• Adam Rothwell

Understanding depression

The word depression is known by most in society nowadays, you may have heard friends explain they feel 'a bit depressed today'. But what does it mean to be depressed? How does it affect people's lives and how can you get support if you feel that you are depressed?

What is depression?

When you think of the word depressed, what comes up for you? Words we tend to associate with depression are sadness and feeling low. Of course, we all have days where we feel down, or find it hard to get as much joy and happiness from life as other times. Depression would be considered where this were to persist over a number of weeks. For some people, depression comes and goes and for others it can be persistent for years.

The feelings and experiences differ by person and the level of distress these bring can also be different. Some of the symptoms people can report are:

Psychological symptoms:

  • continuous low mood or sadness

  • feeling hopeless and helpless

  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others 

  • having no motivation or interest in things

  • finding it difficult to make decisions

Physical symptoms:

  • moving or speaking more slowly than usual 

  • changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased) 

  • lack of energy

  • low sex drive (loss of libido)

  • disturbed sleep

Social symptoms:

  • avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities

  • neglecting your hobbies and interests

  • having difficulties in your home, work or family life

Credit to the NHS. Please note this list is not exhaustive and should not be used to self-diagnose. The NHS have a depression self-assessment you can take if you want to understand your own feelings in more detail.


Why do people become depressed?

There are different theories around this. For a long time, people have thought that people have an imbalance of chemicals in the brain which cause people to be depressed. However, extensive research has now shown this is not the case. Johann Hari has written a book - Lost Connections - on this topic, if you want to read more about this being disproved.

There can be many reasons someone deals with depression. The most obvious one is if you have suffered an adverse life event, such as a bereavement, a divorce or loss of a job. In these circumstances, it can be hard to feel positive about life and to bounce back against feelings such as guilt, shame, inadequacy that people often feel when depressed.

Your surroundings can factor into developing depression and loneliness is often a big factor in people becoming depressed. The hard part is that depression often makes you less sociable too, so this can feel like a catch 22 situation. Big changes in life can sometimes trigger depression too, for instance giving birth. According to the PANDAS Foundation, post-natal depression affects more than 1 in 10 woman a year.

Drug and alcohol use can also increase a risk of depression. Many people use alcohol or drugs or cannabis to relax, but alcohol is a depressant, as are some drugs, which can lower your mood. Some drugs are stimulants but create a 'comedown' sensation when they wear off, which can increase depressive symptoms.


How can counselling help someone who is depressed?

As with attending counselling for any issue, one of the main benefits is having a professional who is impartial to talk to, who has the sole motive of supporting their client to feel better. Unfortunately, there are many people who think depression is something you can just 'snap out of' - this is not the case and it can be helpful to have someone who is knowledgeable in this area. Counselling can feel like a big challenge; motivating ones-self to go out, and open up to a stranger - but it really can pay off in the long run.

Some therapists will support their client around multiple things, such as looking at self-care like exercise, diet and sleep (all things that can be affected by depression). It can be helpful to have goals to work towards, even though this can feel really challenging, and someone to check in with weekly about these.

Therapy also allows the opportunity to look at what has happened in the client's life to create the negative feelings, and to work through these. By understanding situations and feelings in depth, actions can be taken. These may be making changes in one's life, accepting the past or present, realising that it isn't the client's fault, and many more (everyone will have a different experience).


Adam Rothwell MBACP is a registered person-centred counsellor in private practice. He sees clients online and in person in the South Manchester, Stockport and Cheshire East areas of North West England.

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