From time to time most of us may say "I'm feeling a bit down" but what does it actually mean to be depressed?
Depression can take many forms and vary in terms of how long it lasts and impacts us, however it usually involves more than just feeling a bit down. With at least one in ten of us experiencing depression in our lives it's likely that if you haven't experienced it yourself, you will know someone who has, even if you haven't been aware of it.
At one end of the spectrum is what's often referred to as low level or mild depression. This can be described as a general sense of feeling low, but it doesn't shift after a couple of days the way that low moods often do and it's not the same as feeling a bit down or sad. Instead it's more pervasive and harder to describe.
Unlike when we usually feel sad, there may not be a reason that you find yourself feeling depressed. If there isn't a specific reason, it can be quite confusing and anxiety inducing as you may be asking yourself, "why am I feeling like this when there is nothing particularly wrong?" As a result, some people can get frustrated with themselves, believing they should snap out of it. They may also be reluctant to discuss it with others or seek help because they think they don't have anything to be down about and therefore may be worried people will think they are being too sensitive.
When experiencing both mild or more serious depression there may also be what can be described as a flatness or lack of feeling. It might be difficult to become enthusiastic about anything in particular and it might be hard to motivate yourself to do things you used to enjoy. Socialising and other leisure activities may feel like too much of an effort, or you may find you don't really want to talk to anybody, you just want to be on your own.
Deep or clinical depression
Someone in the depths of a deeper depression may experience some or all the things described earlier, but this type of depression is typically more consuming. In fact it can be quite debilitating. It's not uncommon to feel like you're suffocating in a dark cloud and you are unable to find your way out.
This kind of depression can be so crippling it may feel impossible to even carry out day-to-day tasks. For instance getting out of bed, showering, going to work, and remembering to eat may feel like too much effort or you may not be able to see the point. A lot of people also report feeling constantly tired and may spend a good deal of time sleeping. This is often a physical response to the depressive state, but can also be linked to a desire to block everything out - some people say the only relief they get from their depression is when they are asleep.
At such times, intervention is definitely needed and it is worth going to the GP, even though this may feel very difficult. You may need antidepressants to help you cope and although you may be worried about this and what others might think, perhaps you can view it in the same way as you might view taking medication for a physical illness. In much the same way that we develop an illness like Bronchitis which may not go away without taking antibiotics, for some people antidepressants can be a positive and at times necessary intervention.
Aside from antidepressants which can be helpful for some, there's no single solution. However there are many small lifestyle changes you can make which may help.
Trying to establish a regular routine - ensuring you are eating healthily, not self medicating with drugs or alcohol, and getting enough sleep nightly - can be of benefit. While avoiding too much caffeine may also helpful if you find you are having trouble sleeping, although many people have the opposite problem and find they want to sleep all the time.
You may like to try going for a walk each day and spending some time sitting in your local park or green space if there is one nearby. It may feel like a struggle to exercise, but there is plenty of evidence that exercise helps with depression and so even a regular walk could help to improve how you're feeling.
Additionally, there are those who find that artistic or creative pursuits can have a positive effect. Therefore, if there is something you normally enjoy doing like drawing, painting, listening to or playing music, or writing, you may find that these things can help you in giving you an outlet for what you are experiencing.
Some people report feeling a little better from doing some simplemindfulnessexercises on a daily basis. In this regard, there are many free or low cost online programmes and mobile apps available like Headspace which could be worth trying to see if they have any benefit.
Role of therapy
Alongside trying to do things on your own to improve your well-being, a lot of people find it beneficial to seek help in the form of counselling or psychotherapy and at times this is absolutely necessary. Therapy can be of benefit because it can help you examine what is going on and give you a place to talk about what you are experiencing in a non judgemental environment, with someone who understands the impact depression can have.
Talking may feel like a struggle and going to see a stranger might not appeal, but chances are that once you start it might be quite a relief to be able to unburden yourself with a professional who may be able to help you develop some other strategies to deal with it. Together you can also look at the reasons you may have become depressed - if there were any specific triggers for instance - and you can work to take steps to try and improve how you're feeling physically, mentally and emotionally, as depression can impact upon all three aspects of our health.
Importantly, if they have prior experience of working with depression, a counsellor or psychotherapist will also understand what you are going through, and they can hold onto the hope for you that things will improve even when you can't believe in this yourself. Their experience of working with depression means they will have the ability to empathise and to validate your personal experiences. This is something many clients describe as a huge relief because it means they can be totally open about what they are going through without worrying what their therapist might think of them.
Therefore if you are currently suffering from depression, why not contact a counsellor or psychotherapist and see if therapy might be able to help. It may feel like a lonely and isolating condition to have, but you don't need to suffer through it on your own.