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According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, depression affects one in five older adults in the UK. It can be mild, moderate or severe, and the effects can be incredibly difficult to cope with. So whether you are suffering from (or have ever suffered from) depression or have a family member or a friend who may need support, we've compiled some vital information on how to recognise the signs and symptoms and how to seek the right help and treatment should you need it.
Everyone feels down from time to time, but clinical depression is a prolonged feeling of sadness that can last for weeks or even months. It does, essentially, leave you in a continual low mood, and while it may not stop you from living life as you usually would, it may make everything that little bit more difficult. In its worst form, it can be life-threatening. According to the NHS, you are more likely to suffer from depression the older you are.
"It is important to remember that depression is an illness. Just because other people can't see it doesn't make it any less corrosive than, say, cancer (and I am a cancer survivor!)."
Depression itself can be a symptom of other conditions, and while it cannot be categorised fully (if at all), types can include but are not limited to:
Here we're focusing specifically on clinical depression, but if you need further information on any of the above, please consult your GP.
Depression can be caused by a number of different emotional, physical or environmental factors, and while a potential cause may be difficult to identify, this will help when seeking treatment. Causes may include:
Your physical health can have a huge impact on your mood, especially when it comes to life-threatening illnesses and other conditions that significantly change your life, such as cancer, arthritis, dementia, Parkinson's disease and even menopause.
"Menopause can make things seem worse...even insufferable."
Traumatic or stressful life events may also be a contributing factor. These may include:
"I think that if I didn't have my husband I would be lonely. I do worry about the future sometimes."
Not following a regular routine when it comes to food can produce a change in mood, and missing meals or not eating enough can lower your blood sugar levels, which may make you feel irritable, tired or depressed. A lack of exercise can also affect your mental wellbeing. Incorporating regular exercise into your day-to-day life when you can will heighten feelings of happiness and contentment through a release of endorphins.
Some medication can have negative side effects on your mental health, often promoting feelings of anxiety and depression. The effects of certain medication does, of course, differ from individual to individual, but if you are worried about the side effects of any prescribed medication that you may be taking, be sure to consult your GP.
Both legal drugs (this includes caffeine, alcohol and nicotine in addition to prescribed medication) and illegal drugs can affect temperament and mood depending on what they are and how often you consume them (see more information here).
Your genes can play a part in determining whether or not you suffer from depression. According to the NHS, if it runs in your family, you are more vulnerable to developing the illness. It may be worth approaching your GP about this if you are concerned (or are experiencing severe changes in mood) as they will be able to offer information and support.
"I am caught up in a family jinxed with the depression gene: husband and daughter. The problem is trying to be positive, calm and supportive all of the time."
Negative childhood experiences or traumatic events, no matter how big or small, can have a huge impact on your psychological wellbeing and how you cope with different emotions and challenging situations. This can ultimately lead to depression later in life. These experiences could include:
"Stress is definitely a cause of depression. Even the positive stress of a family wedding can knock things out of kilter."
The symptoms of depression (ranging from mild to severe) may manifest themselves in different ways depending on the individual, which can make them difficult to recognise. Recognising the symptoms of depression is, however, the first step towards getting treatment. Some of the most common symptoms include:
The symptoms of depression can be quite complex. They often come on gradually, which means that they may initially be difficult to notice (especially as unhappiness, stress and anxiety are common during difficult periods of life), taken more lightly than they should be, mistaken for something else or even linked to other health issues.
"I went through a time when I used to get awful panic attacks. I remember that feeling so well, and it was as if I was going to die."
"I get so cross and sad and hurt. I just want to eat something, but I am very overweight and constantly trying to control my eating. I just seem to go round in circles."
If you think you (or a loved one) might have depression, you have already made one important step by recognising that there is something wrong. The next thing to do is to make an appointment with your GP, who will examine you, ask you a variety of questions about your health (be as open and honest as possible when you answer) and make sure that is may not be another condition with similar symptoms. Once diagnosis has occurred (your GP will differentiate between mild, moderate and severe depression), they will talk you through what treatment options are available.
"Write down a list of how you feel and the way that it affects your life, and refer to the list when you are at the doctor's. Explain how you were before and how you are now."
As well as visiting your GP, there are a wealth of organisations in the UK that can offer you support and advice. Here are our recommended websites:
NHS - they have various pages on depression, including diagnosis and treatment
There is no substitute for professional help, but talking about your worries and feelings to your peers can be of valuable help.
"One of the best things about Gransnet is how you can 'talk' to others about how you feel and they will respond and offer support and advice."
"On my days off, as I'm lying in bed not wanting to get up, the thing that gets me up is the 'I'll just turn the computer on and see what's happening on Gransnet.'"
"It makes me feel like I'm not on my own."
Treatment options recommended by your GP will always depend upon your diagnosis (and the severity of the illness). If at any time you are feeling better, it is important that you discuss whether you should continue your treatment with your doctor.
Talking is a very effective way of working through the illness and is one of the most popular forms of treatment within the NHS. Talking therapies include:
"It often helps to talk to a trained person who is not already involved in your life. Cognitive behavioural therapy is very good."
"You learn strategies to cope... The sessions allowed me to realise that I was far from alone and that many folks go through this."
These are usually recommended if depression is more mild in form:
When depression is moderate to severe, your GP may prescribe you with antidepressants, normally alongside counselling. If you have mild depression, your doctor will recommend that you try one of the many talking therapies available before resorting to medication.
Antidepressants help to reduce the symptoms of depression by increasing the levels of serotonin (the 'happy hormone') in the body. There are, however, side effects to taking these drugs which your doctor will talk you through - they are not always effective for everyone. You will receive regular check-ups to see how you are responding to the treatment, and courses are normally prescribed for a minimum of six months.
"I was prescribed antidepressants. After six weeks, I began to enjoy (as opposed to dread) waking up to a new day."
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