Feeling down, blue, having a low mood, hopeless, feeling sad for no reason… however you describe them, if you’ve had those feelings for a while, they could be signs you have depression.

So, what is depression? It’s not just being ‘a bit down in the dumps today’; we all feel that way from time to time. It’s when those feelings don’t go away, but persist for several weeks or months, regardless of what might be happening in your life.

What depression is not is any kind of character weakness. Depression is an illness, with very real symptoms. It can affect anyone at any time. But the good news is that it also means it can be treated. However you feel now, with the right help, you can fully recover from depression.

We’re all different and depression can strike us in completely different ways. The many, varied depression symptoms include general feelings of sadness or hopelessness, low self-esteem, and feelings of guilt. You might find you’re crying all the time, you’ve stopped enjoying activities you once loved, or you’re finding it difficult to make even simple decisions.

With depression, the symptoms are long-lasting and tend to affect every area of your life. With moderate to severe depression, it’s not uncommon to withdraw from relationships, avoid social events, and feel like you’re failing at work

You can be affected physically too, with symptoms ranging from insomnia to low sex drive, pain to fatigue. If your depression is severe, you may even be having suicidal thoughts or self-harming.

There isn’t always an obvious cause of depression. But, as with any illness, some people can be more susceptible than others. If someone in your family has experienced depression before, it’s more likely that you will. The older you get, it seems, the more likely you are to suffer from depression. And difficult social and economic circumstances can also play a part.

Loneliness, certain illnesses – like cancer or heart disease – and alcohol and drug use can all increase your risk of experiencing depression.

In some cases, depression is caused by a trigger event, such as the death of a loved one, going through a divorce, or having a baby. At other times, there simply is no ‘reason’.

There are different ways to deal with depression and the best ones for you are likely to depend on the type and severity of your illness.

Effective treatments include ‘talking therapies’: getting support from a counsellor, psychotherapist or psychiatrist, who will use proven methods, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to help you recover.

Joining a support group to talk through your feelings can also be beneficial. As can self-help options, such as online CBT for depression courses and mind health and wellbeing tools.

Lifestyle changes have also been shown to help, particularly getting more exercise, but also eating a healthy diet and cutting down on alcohol.

Your doctor may recommend medication (antidepressants), in addition to talking therapy, particularly if your depression is severe.

The most important thing is to seek help, even if you feel you have mild depression. The sooner you get support, the quicker you can recover.

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