Depression is a real mental illness. It's more than just being 'a bit sad' or p*$$ed off because you've had a bad day at work. We all have highs when we feel great, and we all have lows when life isn't going the way we want. This is a normal part of everyone's life and is perfectly normal. You can be depressed about something, but that's very different from having depression.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, it's a prolonged condition that affects 1 in every 10 people (some organisations score it as high as 1 in 6). Women are more likely to be prescribed as having depression, but this may be more to do with women actively seeking help and treatment than something relating to gender. It certainly isn't a female-centric illness, which is why Men Tell Health exists. So what is it?
It might be worth starting by telling you what depression isn't. It isn't something everyone gets, although anyone can. If you get it, or already have it, it isn't a sign of weakness or poor character. It most certainly isn't a trivial condition, anyone living with depression will tell you that. It isn't something that can be cured by being told to 'pull yourself together' or to 'snap out it'. It doesn't go away because you're told that 'you have nothing to be depressed about'. I'm sure you've heard those phrases before. It also doesn't have an exacting set of standard criteria that affects everyone with depression.
The fact is, no-one really understands what definitively causes depression, we're sorry to say. Some scientists believe it's the result a chemical imbalance in the brain; having lower levels of chemicals called noradrenaline or serotonin, both neurological transmitters that deals with your emotional state, may lead to it.
Other people believe it can be caused by changes in your hormone levels, others think its the lasting effect of an upsetting or major life events, whilst some believe it's hereditary, passed down in your genes.
The truth is it could be any combination of those things. However it occurs, it's a condition that can't be cured overnight, but then it's not a condition that appears overnight either.
Depression occurs over a period of time. You may not even be aware that it's creeping up on you. As such, your friends and family may well see the changes it causes in you before you do.
Your personality will certainly be affected and you may begin to feel intensely negative feelings, helplessness and you often become increasingly anxious. Rather than dissipating soon after, the feelings will stay with you for extended periods.
The symptoms of depression may also include:
- Prolonged low mood.
- You will become tired more easily.
- Having less energy and generally feeling less willing and able to do things you normally would.
- Losing interest in hobbies and activities you've previously enjoyed.
- Struggling to concentrate (e.g. reading).
- Finding it harder to get to sleep or struggling to enjoy a restful nights sleep.
- Lower sex drive.
- Losing confidence in your abilities and poor self-esteem.
- The feeling of guilt about certain events or worthless as a person.
- Contemplating harming yourself or, in some cases, suicide.
If you see a Doctor, they may diagnose it in one of the three ways; mild, moderate or severe depression, but there are more types of depression than those imply. Let's take a look at some of them.
Like almost any illness, Depression comes in a variety of forms which expand on the three descriptors mentioned above.
Whilst it sounds like it should be the most serious type, Clinical Depression basically just means that your GP has given you a diagnosis of depression. It isn't a diagnosis in itself.
Depressive Episode / Recurrent Depressive Episode
A depressive episode is nothing to do with EastEnders, but your Doctor may first diagnose you as having a 'depressive episode' if you begin to display depression-like symptoms.
Again, these can be further classified as mild, moderate or severe in nature. Consequently, if you are going through repeated depressive episodes no less than 2 months apart, then this would be classed as a 'recurrent' depressive episode.
For those suffering with severe forms of depression, they may be diagnosed with Psychotic Depression, or psychosis.
Reactive Depression (aka Situational Depression or Adjustment Disorder)
Reactive depression is a short-term condition that is caused by a situation or a life event where you feel the ramifications and effects of that event, which means you struggle to handle the implications of it.
Unlike clinical depression where the symptoms are persistent and can be quite severe, the same symptoms with reactive depression typically last around 6 months or less. That is not to say the symptoms are any less impactful, but merely the timescale they are felt is reduced.
Paternal Postnatal Depression
You might think that post-natal depression only occurs in new mums, but it also occurs in new fathers too. Having a new baby is a joyous occasion, but it can also be a very stressful time for both parents.
Paternal postnatal depression (PPND), like any other form, can be mild, right up to being a severely debilitating condition. Research from the National Childbirth Trust showed that 38% of new fathers worry about the their mental health and 1 in 10 suffer from PPND. In men, this is likely to manifest itself around 3-6 months after the birth of their child, later than in new mums.
Again, there no hard and fast guidelines on what causes PND, but with the birth of a new baby, the added financial implications, lack of sleep, changes in their lifestyle and worrying about, or changes in, the relationship with mum, are all very real aspects that new dads have to deal with. These factors are felt harder by different demographics. Younger fathers are more likely to become anxious, whilst those on a low-income are more likely to feel the effects of the new baby. As with mum, the fathers own personality will also play a part in how depression materialises and how it is felt.
As in women, postnatal depression is measured via the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). Please bear in mind this is only for guidance and does not constitute a diagnosis. This should only be done by a healthcare professional. For more information on this, please take a look at our Where To Turn pages, for your particular country.
Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD)
We said earlier that depression isn't just about being sad, but this literally is SAD. OK, well it's an acronym. Being diagnosed with SAD means that your low moods are affected by the time of the year, usually (but not only) in the winter, when we all put up with less sunlight and longer, darker nights.
It also means we tend we eat more 'bad carbs', such as chocolate, biscuits, white bread and white rice. If you find yourself getting the 'winter blues' like around 20% of the population, this is known as 'sub-syndromal' SAD. However, for 2% of the population, SAD is a much more serious, debilitating condition. If you live within 30 degrees of the equator, SAD is very rare. What are we waiting for?....Let's go!
Dysthymia is a condition where you may have felt low for a couple of years or more, without displaying the symptoms associated with depression.
If you've struggled to feel happy in your life for a prolonged period but not displayed the signs listed above, then you may be diagnosed with dysthymia.
In it's mildest form, it may go undiagnosed as you just tend to live with not being very happy, but it doesn't have to be that way. Treatment is available, so speak to your Doctor as soon as possible.
If you live with any form of depression or know someone who does, it's important to know that you (or they) can get through it. It's not a life-sentence. We've put together a series of articles on ways to help (which we've called 'The Man Kit' to help alleviate the symptoms we've mentioned here.
Take a look at those or offer some of your own. What helps you? Remember, above all else, you can get better. It won't always be easy, but it's not impossible. We truly believe that and you should too.
If you live with (or have had) depression, there may be some organisations on our Where To Turn pages that can help you. If not, and you know of one, please let us know and we'll look into it.