What is depression?
Depression can mean different things to different people. For some, it's often a word used to describe periods of feeling sad or low, but for others it can mean an illness that lasts a long time and interferes with the way they live their life. In the most serious cases, depression can be life-threatening, as it can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Depression is very common. Anyone can suffer from it and over the course of a lifetime it's estimated that you have a one-in-five chance of experiencing a period of depression. The good news is that depression is treatable and most people who experience it can live normal and happy lives.
There are also specific types of depression, including seasonal affective disorder (SAD), postnatal depression and bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression). Each type of depression affects the sufferer in a different way and it's important to remember that getting depressed is not a sign of weakness or the fault of the person suffering from it.
What are the symptoms of depression?
At the moment there is no single test to determine whether a person is suffering from depression, but there are a number of symptoms that can be used to help doctors make a diagnosis.
Depression can cause people to feel sad or low-spirited for long periods of time. Negative thoughts become common and many sufferers have feelings of hopelessness or inadequacy. It can also make people irritable, restless or easily upset. Another symptom is a disinterest in things that you would normally enjoy doing. If you are avoiding activities you would normally participate in, or have cut yourself off from friends or family, it's possible you may be depressed.
Sufferers often have difficulty communicating with others and find themselves feeling isolated and alone. Depression can also have physical symptoms. Lethargy and tiredness are common indicators, as is a loss of appetite or an increase in the use of tobacco, drugs or alcohol. More seriously, some sufferers have the desire to self-harm or have suicidal thoughts.
Depression can also present itself in different ways. Some people may experience severe anxiety or panic attacks, while people who are severely depressed may have psychotic episodes. In order to diagnose depression, a doctor will often look for a combination of symptoms, but each case is different and generally speaking a diagnosis will be made if a person experiences symptoms that significantly affect their day-to-day life.
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