Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time and affects your everyday life. In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal.
When does low mood become depression?
We all have times when our mood is low, and we’re feeling sad or miserable about life. Usually these feelings pass in due course.
But if the feelings are interfering with your life and don't go away after a couple of weeks, or if they come back over and over again for a few days at a time, it could be a sign that you're experiencing depression.
Are there different types of depression?
If you are given a diagnosis of depression, you might be told that you have mild, moderate or severe depression. This describes what sort of impact your symptoms are having on you currently, and what sort of treatment you're likely to be offered. You might move between different mild, moderate and severe depression during one episode of depression or across different episodes.
There are also some specific types of depression:
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – depression that occurs at a particular time of year, or during a particular season.
Dysthymia – continuous mild depression that lasts for two years or more. Also called persistent depressive disorder or chronic depression.
Prenatal depression – depression that occurs during pregnancy. This is sometimes also called antenatal depression.
Postnatal depression (PND) – depression that occurs in the weeks and months after becoming a parent. Postnatal depression is usually diagnosed in women, but it can also affect men.
What are the symptoms of depression?
There are many signs and symptoms of depression, but everyone’s experience will vary.
How you might feel:
Isolated and unable to relate to other people
Finding no pleasure in life or things you usually enjoy
A sense of unreality
No self-confidence or self-esteem
Hopeless and despairing
How you might behave:
Avoiding social events and activities you usually enjoy
Self-harming or suicidal behaviour
Difficulty speaking, thinking clearly or making decisions
Losing interest in sex
Difficulty remembering or concentrating on things
Using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual
Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
Feeling tired all the time
No appetite and losing weight, or eating too much and gaining weight
Physical aches and pains with no obvious physical cause
Moving very slowly, or being restless and agitated
If you experience an episode of severe depression, you might also experience some psychotic symptoms. These can include:
Delusions, such as paranoia
Hallucinations, such as hearing voices
If you experience psychotic symptoms as part of depression, they're likely to be linked to your depressed thoughts and feelings. For example, you might become convinced that you've committed an unspeakable crime.
These kinds of experiences can feel very real to you at the time, which may make it hard to understand that these experiences are also symptoms of your depression. They can also be quite frightening or upsetting, so it's important to seek treatment and support.
You might feel worried that experiencing psychotic symptoms could mean you get a new diagnosis, but psychosis can be a symptom of depression. Discussing your symptoms with your doctor can help you get the right support and treatment.
The risk of isolation
It can sometimes be hard to explain your thoughts and feelings to others. You might find it difficult to talk about your depression and instead you might cut yourself off from other people. The more overwhelming your symptoms, the more isolated and lonely you might become.
Without treatment and support, depression can have an impact on your relationships, work, finances and overall health, so it's important to get help as early as possible.