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Recognizing depression and knowing where to turn for help

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read

The first thing to know is that you are not alone in feeling low. Depression is extremely common, with up to 5 in every 100 people suffering around the world. 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 spiraled, 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, please 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, and you're slower 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 eat for comfort, 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 relationships and family life, your work, studies, or even just getting your washing and cleaning done, or eating some food.

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 behavioral 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 US for depression and support helplines run by organizations which you can find through websites.

And remember those great ideas mentioned for leading a healthy and happy life? How about putting just one of them into practice once you've gotten 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 of harming 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 during working hours, calling 911 if after hours, or by going to the Emergency Department, which is a safe place during a crisis and open 24/7.

There are also urgent mental health helplines that you can find on the web under "find mental health services."

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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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