. However, when a low mood persists, lasting more than a few weeks and makes everything feel harder or less worthwhile, this can be a sign of depression. You can find out about the symptoms of depression below.
Some people think depression is not a genuine health condition. They're wrong, it’s a real illness with real symptoms. Depression is not a sign of weakness or something you can ‘snap out of’ by ‘pulling yourself together’ or ‘manning up’.
There are some specific types of depression:
If you receive a diagnosis of depression from a doctor this is called Clinical depression. Depression can be diagnosed at any age and affects people in different ways. This can include feelings of unhappiness, hopelessness and losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and usually lasts longer than two weeks.
Depression ranges in seriousness from mild to moderate to severe. You can move between these during a single depressive episode. A mild depression can be a persistent low mood while a severe depression can make you feel that life is no longer worth living.
There can be physical symptoms too, such as feeling constantly tired, sleeping badly, having no appetite or sex drive, and various aches and pains.
Some people can experience depression more than once, this is called Recurrent depressive disorder while for others their depression is triggered by a life event or trauma, this is called Reactive depression.
The good news is that there are treatments and support available. While you might not feel like treatment will help, the sooner you start, the faster you will recover.
Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a condition that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another. People with Bipolar disorder can have spells of depression, (feeling low and lethargic), episodes where they experience mania, (feeling very high or energetic), or have mixed episodes. The depression symptoms are similar to Clinical depression but the bouts of mania can include harmful behaviour such as gambling, excessive spending and other risky behaviours.
Bipolar disorder can be broken down into different types and subtypes and your doctor may diagnose you with a particular type of disorder. This is usually based on your moods and symptoms.
It’s unknown what causes bipolar disorder but experts believe there are a number of factors that work together to make a person more likely to develop it. These are thought to be a mix of physical, environmental, and social factors. For example, chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics, (it can run in families), and emotional stressors like relationship issues or even sleep disturbances.
Antenatal or postnatal depression
It is possible to get depression when you are pregnant (antenatal depression) or after having a baby (postnatal depression).
Some mood changes are normal in pregnancy but if you’re feeling low all the time, hopeless or you’re not enjoying the things you used to, you should talk to your midwife or GP. If you don’t get help while you are pregnant your symptoms can get worse and may continue after birth.
Postnatal depression can affect any parent, whether they’ve had a mental health condition in the past or not. It’s more than the ‘baby blues’ which can last up to two weeks after giving birth. It affects about 1 in 10 women within a year of giving birth. It can affect dads and partners too. It’s important to ask for help as soon as possible because your symptoms could last for months, get worse and have a significant impact on you, your baby and your family.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
SAD is also known as ‘winter depression’ because it is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern, usually affecting people in the winter although in a few cases it can be summer related.
Seasonal affective disorder usually affects people in the winter and it is thought to be linked to reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter months. The theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain (the hypothalamus) from working properly.
The hypothalamus helps regulate our body’s internal clock (also known as circadian rhythms) which uses sunlight at different times of the day, triggering our functions like when to wake us up (by producing serotonin) or help us go to sleep (by producing melatonin). The winter’s shorter days with less sunlight can mean our internal clock can get disrupted. Once the days get longer and we are exposed to more sunlight, the depression can disappear.
If you notice that you are depressed at certain times of year, contact your GP to discuss treatments. These can include things like adapting your lifestyle to get as much sunlight as possible, reducing stress levels, using light therapy to simulate exposure to sunlight, talking therapies or medication.
The symptoms of depression are varied and complex and it can affect people differently. If you are depressed you can feel sad, hopeless and lose interest in things you normally enjoy. These feelings can last for weeks or months and interfere with your work, social life and family life.
Depression can develop slowly and you might not realise or have acknowledged that you aren’t feeling or behaving as usual. Often a partner, friend or colleague might realise first that you need help and encourage you to get support.
Checklist of symptoms
There are many symptoms of depression; psychological symptoms, physical symptoms and social symptoms. You may have a mixture of the following symptoms. It is extremely unlikely to have all of them.
Symptoms of depression that can affect how you feel or behave:
- Continuous low mood or sadness
- Feeling hopeless and helpless
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling guilty
- Feeling irritable with others
- Finding it difficult to make decisions
- Not getting any enjoyment out of life
- No motivation or interest in things
- Feeling anxious and worried
- Suicidal thoughts or self-harming
Symptoms of depression that can affect you physically:
- Moving or speaking more slowly than usual
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Lack of energy
- Low sex drive
- Finding it hard to get to sleep or wake up
- Changes to menstrual cycle
Symptoms of depression that can affect you socially:
- Avoiding contact with friends and family
- Taking part in fewer social activities or engagements
- Neglecting hobbies and interests
- Having difficulties at home, work or in family life
- Struggling to stay focused
Signs of depression in men
Many of the symptoms and signs of depression are the same for both men and women. However men can show additional physical signs of depression:
- Tightness in the chest
- Digestive problems (excess wind, diarrhoea and constipation)
- Erectile dysfunction
- Lower levels of testosterone
Some men find it difficult to talk about themselves, their problems or their emotions. As a result, changes in behaviour can often be the first sign that something is wrong. They may struggle to meet responsibilities at home or work, develop destructive behaviours, (e.g. excessive alcohol, substance misuse, risky behaviours), are quick to anger or socially isolate themselves from their friends, family or colleagues.
Signs of depression in women
Although anyone can experience depression, women are twice as likely to experience depression than men. While many signs and symptoms of depression are the same for both women and men, there can be some differences which are thought to be related to the differences in hormones. Women’s hormone levels can change or fluctuate at different times in their lives such as during menstruation, pregnancy, child birth and menopause. Some physical signs of depression for women can include:
- Lack of enjoyment in hobbies or interests
- Inability to focus for long periods of time
- Feeling weak or exhausted
- Overwhelmed with feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Dramatic mood swings
Signs of depression in children
Depression is not just an adult condition, it can also affect children and young people. While some of the signs are the same as adults might experience, (sadness, tiredness, irritability, loss of enjoyment), these can often show themselves in different ways, particularly through their behaviour.
If you think your child is depressed, it’s important to talk to them. Try to find out what’s troubling them and how they are feeling. You may also find it useful to speak with other people who spend time with them like teachers or other family members. Here are some tips for talking to your child or your teenager.
Anxiety & depression - how are they linked?
Anxiety and depression have a complicated relationship. This is because someone could have either of these conditions but also experience both. Depression is a condition where someone experiences a persistent low mood or prolonged sadness. People with depression can feel anxious or worried and this can tip over to anxiety.
Anxiety is more than nervousness or worry, it is a debilitating fear. People with anxiety know that their fear is irrational but they still can’t stop it. This can cause panic attacks but also depression.
Not everyone who has depression or anxiety experiences both. It is more common for someone who experiences anxiety to develop depression if they have not had early treatment for the condition.
There is no single cause of depression. For some people a stressful or upsetting life event like the loss of a loved one, a relationship breakdown, an illness or money worries can all cause depression. It is usually a combination of causes that trigger depression. For example, you have experienced a relationship ending and have money worries. However, for some people there are no clear causes or triggers. Causes of depression can be:
- Stressful events - a bereavement, relationship breakdown, moving house, changing jobs
- Personality - low self-esteem or being overly self-critical
- Family history - someone else in your family (parent or sibling) has had depression
- Giving birth - hormonal and physical changes plus the responsibility for a baby can lead to postnatal depression.
- Loneliness - losing touch with family and friends can increase the risk of depression
- Alcohol and drugs - trying to cope by drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs can affect the chemicals in your brain and result in depression
- Illness - a long-term condition, experienced a life threatening illness and head injuries can increase the risk of depression
Try these coping strategies to help you cope with depression:
Stay in touch with friends and family. When depression hits there’s a tendency to stay within ourselves and withdraw from the outside world. If you catch yourself doing that, contact one of your friends or family members. You can find that talking or getting out and doing an activity with someone can stop the negative spiral that depression can cause.
Recognise the triggers
Take some time to work out your trigger (or triggers). It will be easier to manage your situation, improve how you feel and may even resolve some of your feelings. If you’re not sure, try writing down what you’re doing (or have been doing) each time you feel depressed - you may notice a pattern. It can reveal what makes you feel better or worse. You can download a Mood Diary template to get started.
There are lots of great podcasts out there with both experts and people who struggle to manage their mood and their mental health. Check out these recommendations and if you want something to give you a happiness boost check out these suggestions by Happify.
Find the right balance
Living a healthier lifestyle has been proven to improve our mental health. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, as can eating a healthy and balanced diet. Sleep is also extremely important – so try and get into a regular sleep routine and aim for 7-9 hours.
Being depressed can reduce your energy levels and make you feel demotivated, which might put you off exercise. However, studies have shown that getting active for more than 10 minutes per day can boost your mood and can be particularly beneficial for those with mild depression. Starting with something as simple as a brisk walk can make all the difference.
It’s all in the mind(fulness)
Mindfulness is a great way to calm your body and mind. It helps you focus on where you are right now, not about what has happened or might happen in the future. By meditating and focusing on your thoughts, feelings, sensations in your body and the world around you, can really improve your mental wellbeing. If you’re new to meditation, there are many great apps out there like Headspace, Calm & Balance to get you started.
Stay in the moment
Try, as much as possible, to stay in the present moment. Low moods and bouts of mild depression can get worse if you are focusing on a particular issue in the past or the future. Focusing on issues we can’t change or cannot control can also make us feel anxious or stressed. Staying in the present and focusing on what you can change or influence today is key.
There are different treatments for depression and the right treatment for you will depend on your symptoms and whether you have mild, moderate or severe depression. These can be a combination of lifestyle changes, talking therapies and medications.
There are various natural remedies available to help with depression. You should discuss these with your GP or pharmacist to see if they are appropriate for you and to make sure they do not conflict with any other medications you may be taking. These can include things like herbal drinks or tablets to help you sleep or supplements to help manage symptoms.
Other non-medical interventions include changes to your lifestyle such as what you eat and how you exercise.
Different types of therapy may be suggested based on the severity of your depression. You may be advised to start with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is a therapy that helps you change the way you think and behave. It aims to stop negative cycles by breaking problems down so they are more manageable.
If you work or have worked in the automotive industry, you can have free access to SilverCloud, an online CBT platform. SilverCloud focuses on the relationship between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and can help you develop positive coping strategies.
You can use SilverCloud on your own (self-help) or you can choose to be supported by one of our mental health advisors as you work through your chosen program(s). You can work through the programs at your own pace, any time, on your computer, tablet or phone.
If you have severe depression you may be referred to our mental health team for specialist talking treatments.
Antidepressants are prescribed medicines for clinical depression. They can help manage symptoms. It is thought that these medicines work by increasing the neurotransmitters in the brain. They are usually only prescribed for moderate to severe depression and often alongside other treatments like talking therapies.
If you want someone to talk to about your mental health, talk to us. We’re here to help. You can call us on 08081 311 333 or chat with us online.
We are here for anyone who works, or had worked in UK Automotive, and their family dependants. If you’re not sure if or how Ben can support you, please get in touch. Our friendly helpline team will be able to chat through your options and support you in a way that works best for you.
Other online help & resources
There are additional sources of information about depression including:
- Information about depression - https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/depression/
- Advice and practical tips - https://www.nhs.uk/every-mind-matters/
- Self-assessment quiz - https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/depression-anxiety-self-assessment-quiz/
- About depression - https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/about-depression/
Hub of hope
- Find mental health services in your area - https://hubofhope.co.uk/
- A safe place to talk - https://www.samaritans.org/
If you have been experiencing a period of feeling low or down and are struggling, get in touch with us at Ben, speak to your GP or call NHS 111. Each of these options will help you identify what type of support you might need and would benefit from.