What is depression?
We often use the expression ‘I feel depressed’ when we’re feeling sad or miserable about life. Usually these feelings pass in due course. But if the feelings are interfering with your life and don’t go away after a couple of weeks, or if they come back, over and over again for a few days at a time, it could be a sign that you’re depressed in the medical sense of the term.
In its mildest form depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life, but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, major depression (clinical depression) can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live.
There are also some specific forms of depression:
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – this is seasonal depression which is related to day length. It usually comes on in the autumn and winter, when days are short and the sun is low in the sky, and gets better as the days get longer and brighter. (See Understanding seasonal affective disorder.)
Postnatal depression – many mothers have ‘the baby blues’ soon after the birth of their baby, but it usually passes after a day or two. Postnatal depression is a much more serious problem and can occur any time between two weeks and two years after the birth. (See Understanding postnatal depression.)
Bipolar disorder (manic depression) – some people have major mood swings when periods of depression alternate with periods of mania. When manic they are in a state of high excitement and may plan and may try to carry out over-ambitious schemes and ideas. They often then have periods of severe depression. (See Understanding bipolar disorder.)