Diagnosing depression

Dictionaries define depression as a state of mind characterised by feelings of despondency, dejection and extreme sadness. And going by this, there can be few people who have never experienced depression, if only for a short period.

But depression in the medical sense is different from the low mood and transient sadness that almost everyone knows from time to time.  It is long-lasting, impossible to simply shake off, and permeates all aspects of life.

For many people clinical depression is precipitated by traumatic events or circumstances, such as relationship breakdown, financial problems, serious illness or bereavement.  While it’s easy to appreciate that intensely difficult and emotionally painful situations could result in a state of depression that lasts, in other cases there’s no obvious explanation for distress.  Despite this, it persists for weeks, months or even years, sometimes going then returning apparently at random.

Depression strikes people at all life stages.  Statistics show its incidence peaks during the years of middle age, but teenagers, young adults and the elderly frequently suffer too.  Although figures indicate that it afflicts fewer men than women, this may be because women are more likely to seek professional help, and therefore to be counted in the official numbers.

Depression, which in most cases is accompanied by anxiety, is one of the most common reasons for visiting a GP, but for every person who consults their doctor many more are suffering in silence.  It’s estimated that it affects around ten percent of the population at any time, and that one in five people in the UK will suffer from serious depression at some point in their lives.

A doctor will diagnose clinical depression if you’ve been experiencing at least two out of three major symptoms for the vast majority of the time over the preceding two weeks.  The criteria used are persistently low mood, fatigue or lethargy, and a lack of enjoyment or interest in life.

Your condition may be classified as mild, moderate or severe according to the prevalence of other symptoms.  These include difficulty getting to sleep, waking early or sleeping too much, reduced or increased appetite, inability to concentrate, feelings of hopelessness, constant worry or anxiousness, and thoughts of suicide.  You’ll find a complete list here.

So what can you do about it?

Firstly, if you’re feeling deeply depressed, and most likely anxious too, your ability to function on a daily basis is impaired and the future seems bleak, you should make an appointment to see your GP as soon as possible.

If you meet the diagnostic criteria, the doctor may suggest antidepressant drugs.  However, it’s important to understand that there is no magic pill.  Drugs are not a cure and they all have adverse side-effects, some of which can be very serious.

Although medication can be a necessity in extreme cases, there are other ways to treat depression.  And it might surprise you to hear that for many people these alternatives are far more effective than pharmaceuticals.  This is because they address the underlying causes. Depression is not a disease, it’s a sign that your body and your life are out of balance.

Whether or not you meet the criteria for diagnosis, if you’re feeling very low and finding it difficult to cope, you need to take action.  Regardless of the depth of your depression, you can recover a sense of emotional well-being through self-help, and with the support of family, friends and health professionals.

Clinical depression is caused by a combination of factors that vary from person to person.  This website is a guide to identifying the issues that are contributing in your particular case. Furthermore, it provides all the information you need for overcoming depression through an holistic approach that builds mental and physical health and vitality.