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How to spot the signs of depression

HealthBauer Xcel
How to spot the signs of depression
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Meet our expert: Catherine Eadie is the national self-help coordinator for Scottish mental health charity Action on Depression

Depression can affect anyone of any age or walk of life. Although one in ten of us will suffer from depression at some stage in our lives, the stigma still attached to it means that many people feel reluctant to ask for help – especially women over 50. A recent NHS study has revealed that we’re much more likely to bottle up our emotions and are far less likely than younger women to recognise symptoms of depression and seek treatment.

In the past, depression has perhaps been seen as sign of weakness but it is a real and recognised illness. If you have depression, realising you’re ill and that you can’t just ‘snap out of it’ is the first step to getting better. Getting the help you need could make a huge difference to how much depression takes hold of  your life.

“You may have been brought up with different values and taught to resolve your own problems, which can make asking for help hard,” says Catherine Eadie, the national self-help coordinator for Action on Depression. “Perhaps you’ve spent a huge part of your life supporting family and friends, and they may still be relying on you to look after grandchildren or help out in other ways.

"If you are struggling to cope you may not want to admit it for fear of letting people down, or of being a burden. But it’s important to recognise that if you are feeling down or anxious that you may have depression, and you should seek help early, before it becomes severe.”

Realising you hve depression is the first step to tackling it

Depression can be triggered by a specific experience such as a bereavement, but it can also appear for no apparent reason at all. “If your children have flown the nest, you’re recently divorced or even if you’ve just retired you may be more susceptible to depression, even just approaching these life events could leave you feeling down,” says Catherine.

“When you’ve held a specific role or job for many years and then no longer have to do it every day you may feel lost. Many women don’t know  who they’re supposed to be any more.”

You may still feel depressed even if you haven’t had to deal with a life-changing event – and that’s perfectly normal too. “Many people ask themselves ‘What do I have to be depressed about?’ but there doesn’t have to be a definable reason,” says Catherine. “Depression is a real illness and though you might worry you’ll be wasting your GP’s time by seeking help, you really won’t be.”

Realising that you have depression is the first step to tackling it. But it can be very difficult to spot because symptoms often come on gradually. To begin with you might try to cope with your feelings by yourself, but if you keep on going without help you may find that life becomes increasingly difficult.

The most important thing is to talk about how you're feeling

Cutting yourself off  from friends and neglecting your hobbies and interests and generally not enjoying life as you once did could be a clue that something is wrong.

“The most important thing you can do is talk,” says Catherine. “It doesn’t have to be a big discussion about all the details, but a general chat about how you’re feeling can be extremely helpful.

“Just getting something off your chest could really help you to feel more positive. Find a friend or family member who is prepared to just listen – and not necessarily provide the answers. You can’t underestimate the power of listening.”

If your friends and family aren’t supportive, you don’t feel comfortable talking to them or you’d like independent support there are many websites and helplines available to help (see below).

Your GP could also help and will be able to talk you through the available treatments such as medication and talking therapies such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The secret is not to put up with feeling down because talking about it could really help.

Spotting the signs of depression

If you experience some of these symptoms for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP...

  • Feeling low or sad
  • Low self-esteem
  • Irritable and intolerant of others
  • Tearfulness
  • Feeling anxious or worried
  • Having suicidal thoughts or harming yourself

Physical symptoms...

  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Constipation
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Lack of energy or loss of libido

Social symptoms...

  • Taking part in fewer social activities
  • Avoiding contact with friends
  • Neglecting hobbies and interests you previously enjoyed
  • Difficulties in your home and family life

For confidential advice about depression and someone to talk to contactone of the following organisations:

Action on Depression, Scotland  www.actionondepression.org

MIND www.mind.org.uk 0300 123 3393

SANE  www.sane.org.uk 0845 767 8000