What is depression?

Depression is a mental illness that makes a person feel sad or unable to enjoy anything for weeks at a time.  They can also have other symptoms, such as having no energy, being irritable, or having problems with sleep. In severe cases, someone might even think about suicide.

Depression can stop people being able to do their job, study, or look after themselves and their family.  It can be a short-term illness, or it can come and go throughout a person’s life.  With the right treatment, someone with depression can recover and live a full, satisfying life.

Types of depression

Major depression

Where someone has had symptoms of depression for at least two weeks at a time, and the symptoms are interfering with their everyday life.

This is the most common type of depression in adults. It can be mild, moderate or severe.

Premenstrual depression

When a woman feels extremely unhappy, irritable or moody just before her monthly period, and the symptoms go away after her period starts (also called premenstrual dysphoric disorder).

Prenatal and postnatal depression

When a woman has symptoms of depression during pregnancy, or after giving birth (also called perinatal

depression or peripartum depression).

Atypical depression

Similar to major depression, but with extra symptoms such as feeling extremely tired and weak, sleeping for excessive amounts of time, eating more than usual and putting on weight, and feeling extremely sensitive to being rejected by other people.

Seasonal patterns of depression

When someone only gets symptoms of depression each autumn and winter, and feels better each spring and summer, it is sometimes called seasonal affective disorder.

Symptoms are usually mild (e.g. sleeping too much, having trouble getting up in the morning, tiredness during the day, overeating and putting on weight).

Symptoms of depression

Depression can cause any of these symptoms:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Not being able to enjoy things that are normally enjoyable
  • Often thinking about death or suicide
  • Eating too much or not enough
  • Gaining or losing weight
  • Sleeping more than usual, or not being able to sleep properly
  • Having no energy or getting tired easily
  • Not being able to concentrate or think clearly
  • Feeling bad about yourself, worthless or guilty
  • Physical movement that is either slowed down or sped up
  • Irritability

Everyone can feel down sometimes, but if the symptoms last for more than a few weeks, it could be depression.  Someone might feel this way all the time, or the symptoms might come and go.

Depression can interfere with thinking. In older people it can even seem like they have dementia.

Depression can also have other unusual symptoms, such as hearing or seeing things that are not real (hallucinations), having very strange beliefs that are abnormal or not true (delusions), extreme weakness, or being unable to move parts of the body. These symptoms are rare.

What causes depression?

There is not one single cause of depression. It can be caused by different things in different people.

Depression tends to run in families. Genes are a big part of the reason someone gets depression. Usually there are also other reasons, such as:

  • Stress and life problems
  • Traumatic life events
  • Grief and loss
  • Loneliness
  • Health problems
  • Using alcohol or other drugs

Not everyone who is stressed by things in their lives has depression – but these feelings can lead to depression.

Who gets depression?

Anyone can get depression.  It is very common. On average more than one in five people will have depression sometime in their life.  Most people are over 20 years old when they have depression for the first time.

Children and teenagers can also get depression.  Women are about twice as likely as men to get depression.

Getting help for depression

Early medical care is vital to a good recovery. The sooner you get help, the more chance you have of getting the correct diagnosis and getting effective treatment and help to manage your problems.

How is depression treated?

The treatment that's right for you will depend on how bad your depression is, your symptoms, what is happening in your life, your preferences, and your personality.

Mild depression is usually treated with psychological treatments (talking therapies).

Moderate depression can be treated with psychological treatments and medication.

Most people with more severe depression will need a combination of antidepressant medication and psychological treatment.

Recovery from depression

Depression is a treatable illness. With treatment, most people can recover from a period of depression within six months. Some people take longer to recover.


  • Depression is a mental illness that makes a person feel sad or unable to enjoy anything for weeks at a time
  • Depression is very common
  • Get help for depression by seeing psychologist. If your symptoms are unusual or severe, you may be referred to a psychiatrist for help
  • With treatment, most people recover from depression within months

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