Depression: key facts
Depression is very common - one in five people
become depressed at some point in their lives. Anyone can get low,
but someone is said to be suffering from depression when these
feelings don’t go away quickly or become so bad they interfere with
their everyday life.
Depression can last for a few months. You can get better,
only for the depression return again. It is usual to
recover from depression, but it is also common for the depression
to return. Episodes can last several months (or even longer in some
Why do people get depressed?
Sometimes there may be an obvious reason for
becoming depressed, sometimes not. The reason may seem obvious – a
relationship breakdown or a bereavement or even the birth of a
child – sometimes it is not clear. Either way, these feelings can
become so bad that you need help.
What does it feel like to be depressed?
The feeling of depression is deeper, longer
and more unpleasant than the short episodes of unhappiness that
everyone experiences occasionally.
You will notice:
- persistent sadness or low mood
- not being able to enjoy things
- losing interest in life
- finding it harder to make decisions
- not coping with things that used to be
- feeling exhausted
- feeling restless and agitated;
- loss of appetite and weight
- difficulties getting to sleep
- loss of sex drive
- thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Doctors grade depression as mild, moderate and severe to help
them decide which treatment to choose.
How do I know if I am depressed?
You may not realise how depressed you are
because it has come on so gradually. You may try to struggle
on and cope by keeping busy. This can make you even more stressed
and exhausted. Physical pains, such as constant headaches or
sleeplessness, then start. Sometimes these physical symptoms can be
the first sign of a depression.
What help and treatment is
- Self-help: there are now a
number of self-help books and computer programmes based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for
- Talking treatments: there
are several different types of talking treatments. Counselling
enables you to talk about your feelings to a professional. Your GP
may have a counsellor at the surgery who you can talk to.
Behavioural Therapy helps people overcome the negative
thoughts that can sometimes be the cause of depression.
- If you have become depressed while suffering
from a disability or caring for a relative, then a self-help group
may give you the support you need.
- Medication: Antidepressants can help if your depression is
severe or goes on for a long time. They can help you to feel
less anxious and cope better so that you can start to enjoy life
and deal with problems effectively again. It is important to
remember that you won't feel the effect of antidepressants straight
away. People often don't notice any improvement in their mood for 2
or 3 weeks.
- As well as tablets, there is an alternative
remedy called St John's Wort
available from chemists. This can help in mild to moderate
depression. It seems to work in much the same way as an
antidepressant, but some people find that it has fewer
side-effects. If you are taking other medication, it's important to
tell your doctor before taking St John’s Wort.
Which is right for me – self-help. talking treatments
It depends on how your depression has
developed and how severe it is. On the whole, self-help and talking
treatments are best for mild depression. They are equally
helpful for moderate depression. If you depression is severe, you
are more likely to need antidepressants.
What will happen if I don’t get
Many depressions will go away eventually, but it may take many
months. A small number of people with depression will take their
What can I do to help myself?
- Tell someone how you feel.
- Try to keep active. Even just going for a
walk regularly can help your mood and sleep pattern. Doing things
can help to take you mind off thoughts that make you
- Make sure you eat well.
- Be careful with alcohol as it makes depression worse.
- Try not to get worried if you can’t sleep, but do something relaxing in bed such as
reading, watching TV or listening to the radio.
If you think you know what is causing your
depression, it can help to write down the problem and then think of
the things you could do to tackle it. Pick the best actions and see
if they work.
Also try to keep hopeful. This is a very
common experience and you will come through it, probably stronger
and more able to cope than before.
How can I help someone who is depressed?
- Listen to them, but try not to judge
- Don’t offer advice unless they ask for it,
but if you can see the problem that is behind the depression, you
could work with the person to find a solution.
Spending time with them, listening over and
over to their problems, and encouraging them to keep going with
activities in their routine, is all helpful.
If they are getting worse, encourage them to
visit their doctor and to accept treatment.
For more in-depth information see our main
This leaflet reflects the most up-to-date
evidence at the time of writing.
Produced by the RCPsych Public Education Editorial Board.
Series Editor: Dr Philip Timms
Reviewed by Elaine Ellis
© March 2014. Due for review: March 2016. Royal
College of Psychiatrists. You can link to, download, print,
photocopy and distribute this leaflet free of charge. But you must
not change it or repost it on a website.
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