What is depression?
Depression is a mental health condition where a person has a long lasting low mood, and/or may lose pleasure or interest in activities.
Other symptoms of depression include:
- A depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
- Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
- Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day, a condition called anhedonia that can be indicated by a subjective account or by observations of significant others
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)
- A sense of restlessness known as psychomotor agitation, or being slowed down, retardation
- Significant weight loss or gain
How long do these signs have to be present before they are diagnosed as depression?
With major or clinical depression, one of the key signs is either depressed mood or loss of interest. For a diagnosis of depression, at least one of these signs should be present most of the day either daily or nearly daily for at least two weeks. In addition, the depressive symptoms need to cause clinically significant distress or impairment. They cannot be due to the direct effects of a substance, for example, a drug or medication. Nor can they be the result of a medical condition such as hypothyroidism.
What are some common feelings associated with depression?
People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. How severe they are, how frequent, and how long they last will vary. It depends on the individual and their particular illness. Here are common symptoms people with depression experience:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Insomnia, early morning wakefulness or excessive sleeping
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- No pleasure left in life any more
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
While these are common symptoms of depression, they may also occur in patterns. For example, a person may experience depression with mania or hypomania, a condition known as bipolar disorder. Or the symptoms may be seasonal as in the case of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Is childhood depression common?
Childhood depression is different from the normal "blues" and everyday emotions that occur as a child develops. If your child is sad, this does not necessarily mean they have significant depression. It's when the sadness becomes persistent, day after day, that depression may be an issue. Or, if your child has disruptive behaviour that interferes with normal social activities, interests, schoolwork, or family life, it may indicate that they have a depressive illness. The NHS estimates that 4% of children aged between 5 and 16 years old has depression. Bear in mind that while depression is a serious illness, it is also a treatable one.