Understanding Depression

What is depression?

We often use the expression ‘I feel depressed’ when we’re feeling sad or miserable about life. Usually, these feelings pass in due course. But, if the feelings are interfering with your life and don't go away after a couple of weeks, or if they come back, over and over again, for a few days at a time, it could be a sign that you're depressed in the medical sense of the term.

What are the symptoms of depression?

The following are all symptoms of depression, and if you tick off five or more of any of them you are probably depressed.

My feelings

·         I am low-spirited for much of the time, every day

·         I feel restless and agitated

·         I get tearful easily

·         I feel numb, empty and full of despair

·         I feel isolated and unable to relate to other people

·         I am unusually irritable or impatient

·         I find no pleasure in life or things I usually enjoy

·         I feel helpless

·         I have lost interest in sex

·         I am experiencing a sense of unreality

My behaviour

·         I’m not doing activities I usually enjoy

·         I am avoiding social events I usually enjoy

·         I have cut myself off from others and can’t ask for help

·         I am self-harming

·         I find it difficult to speak

My thoughts

·         I am having difficulty remembering things

·         I find it hard to concentrate or make decisions

·         I blame myself a lot and feel guilty about things

·         I have no self-confidence or self-esteem

·         I am having a lot of negative thoughts

·         The future seems bleak

·         What’s the point?

·         I have been thinking about suicide

My physical symptoms

·         I have difficulty sleeping

·         I am sleeping much more than usual

·         I feel tired and have no energy

·         I have lost my appetite, and am losing weight

·         I am eating a lot more than usual and putting on weight

·         I have physical aches and pains with no obvious physical cause

·         I am moving very slowly

·         I am using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual


Depression presents itself in many different ways. You may not realise what's going on, because sometimes your problems seem to be physical, rather than mental or emotional. There are also some other mental health problems often linked to depression like anxiety.

What can I do to help myself?

An important thing to accept is that there are usually no instant solutions to problems in life. Solving problems involves time, energy and work. When you are feeling depressed, you may not be feeling energetic or motivated to work. But if you are able to take an active part in your treatment, it should help your situation.

Break the cycle of negativity

If you are starting to feel depressed it can be very easy to get into a cycle of automatic negative thoughts that then become difficult for you to challenge: you get depressed and then you get more depressed about being depressed. Being in a state of depression can then become a bigger problem than the actual difficulties that caused it in the first place.

You need to make a conscious effort to break the hold that the depression has on you. Deciding to do something to help yourself is the most important step you can take.

Try to recognise the pattern of negative thinking when you are doing it, and replace it with a more constructive activity. Look for things to do that occupy your mind.

Keep active
It is important to keep as busy as your depression allows you to. It's easy to dismiss engaging in hobbies and activities, saying that they won’t help and giving up… even people who don't have depression become low if they are bored or under-stimulated for long periods. Learning to become active again often plays an essential part in aiding recovery and helps people to stay well.

Connect with other people

Although you many not feel like it, keeping in touch with people can help you feel a bit more grounded and sometimes get things more in perspective. Try a short phone call to a close friend or relative, or if you can’t manage it, just an email or text message.

When you feel ready, you may find it helpful to do something to help other people, as this may help overcome any feelings of isolation you have, take your mind off your own problems and make you feel better about yourself.

It can also be a great relief to meet and share experiences with other people who are going through the same thing you are. 

Self-help groups can show you how other people have coped and provide mutual support, as well as breaking down feelings of isolation. They are often led by people who have overcome depression themselves. For help in finding local self-help groups, talk to your local Mind or ask your GP.

Care for yourself

You need to do things that will improve the way you feel about yourself.

·         Allow yourself positive experiences and treats that reinforce the idea that you deserve good things. eg a long bath, a day out with a friend.

·         Pay attention to your personal appearance.

·         Set yourself goals that you can achieve and that will give you a sense of satisfaction.

·         If you find it hard to remember things, you may want to write them down on sticky notes, in a diary or set reminders on your mobile phone.

·         Look after yourself by eating healthily, as much as possible. Oily fish, in particular, may help reduce depression.


How can friends and family help?

Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness are a major part of depression. This can mean someone avoids their friends and relatives, rather than asking for help or support. However, this is a time when they need your help and support most.

·         Perhaps the most important thing that you can do is to encourage your friend or relative to seek appropriate treatment. You can reassure them that it is possible to do something to improve their situation, but you need to do so in a caring and sympathetic way.

·         You can encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and get them to work out what they can do, or what they need to change, in order to deal with their depression.

·         You can show that you care by listening, sympathetically, by being affectionate, by appreciating them, or simply by spending time with them.

·         If they live alone and are keeping themselves isolated, you could leave a message so that they know you are concerned about them.

·         Try not to blame the person for being depressed, or tell them to ‘pull themselves together’. They are probably already blaming themselves, and criticism is likely to make them feel even worse.

·         Someone with depression may get irritable, and be more liable to misunderstand others, or feel misunderstood, than usual; they may need reassurance in some situations, and you may need to be patient with them.

·         If your friend or relative has repeated episodes of depression you may be able to learn what their triggers are, or spot when an episode might be starting, and encourage them to take action before it gets any worse.

·         Remember that, even after someone has started treatment for depression, it still may be some time before they really start to feel better.


If your friend or relative is severely depressed, you may be faced with some hard decisions about how much to do on their behalf. If, for example, they are not looking after their physical needs, should you take over and do the shopping, cooking and cleaning for them, if you are able to? Or should you try and encourage them to do it? There are no easy answers to this situation. It will help if you can find someone who you can discuss these and other issues with and who may be able to share the responsibility with you.

Look after yourself

Supporting a friend or relative who is depressed can be an opportunity to build a closer and more satisfying relationship. However, it can also be hard work and frustrating, at times. Unless you pay attention to your own needs, it can make you feel depressed, too. There may be a local support group of others in your situation. You could also talk to your GP or another healthcare professional about getting help for yourself and your family.



Useful contacts

Mind Infoline

0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
[email protected]

Details of local Minds, other services, and Mind’s Legal Advice Line. Language Line is available for talking in a language other than English.

British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)

To find a behavioural therapist

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapiy (BACP)

01455 88 33 00 (general enquiries)
To find a therapist.

Carers UK

0808 808 7777
Information and advice on all aspects of caring.

Depression Alliance

0845 123 2320
Information and support for anyone affected by depression

Depression UK

A self-help organisation made up of individuals and local groups.


Projects offering a range of outdoor activities to promote good mental health.

The Institute for Complementary and Natural Medicine (ICM)

020 7922 7980
Provides a list of professional practitioners.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)

Guidelines on treatments for depression.


24-hour helpline: 08457 90 90 90 
[email protected] 
Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK, Chris
PO Box 90 90
Emotional support for anyone feeling down, experiencing distress or struggling to cope.

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