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While most of us will have moments of anxiety, stress or a generally low mood, depression, if untreated, can become an all-encompassing problem for the sufferer.
So how do you know if you are depressed?
It's not just a case of feeling low for a time - often, feelings of sadness or stress will pass. If they do not, however, and you experience those symptoms for most of the day and for longer than two weeks, you may be suffering from depression.
Symptoms include a lack of energy or interest in things that you would usually find pleasurable, low self-esteem, loss of appetite and sex drive, tiredness and trouble sleeping, feelings of helplessness and/or worthlessness and difficulty concentrating. For a more comprehensive list, check out the NHS's website - you will also find advice there
Don't suffer alone - the stigma that was once attached to the illness of depression is gradually being eroded and there is help available.
Many avoid discussing the issue with friends or family and feel the need to hide their depression for fear that their loved ones will not take it seriously. But opening up can be the first step to coping with the illness - by building a close support network, you are more likely to talk about your problems and avoid cutting yourself off from others.
Simple things such as seeing friends, eating well and getting plenty of exercise, even if it is just a walk in the countryside or the local park, can help in the short term.
If you think you may be depressed, speak to your GP - there are a number of antidepressants available via prescription and your doctor can also advise on counselling and self-help groups where you can talk to fellow sufferers who understand what you're going through. Your GP may also refer you to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
SSRIs are antidepressants that control a substance in your brain called seratonin which can help to lift your mood. The medication can take a few weeks before any effects are noticed and may also require some time to be weaned off them to prevent withdrawals. They are best used in conjunction with therapy since they may alleviate the symptoms but if the cause of the depression still exists, it may return in the future.
CBT is a term applied to a number of therapies that aim to combat negative thought patterns and behaviours that a person has developed and which contribute to their illness. Through CBT, sufferers can learn to recognise and break these patterns that reinforce their depressive attitudes. It can be a long process taking several weeks or months but its effects are long-term rather than the short-term effects of medication.
As well as these treatments, it helps to have people around you who understand and are supportive. If friends and family find it difficult to understand mental illness, there are many support groups and forums that sufferers can turn to. The main thing to remember is that depression is an illness and it can get better. Just take it one day at a time.
For more information on depression, including coping strategies and self-help, visit www.depressionalliance.org and take the first step to feeling better.