What is depression?

Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life. In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live.


When does low mood become depression?

We all have times when our mood is low, and 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 experiencing depression.


Are there different types of depression?

If you are given a diagnosis of depression, you might be told that you have mild, moderate or severe depression. This describes what sort of impact your symptoms are having on you currently, and what sort of treatment you're likely to be offered. You might move between different mild, moderate and severe depression during one episode of depression or across different episodes.


There are also some specific types of depression:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – depression that usually (but not always) occurs in the winter. 

Dysthymia – continuous mild depression that lasts for two years or more. Also called persistent depressive disorder or chronic depression.

Prenatal depression – sometimes also called antenatal depression, it occurs during pregnancy.

Postnatal depression (PND) – occurs in the weeks and months after becoming a parent. Postnatal depression is usually diagnosed in women but it can affect men, too.


Common symptom of depression

How you might feel:

  • down, upset or tearful
  • restless, agitated or irritable
  • guilty, worthless and down on yourself
  • empty and numb
  • isolated and unable to relate to other people
  • finding no pleasure in life or things you usually enjoy
  • a sense of unreality
  • no self-confidence or self-esteem
  • hopeless and despairing
  • suicidal

How you might behave:

  • avoiding social events and activities you usually enjoy
  • self-harming or suicidal behaviour
  • finding it difficult to speak or think clearly
  • losing interest in sex
  • difficulty in remembering or concentrating on things
  • using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual
  • difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • feeling tired all the time
  • no appetite and losing weight, or eating too much and gaining weight
  • physical aches and pains with no obvious physical cause
  • moving very slowly, or being restless and agitated

What causes depression?

There are several ideas about what causes depression. It can vary a lot between different people, and for some people a combination of different factors may cause their depression. Some find that they become depressed without any obvious reason.

Some reasons may be :