Many people suffer from depression. However, not everyone experiences the condition in the same way. Although more people are now prepared to admit to suffering from depression, many others still conceal their state of mind for fear of being stigmatised. This serves to isolate them; itself a common and risky symptom of depression.
There is no single cause of depression. It is often triggered by very stressful life events such as major changes in circumstance, including illness. Family history and personality may also be implicated. Sometimes depression is brought on by the misuse of alcohol (a depressant) or other mood-altering drugs and invariably features in all addictions whether or not substances are involved.
The symptoms of depression range in degree from mild, through moderate to severe. In its mildest form, people will experience feeling “down” with low mood and spirits. The word ‘depressed’ literally means ‘pressed down’. While sadness, sorrow and tearfulness may feature, it is important to understand that these emotions do not always indicate depression. Depression should not be confused with the emotional reactions appropriate to grief. While mild depression may negatively affect life, it will usually soon pass, whereas a clinically diagnosable depression may persist and require treatment. Moderate depression will impair aspects of normal life while under a severe depression the simple business of everyday life becomes almost impossible. At its extreme, suicidal thoughts and behaviour may occur and, in some cases, symptoms of psychosis become evident.
The symptoms of depression generally divide into three categories: psychological, physical and social. A person may feel hopeless, losing interest, meaning, motivation and purpose. They may get little or no enjoyment out of life. They may be self-critical to the point of self-contempt and suffer agonies of guilt and shame. They may find they cannot think clearly, fail to concentrate and find decision making much more difficult than normal. Anxiety frequently accompanies depression with restlessness and agitation common. People can find themselves easily frustrated and irritable. Physical symptoms may include feeling tired and lethargic, linked in part either to too much or too little sleep. Libido may diminish and appetite reduce while energy may be in short supply, with even small movements requiring considerable effort. Aches and pains may be experienced for no apparent physical reason. Socially people may withdraw from friends, struggle with work, neglect themselves and stop participating in leisure activities.
If feeling depressed persists for more than 2 weeks, it is strongly advised to seek help. Letting someone else know is vital. Mild depression may be lifted by the passage of time, exercise, reducing alcohol consumption and sharing with others. Moderate to severe depression may additionally require a more concerted intervention such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. In some cases, medication and hospitalisation proves necessary. In addiction treatment the identification and assessment of co-existing depression is essential.