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
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 easy
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 available?
Self-help: there are now a number of self-help books and computer programmes
based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for depression.
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.
Cognitive 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 or tablets?
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 treatment?
Many depressions will go away eventually, but it may take many months. A small
number of people with depression will take their own lives.
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 them.
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
This leaflet is based on material produced by the Royal College of
Psychiatrists (www.rcpsych.ac.uk/info). © March 2014
The Royal College of Psychiatrists. Reproduced by permission.
MHAF would like to thank the Royal College of Psychiatrists, United Kingdom,
for kindly granting permission to use this leaflet based on material produced
by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (www.rcpsych.ac.uk/info). © March 2014