What is depression?

How do I get help for depression?

Most people have felt sad or depressed at times. It is a natural part of the human condition that we do not feel elated or even content all of the time. Feeling depressed can be a normal reaction to loss, life's struggles, or low self-esteem.  In fact 'Depression' as a mood state can be compared to the common cold, it is not something abnormal, nor does it have to define you.  We will have good reasons for feeling low, but the way it makes us think and act unhelpfully keeps us 'stuck in a rut'.

When feelings of intense sadness, including feeling helpless, hopeless, and worthless, last for days to weeks and keep you from functioning normally, your depression may be something more than sadness. It may very well be clinical depression, a very treatable medical condition.  You should speak to someone about how you feel, whether it is a friend, family member, your GP or a counsellor/therapist for some support or advice.

What is depression?

Depression is a condition that is characterised by depressed mood, and/or a loss of pleasure or interest in activities, and other symptoms that affect everyday life and functioning, for more than two weeks. Symptoms include:

  • A depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day, a condition called anhedonia that can be indicated by a subjective account or by observations of significant others
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)
  • A sense of restlessness known as psychomotor agitation, or being slowed down, retardation
  • Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)

How long do these signs have to be present before they are diagnosed as depression?

With major or clinical depression, one of the key signs is either depressed mood or loss of interest. For a diagnosis of depression, these signs should be present most of the day either daily or nearly daily for at least two weeks. In addition, the depressive symptoms need to cause clinically significant distress or impairment. They cannot be due to the direct effects of a substance, for example, a drug or medication. Nor can they be the result of a medical condition such as hypothyroidism.

What are some common feelings associated with depression?

People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. How severe they are, how frequent, and how long they last will vary, it depends on the individual. Here are common symptoms people with depression experience:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Insomnia, early morning wakefulness or excessive sleeping
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • No pleasure left in life any more
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts