Depression is a common condition which causes a range of emotional and physical symptoms, including persistent feelings of unhappiness. Depression is also known as clinical depression.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What is depression?

Depression is a chronic (long-term) condition that affects how you feel, think and act. Depression symptoms can affect all aspects of your life, as well as affecting your family, friends and colleagues.

Depression is a common condition which affects one in 10 people. Depression can happen to anyone, at any age. More women are diagnosed with depression than men, although this may be because women are more likely to seek help.

Some personality traits, such as low self-esteem, can make you vulnerable to depression. You’re also more likely to be depressed if:

  • A close relative has experienced depression
  • You’re older
  • You have money worries
  • You suffer from PMS

Depression affects everyone differently, with signs of depression varying from feeling low (mild depression) to suicidal thoughts (severe depression). Other types of depression include:

  • Bi-polar disorder – causes extreme mood swings and, in some cases, odd or illogical behaviour
  • Post-natal depression – overwhelming feelings which affect one in 10 new mums in the weeks following the birth of a new baby
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – depression symptoms which only occur in the winter months and are thought to be triggered by reduced sunlight

Depression can be successfully treated, often with a combination of self-help, talking therapy or counselling and anti-depressant medication.

How to tell if you have depression

There are many different signs of depression. The most common depression symptoms include:

  • Feeling very sad for weeks or months
  • Tiredness, low self-esteem, lack of motivation and/or problems concentrating
  • Feelings of depression and anxiety, stress, helplessness, guilt and/or hopelessness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Loss of sex drive (libido)
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Self-harming and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constipation

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Diagnosis and tests for depression

If you’ve had several depression symptoms every day for over two weeks, see your GP. If you’re feeling suicidal, seek medical help immediately, or call an organisation such as The Samaritans.

There’s no physical depression test. Instead, your GP will ask about your general health and your depression symptoms and how they’re affecting you.

To rule out conditions with similar symptoms, such as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), your GP may test your blood and urine.

Causes of depression

Depression can be caused by many different factors, including:

  • A traumatic event, such as bereavement, unemployment or a relationship breakdown
  • Giving birth, which can trigger post-natal depression
  • Loneliness
  • Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs
  • A head injury
  • A life-threatening or painful chronic condition, such as coronary heart disease, cancer, arthritis or premenstrual syndrome

Common treatments for depression

Your GP will recommend treatment according to your depression symptoms and the kind of depression you’ve been diagnosed with. This may involve referring you to a psychiatrist for specialist treatment.

Your treatment may involve:

  • Self-help – taking regular exercise, spending time outside, eating a healthy, balanced diet and avoiding alcohol and drugs
  • Talking therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – focuses on understanding and changing how you think and feel
  • Counselling – to help you deal with the issues at the root of your depression
  • Anti-depressant medication – to relieve your depression symptoms and restore the chemical balance in your brain

If you have severe depression that’s failed to respond to treatment, your psychiatrist may recommend electro-convulsive therapy (ECT).

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