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    Mental Health Awareness: A Beginner's Guide to Depression

    Welcome to our beginner's guide to depression, where we'll explore the basics of the mental health condition depression. Depression is a common yet often misunderstood condition. We'll define what depression is and look at the different types of depression that exist, along with the signs and symptoms to look out for. We will also examine how depression can profoundly affect individuals, touching on their daily lives, relationships, and overall well-being. Most importantly, we'll offer advice on seeking help and support for those grappling with depression, providing a clear path to understanding and coping with the complex condition.

    A visual representation of a person suffering from depression

    What is the definition of depression?

    Depression, which is formally known as depressive disorder, is a common mental health condition that can affect anyone at any time of life. The exact definition provided by the World Health Organisation is as follows: “Depressive disorder, or depression, is a common mental health condition that can happen to anyone. It is characterised by a low mood or loss of pleasure or interest in activities for long periods of time.” It is important to note that definitions will vary depending on where you read them, however, they generally involve the same factor of low mood. 

    How prevalent is depression in the UK?

    Depression is, unfortunately, very common in the United Kingdom. It is thought that 1 in 6 adults will be affected by depression. Often, depression is linked with other mental health conditions including anxiety, stress, and feelings of loneliness. As well as being a common condition in general, it is thought that women are twice as likely to experience depression than men, according to Champion Health

    Is depression the same as sadness?

    No, depression is not the same as sadness. Feeling sad is a natural response to challenging circumstances, whereas depression is more distinct. The National Institute of Mental Health says that depression is a mood disorder that can significantly impact someone’s emotions, thoughts and behaviour. 

    Is depression the same as mood swings?

    While mood swings can be a component of depression, they are not synonymous with the disorder. Individuals experiencing depression may indeed have fluctuations in their mood, moving between low periods and moments of feeling okay (Bhandari, 2023). Depression is commonly associated with low moods throughout the day, and people with depression rarely experience upturns in mood. It should be noted that depressed people often feel worse in the morning, and as the day goes on they will start to feel better.

    Different Types of Depression

    Are there different types of depression?

    Yes, there are a number of different types of depression that someone may experience during their lifetime. It is not a one-size-fits-all condition and can manifest in a variety of ways. Below are a number of the most common types of depression with an overview of what they are. 

    Major Depressive Disorder 

    Major depressive disorder, often shortened to MDD, is a significant mental health condition that can significantly impact someone's life. It is characterised by persistent feelings of sadness or a low mood that is often accompanied by a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable. Cognitive functions, such as concentration and decision-making, may also be impaired (Otte et al, 2016)

    Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

    Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), also known as dysthymia or chronic depression, is a form of depression characterised by continuous symptoms that last for two years or more, according to Mind

    Bipolar Disorder 

    Bipolar Disorder, also referred to as manic depression, is a serious mental health condition marked by dramatic mood swings, which include manic highs and depressive lows, according to Bipolar UK.

    Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) 

    Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that the NHS characterise by episodes that follow a seasonal pattern. It's often referred to as "winter depression" because symptoms tend to be worse during cold, dark months. It's worth noting that some individuals may experience SAD symptoms during the summer months and can actually feel better during winter, although this is less common.

    Misconceptions & Stigma

    Because of a lack of awareness or understanding on the topic, there are a number of common misconceptions and stigmas associated with depression. Mental health is a topic that has become more widely discussed and these stigmas have diminished, however, some people still hold them. 

    Lady looking outside from a glass that has rain on it

    What are common misconceptions of depression?

    There are a number of common misconceptions that people have about depression in all of its forms. Unfortunately, some misconceptions are more harmful than others, although these are diminishing as the understanding of the condition grows. Here are the 9 biggest myths about depression, according to Healthline:

    1. Depression isn’t a real illness

    2. Antidepressants always cure depression

    3. You can ‘snap out of it’

    4. It only happens due to sad situations

    5. It is passed down from parents

    6. Antidepressants change your personality

    7. You will have to take antidepressants forever

    8. Depression only affects women

    9. Talking about your condition makes things worse

    All of the statements above, whilst commonly believed by many people, are incorrect.

    Signs & Symptoms

    As with other medical conditions, depression has a number of signs and symptoms that you can keep your eye out for if you believe you may be suffering from it.

    What are the physical symptoms of depression?

    Changes in sleep patterns 

    Changes in sleep patterns are a common symptom of depression. This could be difficulty falling asleep, waking up earlier in the morning than you normally would, or oversleeping. These changes can make feelings of fatigue worse and can contribute to the overall impact of depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health

    Changes in appetite 

    Changes in appetite are often observed in individuals with major depressive disorder. Some people may experience an increase in appetite, while others may lose their appetite. Many of the brain regions involved in regulating appetite also play a role in depression, hence why they are connected (Simmons et al, 2016).

    Changes in energy levels 

    According to the National Institute of Mental Health, changes in energy levels that an individual experiences is a common symptom of depression. Some individuals may experience a significant decrease in energy, feeling persistently tired or fatigued despite adequate rest. This can make even simple tasks feel overwhelming or exhausting.

    Experiencing pain 

    Experiencing pain is a common aspect of depression, often presenting as chronic joint pain, limb discomfort, backaches, and gastrointestinal issues. These physical symptoms can sometimes be the initial indicators of depression (Trivedi, 2024).

    What are the emotional symptoms of depression? 

    As well as physical symptoms, there are a number of emotional symptoms of depression. Depression is commonly presented through a number of emotional symptoms, however, these can be tough to spot due to the confusion between the condition and simply feeling down. The National Institute of Mental Health has a list of emotional symptoms that you can look out for. The most common emotional symptoms of depression are explained below.

    Feelings of sadness

    Feelings of sadness are a core symptom of depression. Individuals experiencing depression often feel persistently sad or low in mood, which can last for extended periods of time. Recognising and addressing these feelings is essential for managing depression.

    Feelings of hopelessness

    Feelings of hopelessness are a significant aspect of depression. Individuals experiencing depression often have a pervasive sense of hopelessness or despair about the future. They may feel like there is no way out of their current situation and that things will never get better. 

    Feelings of emptiness

    Feelings of emptiness are common in depression, where individuals may experience a profound sense of inner void or numbness. These feelings can take over various aspects of life, leaving individuals disconnected from their emotions, relationships, and interests.

    What behavioural changes can there be with depression?

    Changes in behaviour can be hard to spot by yourself. Often, behavioural changes will be noticed by people that you are close to, who will notice how you used to act compared to how you act now. Below are the most common behavioural changes that people with depression exhibit.

    Losing interest in your favourite activities

    One behavioural change commonly associated with depression is a loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyable. Individuals may find themselves no longer interested in activities they used to love, and they may struggle to find motivation to participate or pursue their interests, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

    Withdrawing from social interactions 

    Withdrawing from social interactions is a common symptom of depression. Individuals may avoid social gatherings, isolate themselves from friends and family, and prefer to spend time alone. This withdrawal can stem from feelings of sadness, low self-esteem, or a lack of energy to engage with others.

    What are the cognitive signs of depression?

    Cognitive symptoms refer to changes in thinking patterns, perception, and memory. In the context of depression, cognitive symptoms can include a number of different issues. Cognitive symptoms can significantly impact daily functioning and contribute to the overall burden of depression. Here are some of the most common cognitive symptoms of depression.

    Trouble concentrating 

    Difficulty concentrating is a significant cognitive symptom of major depressive disorder (MDD). During acute episodes of depression, individuals often experience a reduced ability to think clearly, focus, or make decisions. In fact, trouble concentrating and indecisiveness are key criteria used by healthcare professionals to diagnose MDD (Lam et al, 2014).

    Trouble making decisions 

    Difficulty making decisions is a symptom that is used to help diagnose major depressive disorder (MDD). Individuals experiencing MDD often struggle with indecisiveness and find it challenging to make even simple decisions (Lam et al, 2014).

    Trouble remembering things 

    Research suggests that various aspects of cognitive function are affected during the acute phase of depression. This includes impairments in verbal and visual short-term and long-term memory (Gonda et al, 2015).

    Lady sat on the ground with her head in hear hands due to depression

    What causes depression?

    Which biological factors can cause depression?

    The actual cause of depression will vary from person to person. Depression could arise from a number of different factors, including biological factors. Different biological factors can contribute to a heightened risk of depression. The most common biological factors that could cause depression are mentioned below.


    Depression is influenced by various factors, including both genetics and environment. Genetics means the traits we inherit from our parents. Research shows that depression can run in families, suggesting a genetic link (Alshaya, 2022).

    Brain Chemistry 

    The monoamine-deficiency theory suggests that depression stems from a shortage of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in regulating mood, emotions, and overall brain function. It's believed that imbalances in serotonin levels can contribute to the development and severity of depressive symptoms (Hasler, 2010).

    Which environmental influences can cause depression? 

    There are actually several environmental factors that could contribute to the development of depression in an individual. Environmental factors are external events that occur during someone’s life that could contribute to depression (England & Sim, 2009). Below are the most common environmental factors that could lead to depression.


    Stress is a significant environmental factor that can contribute to depression. When individuals experience prolonged or overwhelming stress, it can disrupt their emotional well-being and increase the risk of developing depression. Stressful life events, chronic stressors, or ongoing pressures from work, relationships, or other sources can all contribute to feelings of depression.


    Trauma is another environmental factor that can lead to depression. Experiencing traumatic events, such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, violence, natural disasters, or accidents, can have profound and long-lasting effects on mental health. Trauma can disrupt a person's sense of safety, trust, and well-being, leading to symptoms of depression.

    Which psychological factors can cause depression?

    As expected, there are a number of different psychological factors that could lead to depression. Due to the nature of depression, it is no surprise that psychological factors can influence the condition. Below are the most common psychological factors that could potentially cause depression.

    Lack of support systems 

    Lack of support systems can significantly impact depression. Research shows that inadequate social support is linked to various aspects of depression including the onset and potential relapse of the condition, as well as the response to treatment (Ozbay et al, 2007)

    Coping skills

    Coping skills are strategies and techniques that individuals use to manage stress, deal with challenges, and maintain emotional well-being. Coping skills can help individuals navigate difficult emotions and situations, reduce symptoms, and improve their overall quality of life if they suffer from depression. 

    The Impact of Depression

    How can depression impact on personal life?

    Depression, unfortunately, can severely impact an individual's personal life. Seeking support from loved ones and mental health professionals can help individuals manage depression and improve their quality of life. Below are some of the relationships that can be impacted by depression.


    Depressive episodes can cause a number of issues in relationships. When someone is depressed in a relationship, several things can happen. They may withdraw from activities, cancel plans, or avoid doing anything socially at all. This withdrawal can stem from feelings of sadness, fatigue, or a lack of enjoyment in previously pleasurable activities (Cassata & Lawrenz, 2023).


    Depression can significantly impact someone’s enjoyment and performance of work (Marie & Jelinek, 2021). Work is a common cause of depression. Lack of motivation and decreased satisfaction can make it challenging to maintain productivity and give work the attention it deserves. As well as this, the monotony of day-to-day activities, including going to work and doing something you don’t want to do, can be a major factor in depression. Alongside these concerns, money worries can also cause depression, and many people become depressed making money for others, and not much for themselves.


    Research indicates that depression has significant effects on students' psychological and emotional well-being. The emotional instability and persistent low mood associated with depression can impair learning effectiveness and undermine academic achievements over time. Depression can also knock the enthusiasm of people who are studying (Tang & He, 2023).

    How can depression impact on physical health?

    Overall, depression can have significant implications for physical health, increasing the risk of various medical conditions and compromising overall well-being. The physical impact of depression may not be apparent right away, however, it is a useful symptom that can be used in diagnosis. The most common physical impacts of depression are below.

    Sleep issues 

    The relationship between sleep and depression is well-known. According to a 2008 study, three-quarters of individuals with depression experience symptoms of insomnia, while about 40% of younger depressed adults and 10% of older patients experience hypersomnia, which is excessive sleepiness (Nutt, Wilson & Paterson, 2008).

    Changes in weight 

    Depression can cause weight fluctuations, which can include increases and reductions in weight. It can cause an increase in appetite or an increase in comfort eating which could lead to weight gain. As well as this, depression could also cause a loss of appetite, which could result in weight loss (Sissons & Washington, 2022).

    Chronic diseases 

    People who have depression could be at a higher risk of certain medical conditions, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The conditions you may be at higher risk of include cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, strokes, pain, and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Lady reaching out to an outstretched hand because she needs support with coping with her depression

    How can depression have a social impact?

    Socially, depression can cause an impact both on the person suffering from the condition, as well as those surrounding them. In social settings, people with depression may also be judged by others who do not have a full understanding of the condition and how it manifests. Below are two of the most common social impacts that depression can have.

    Feelings of experiencing stigma 

    From a study in which young people provided accounts about their experiences after being diagnosed with depression, it was revealed that they felt misunderstood, judged and discriminated against in public. They suggested however that these feelings may have been a result of a lack of understanding (Prizeman, Weinstein & McCabe, 2023).

    Loss of productivity 

    In a social sense of work, people with depression may notice that they have a lack of productivity when compared to colleagues. This can be in terms of the way that they function at work, or could be down to a higher amount of absences or an inability to hold down a job (Beck et al, 2011).

    Seeking Help

    If you believe that you or someone you know is suffering from depression, it is vital that you seek help if you feel you need it. Seeking help when depressed can be difficult and you may sometimes require help from others, however, it is often the best way to recover from your condition.

    When should you seek help for depression?

    If you are looking for help with depression, then you should visit your GP if you experience depression symptoms most of the day, every day, for more than two weeks, according to NHS Inform. They state that this is especially important if:

    • You have symptoms that aren’t getting better

    • You have had thoughts of self harm or suicide

    • Your personal relationships are being affected

    Which professional services are available for depression?

    As mental health has become more talked about, the amount of options that people have open to them is as broad as ever. Large organisations, which many people have access too, offer professional services and therapies for depression. These services include:

    Can therapy and medication help?

    Yes, therapy and certain medications can be helpful for people that are struggling with depression. For many mental health conditions including depression, according to Psychology Today, clinicians may recommend certain mental health medications that could influence someone’s mental state, such as antidepressants. These medications may be used alongside therapy to treat depression.

    Can support groups and community resources help with depression?

    Yes, using a support group is a great way to meet other people that may be in a similar situation to yourself. The NHS sometimes calls this treatment option peer support. Help groups allow people to recieve help, and provide help to others. Mental health charity Mind provide information regarding groups in your area.

    Self-help Strategies for Depression

    Sometimes, people will try self-help strategies to try and cope if they are suffering with depression. This can be an effective way of changing patterns in your behaviour and can, in some cases, help people without having to visit a GP or therapist. Here are some self-help strategies that may help you.

    Which lifestyle changes can help with depression?

    Below are some lifestyle changes that you could make if you are suffering with depression that could help to treat some of the symptoms you have.


    The NHS states that regular exercise, whilst good for your overall health, can also help to boost your mood if you are suffering from depression. It is especially useful if you have mild to moderate depression. They say any type of exercise is beneficial, as long as it suits you, you enjoy it, and you do enough of it. 

    Healthy diet 

    Eating a healthy diet is also good for overall health, especially when combined with regular exercise. In a 2018 study, it was suggested that a healthy diet could also come with a reduced risk of becoming depressed. The phrase you are what you eat could stand true with mental health. People who eat junk food will often feel worse than people who eat a healthier, balanced diet.

    Getting good sleep 

    Sleep plays more of a role in your overall health than just helping you to feel refreshed. The Sleep Foundation has suggested that poor sleep could actually provoke depression in some people. They say that there is a complex relationship between sleep and depression, and that improving your sleep quality could be a good way to manage your condition.

    Can mindfulness and relaxation help with depression?

    Yes, mindfulness and relaxation techniques can be beneficial for managing depression. Research has demonstrated that mindfulness practices, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness-based therapy, can help reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, according to the NHS.

    Can building a strong support network help with depression?

    Yes, building a strong support network around you that consists of family and friends is a great way to help you with depression, according to Mental Health First Aid. Having supportive relationships with friends, family members, and other trusted individuals can provide emotional comfort, encouragement, and practical assistance during difficult times. You should, however, only confide in people that you fully trust and feel comfortable with, as if you don’t, you could potentially worsen your condition.


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