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Depression is a condition which causes a persistent feeling of sadness which is not proportionate to events at the time or which doesn't pass with time. It also causes feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and physical symptoms such as tiredness, appetite problems and aches and pains.
Some of the common symptoms are:
For a fuller list please see the Depression Alliance website.
Depression can have many different appearances and what is normal for some may be a problem in another person. As a general rule, if you or people around you are concerned, or if you have experienced some of the above symptoms for most of the day over a period of two weeks, you should see your doctor. It is also important to see your doctor in order to make sure that your depression is not being caused by anything else. There are many quizzes and other 'tests' online which claim to diagnose depression and other mental illnesses, but these can be unscientific and should not be relied upon. If you are in any doubt, speak to your doctor.
Anyone, of any age or gender can be affected by depression. It can be extremely debilitating if someone attempts to cope alone, and simply telling someone else about it can make a big difference. Depression is never anything to be ashamed of, and seeking help is a very positive step towards helping yourself.
There are three different types of 'treatment' for depression.
The first is self help, or 'coping techniques'. These include relaxation, an exercise routine, a change of diet and sharing your experiences and feelings with others. These techniques can be excellent for maintaining an everyday healthy outlook, but it is best to also see your doctor to see what they can recommend. More information about these techniques can be found on the Depression Alliance and Clinical Depression websites although again these websites cannot necessarily give you individual advice.
The other two common forms of treatment are generally found through your doctor. The first form is known as 'talking treatments'. This includes various types of therapy and counselling and can be invaluable in treating depression. The other common treatment uses medication, generally antidepressants. There are several types of antidepressants; and different people respond to different treatments, so it may be necessary to try a few before you find the right one for you.
If you think that you could benefit from any of these treatments you should see your doctor and discuss it with them. It is common for people to think that they are "wasting the doctor's time" or that it's "not important enough to bother someone with", but it is essential not to think this way. In the consultation you will not be obliged to commit to anything that you are uncomfortable with, and you will not be judged. It may help you to write down what you want to say before you go, as it can be hard to articulate complex feelings if you are nervous. You could also write your doctor a letter if you feel that you might not be able to talk about everything in person. It might also help to take someone with you who you trust and feel safe with. More tips are available on the Depression Alliance site, or the Depression Place site.
If you have a friend or relative who you know or think may be suffering from depression, being there for them may be the most helpful thing you can do for them. This can involve making sure they know that you are there to listen to them if they need to talk, and perhaps offering if you can to accompany them to their doctor and help them explain what is wrong. You can do research and try to understand their illness (though this may be difficult as information on the internet may be unreliable), and it might help to ask the person what they think you could do to help them. Remember that you can only do so much, and try not to be upset if you cannot do everything. Even if you feel like you have done nothing, never underestimate the value of listening, caring and being available. Try to be there for them and help as much as you can, but remember to take care of yourself as well. If you still have questions or worries you can speak to a doctor yourself, but remember to respect the wishes of the person you are concerned about.
You may find the book I Had a Black Dog a good, simple way of understanding depression and how it affects you or others. The author has also written another book with his wife on how to live with someone affected by depression, called Living With a Black Dog.
Anti-depressant steps http://www.antidepressantsteps.com
The Depression Alliance http://www.depressionalliance.org
Depression Place http://www.depressionplace.com/index.html
Young Minds: http://youngminds.org.uk/depression/y0.php
The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org
NHS 24: http://www.nhs24.com
The Depression Alliance: http://www.depressionalliance.org/docs/help/working_with_your_gp.html
The Depression Place: http://www.depressionplace.com/depression_help.html
The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/your_emotional_health/feeling_low.aspx
The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org
National Self Harm Network: http://www.nshn.co.uk/forum/index.php