Who gets depressed?
- Depression is very common.
- Between 5 and 10 per cent of the population are suffering from the illness to some extent at any one time.
- Over a lifetime you have a 20 per cent, or one in five, chance of having an episode of depression.
- Women are twice as likely to get depression as men.
- Bipolar affective disorder is less common than depressive illness with a life-time risk of around one to two per cent. Men and women are equally affected.
Getting depression is not a sign of weakness. There are no particular ‘personality types’ that are more at risk than others.
However, some risk factors have been identified. These include inherited (genetic) factors – such as having parents or grandparents, who have suffered from depression, and non-genetic factors – such as the death of a parent when you were young.
What causes depression?
- We do not fully understand the causes of depression.
- Genes or early life experiences may make some people vulnerable.
- Stressful life events, such as losing a job or a relationship ending, may trigger an episode of depression.
- Depression can be triggered by some physical illnesses, drug treatments and recreational drugs.
It’s often impossible to identify a ’cause’ in many people, and this can be distressing for people who want to understand the reasons why they are ill.
However depression, like any illness, can strike for no apparent reason.
It’s clear that there are definite changes in the way the brain works when a person is depressed.
- Modern brain scans that can look at how ‘hard’ the brain is working have shown that some areas of the brain (such as at the front) are not working as well as normal.
- Depressed patients have higher than normal levels of stress hormones.
- Various chemical systems in the brain may not be working correctly, including one known as the serotonin or 5-HT system.
- Antidepressants may help to reverse these changes.
Symptoms of depression
Stress can lead to you to feeling ‘down’ and ‘miserable’. What is different about a depressive illness is that these feelings last for weeks or months, rather than days.
In addition to feeling low most or all of the time, many other symptoms can occur in depressive illness (though not everybody has every one).
- Being unable to gain pleasure from activities that normally would be pleasurable.
- Losing interest in normal activities, hobbies and everyday life.
- Feeling tired all of the time and having no energy.
- Difficulty sleeping or waking early in the morning (though some feel that they can’t get out of bed and ‘face the world’).
- Having a poor appetite, no interest in food and losing weight (though some people overeat and put on weight – ‘comfort eating’).
- Losing interest in sex.
- Finding it difficult to concentrate and think straight.
- Feeling restless, tense and anxious.
- Being irritable.
- Losing self-confidence.
- Avoiding other people.
- Finding it harder than usual to make decisions.
- Feeling useless and inadequate – ‘a waste of space’.
- Feeling guilty about who you are and what you have done.
- Feeling hopeless – that nothing will make things better.
- Thinking about suicide – this is very common. If you feel this way, talk to somebody about it. If you think somebody else might be thinking this way, ask them about it – it will not make them more likely to commit suicide