GP Alice Fitzgibbon tackles a common mental health issue.
This month we return to one of our mental health topics – depression. Depression is a real condition that will affect 1 in 10 of us at some point in our lives. It can be mild, moderate, severe or somewhere in between; it can come and go or be there constantly. Depression can just happen to some people; in others it can be related to childhood events, bereavement, significant life events or genetics. Sometimes it is difficult to recognise depression, especially in yourself, as it can present in different ways. The most important thing to remember is that depression is an illness that can be treated and most people are able to fully recover.
Everyone has a range of feelings. It is normal to experience different feelings at appropriate times – feeling happy you are spending time with loved ones or feeling sad that someone has passed away. With depression, feeling down, sad, hopeless and being tearful might happen with no reason behind it and it will last for longer than to weeks. Losing interest and enjoyment in activities you used to find entertaining might also be a sign. Increasing symptoms of anxiety, worry and irritability might also be a feature, as well as finding your concentration is poor. It can feel very lonely to experience lots of negative feelings and thoughts that won’t go away. How you feel can be very difficult to be open about, which is why some people hide their depression. Talking about it can really help.
Depression can also have physical symptoms. Feeling more tired than normal, sleeping poorly, experiencing changes in appetite, loss of sex drive and feeling aches and pains in your body can all be linked to depression. Often, as a GP, I see patients come looking for help with physical symptoms and only after a good chat and exploring all the options might it become clear that their mood might be the underlying issue.
With depression, many people also experience unwanted thoughts. These can be difficult to deal with and affect self-esteem. Some people with have thoughts of hopelessness or harming themselves. Having these thoughts is part of the illness. Many people can recognise them as this and are able to see past them. For others with severe depression, these thoughts can be more difficult to get rid of. If you are ever struggling with suicidal thoughts then please know that help is available and there is always someone to listen and help. Speak to your GP, health professional or the Samaritans (phone number 116 123).
As I mentioned before, having depression can feel lonely. Sometimes it feels like there is no hope and it is difficult to imagine being able to feel better. But the chances are that you will if you get the right help. Treatments for depression work. They vary from self-help techniques – meditation, exercise and lifestyle changes, to talking therapies and specialist psychological therapies to medication, including anti-depressant tablets. In severe cases of depression, the GP might refer to a local psychiatry team for help in managing the symptoms and to get more support.
I remember one patient who came in to see me “because my wife said I am crabbit” (‘crabbit’ is a Scottish word for irritable). He had mild depression. Sometimes other people around us notice we are not ourselves before we do. If you think you might be feeling persistently down or have any of the symptoms mentioned above, then please visit your GP for a chat about it. We can help you explore what’s going on and make suggestions to help you feel better.
For further information on depression please visit www.mind.org.uk