If depression affects one in five adults at some point during their lives, then the chances are we will all know at least one person to be affected by the illness. Recently, I learnt of two separate situations, where someone close to me could be suffering from depression and this compelled me to ask the question, had I not been made aware of it, would I of spotted the signs and symptoms before things went too far?
This thought process then escalated. If I, as someone who would consider themselves to be relatively familiar with the illness couldn’t spot the signs, then how could we expect someone who has never come into contact with mental health problems before to recognise someone close to them was suffering?
The signs of a mental health problem can be screamingly obvious to the sufferer but almost impossible for an outsider to spot, and when treating someone the focus is often on what has led to the illness, rather than how to prevent it.
On World Mental Health Day this year, Radio 5’s Stephen Nolan led an insightful discussion about the need for us to understand the range of mental health problems, just as we do for physical health. The answer to this is obvious yet proportionally absent, education and awareness.
If the people surrounding the sufferer, be it friends, family or colleagues, have been educated about mental health, have a good understanding of illnesses such as depression, and can recognise the signs, this gives them the ability to intervene in an appropriate way and begin to break down the three overwhelming thoughts in the sufferers mind –
“I’m the only one to feel like this”
“Nobody wants to listen”
Here’s a list of symptoms for clinical depression, taken from the NHS website. Take it seriously, depression is real.
“The symptoms of depression can be complex and vary widely between people. But as a general rule, if you are depressed, you feel sad, hopeless and lose interest in things you used to enjoy. The symptoms persist for weeks or months and are bad enough to interfere with your work, social life and family life. There are many other symptoms of depression and you’re unlikely to have every one listed below. 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.
Psychological symptoms include:
• continuous low mood or sadness
• feeling hopeless and helpless
• having low self-esteem
• feeling tearful
• feeling guilt-ridden
• feeling irritable and intolerant of others
• having no motivation or interest in things
• finding it difficult to make decisions
• not getting any enjoyment out of life
• feeling anxious or worried
• having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
Physical symptoms include:
• moving or speaking more slowly than usual
• change in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
• unexplained aches and pains
• lack of energy or lack of interest in sex (loss of libido) •
changes to your menstrual cycle
• disturbed sleep (for example, finding it hard to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning)
Social symptoms include:
• not doing well at work
• taking part in fewer social activities and avoiding contact with friends
• neglecting your hobbies and interests
• having difficulties in your home and family life
Depression can come on gradually, so it can be difficult to notice something is wrong. Many people continue to try to cope with their symptoms without realising they are ill. It can take a friend or family member to suggest something is wrong.
Doctors describe depression by how serious it is:
•mild depression has some impact on your daily life
• moderate depression has a significant impact on your daily life
• severe depression makes it almost impossible to get through daily life – a few people with severe depression may have psychotic symptoms”
If you’re worried that you or someone close to you could be suffering from depression there are various websites and helplines you can go to for advice: www.mind.org.uk www.samaritans.org (08457 90 90 90 24-hour helpline) www.rethink.org www.youngminds.org