General information about depression:
Whether you or someone you know has depression, there are some general things that it can be good to understand about depression. The term depression is often used interchangeably with feeling low, but really, depression is when the feelings you have are persistent over time – it is more than just a bad day. Depression is commonly understood as feeling low consistently for a period of time, and where it can interfere with your day-to-day life. Depression affects different people in different ways, but most commonly it can affect your thinking, your feelings, your behaviour, and your energy levels. The severity of depression can vary from mild to profound and can make everyday things a struggle for people. Depression is a very common mental illness, with over 450,000 people in Ireland and generally one in ten people being affected with it at some stage in their lives. The most common time of life to develop depression is in your teens to your mid-twenties, putting students at higher risk for developing it than other members of the population. It’s important to remember that even if you don’t fit the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of depression, if you are struggling in any way, you can still get help and you still deserve help.
I think I have depression and want to get help
If you are struggling with any mental health problems, whether you have a mental disorder or not, you are not alone, and help is out there. It’s ok to ask for help – this page lists several sources of help, for general and specific mental health issues. Common treatment options for depression include therapies such as counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy, or medication. Our family and friends can also be good sources of informal support.
What is depression?
Depression is commonly confused with feeling sad. Feeling sad is a natural reaction or emotion to feel – ups and downs in life are normal, and sadness is to be expected as part of that. Depression is more than feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days; it’s more persistent than regular sadness. Depression is a long-lasting mood disorder that affects our ability to do everyday life. It is also different from grief, which is a more event-specific reaction, but depression can co-exist with both sadness and grief.
What can cause depression?
Sometimes depression can be present for no particular or discernible reasons, but there are also things that can increase our vulnerability to depression, or they can make it harder to deal with if you develop depression. Some of these include:
- A ‘downward spiral’ – multiple events or causes happening close together
- Biology/ genetics
- Past experiences, current experiences, or a combination of the two, especially traumatic or stressful one
- Trying to fit in at college
- Relationship problems
- Juggling deadlines and other commitments
- Other mental or physical health issues or illnesses
- Medication/ recreational drugs/ alcohol
- Poor sleep/ diet/ exercise habits
- Bereavement or loss
- Job or financial worries
What are the symptoms of depression?
Symptoms of depression can manifest either in physical (in our body) or psychological (in our mind or our behaviour). Symptoms can come on gradually so they can sometimes be hard to notice initially, and it might be that someone else notices them before you do. Some of the physical symptoms include:
- Moving or speaking slower than usual
- Changes in appetite or weight in either direction
- Unexplained aches or pains
- Lack of energy
- Low sex drive
- Changes to your menstrual cycle
- Disturbed sleep – either too much or too little
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., pacing; inability to sit still)
Some of the psychological symptoms include:
- Having a continuous low mood, or persistently feeling sad, anxious or guilty
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Feeling tearful
- Feeling worthless or guilt-ridden
- Feeling irritable or intolerant of others
- No motivation or interest in things
- Finding it hard to make decisions
- Not getting any enjoyment from life, or from things that you used to enjoy
- Low self-esteem or confidence
- Loss of interest in living; thinking about death; suicidal thoughts; self-harm
- Sense of unreality
- Not doing well at work
- Avoiding contact with friends or taking part in fewer social activities
- Neglecting hobbies and interests
- Having difficulties in your home/ family life
- Feeling unable to relate to other people
What can I do?
If you think that how you are feeling is getting in the way of your ability to live your life day-to-day, please seek help of some sort. Try to remember that you are not alone – depression is very common. Learning about depression can be helpful because it can empower us to better understand how it might be affecting us. Try writing your experiences down or make a list of things that help when you feel depressed and keep it with you to use or hand to someone else if you need to.
When we are depressed, it can sometimes be hard to imagine that things might get better, so it’s important to be honest and open when seeking help. Try to avoid withdrawing socially. While it can feel difficult to explain thought and feeling to other, and that might make you want to cut people off, this can actually make things worse. It can start a spiral where the more overwhelming your symptoms become, the more you cut people off, and thus the lonelier and more isolated you might become.
Try where possible to avoid or reduce your alcohol or drug intake. While these might feel like they help, they can actually make things worse – alcohol in particular is a known depressant.
Information on types of depression:
Mild depression has a lower amount of impact on daily life, but still affect our ability to get through the day.
Moderate depression has significant impact on daily life.
Severe/ profound depression can make it almost impossible to get through daily life.
Dysthymia is where a person has ongoing low mood but not at a severe enough level to be clinically diagnosed with depression.