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Recognising depression and knowing where to turn for help

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 4 minutes read

The first thing to know is that you are not alone in feeling low. Depression is extremely common, with more than 3 in every 100 people suffering in the UK. The second thing to know is that it is treatable, so you should seek help when you first notice the signs – we’ll talk you through what to look out for. And finally, we’ll outline where to go for treatment, even when things have spiralled and you’re in a severe depression or have thoughts of ending it all. If any of this rings true for you or a loved one, read on.

How can I tell if I have depression? If I feel sad or low, is that depression?

We all feel a bit down from time to time, but it usually passes in a day or two, or we can acknowledge it’s an appropriate response to a particular event, such as bumpy times at work or within a relationship. When a low mood sets in and it’s difficult to find enjoyment in the things you used to, you should take notice.

It might start with you just not feeling yourself – things that you’d have been well able to cope with now feel overwhelming.

You might feel that you’re worthless or life might feel hopeless, it might be difficult to motivate yourself to start or finish tasks, your concentration isn’t what it was, you’re slow doing everyday tasks.

Sleep can change – a typical sign is early morning waking, but you could experience broken sleep or difficulty getting to sleep, but find it hard to stay awake in the daytime.

Appetite can be affected – some people comfort eat, while others don’t feel hungry at all.

It’s important not to wait until these feelings start to impact every area of life – your relationship and family life, your work, studies, or even just getting your washing and cleaning done, and getting some food in.

When should I seek help?

There are things you can do to help yourself, however bad your depression is.

These include getting outdoors, doing some endorphin-releasing exercise, eating regular, filling and healthy meals.

Alcohol is best avoided, as it won’t help, it can only make you feel worse and prevent you from getting restful sleep. Smoking, particularly cannabis, can also push you lower.

These things sound ideal – the healthy life everyone should be leading, in fact – but it’s easier said than done if you’re in a depression and can’t motivate yourself out of bed to start even one of these strategies. This is when you should seek help.

Just find enough get up and go to get to your doctor.

What help is out there?

Your doctor is a good first port of call and can help support you. They’re there to listen to you and find out how this is affecting your life – they will take this seriously. They may ask about thoughts of harming yourself, previous depressive episodes and any previous treatment. You will then come to a shared agreement together about any treatment options, such as talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or medications such as antidepressants such as SSRIs. Doctors sometimes apply defined criteria to grade your depression into mild, moderate and severe. The function of this is to compare how any treatment might be improving things, so don’t get too side-tracked with this.

There are also many support groups across the UK for depression and support helplines run by charities which you can find through the NHS website.

And remember those great ideas mentioned for leading a healthy and happy life? How about putting just one as a goal once you’ve got the help and support you need. They will help with recovery. And be protective against any future episodes.

What should I do if I’m having suicidal thoughts?

If you are experiencing thoughts to harm yourself or of suicide, or if you have harmed yourself, you must seek urgent medical help. This can be through an urgent visit with your doctor in working hours, calling NHS 111 out of hours, or by attending the Emergency Department, which is a safe place during a crisis and open 24/7.

If you live in England there are also urgent mental health helplines that you can find through the NHS website under "find mental health services", where you put in your age and either postcode or city and you will get the number of a local 24-hour helpline.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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