What is depression? Here's everything you ought to know
Depression is not a bad mood.
Let’s just get that out of the way, right at the beginning. It’s not a matter of feeling sad for a few days. It’s not something that you can ‘snap out of’. And it is absolutely NOT a sign of weakness.
Depression is a very real illness, with very real symptoms.
But with the right treatment and support, it doesn’t have to take over your life either. Some people with depression will make a complete recovery, others might find themselves managing their symptoms on and off their whole lives. But either way, it is always possible to feel happy again. Pinky promise.
What does depression look like?
Part of what makes depression so difficult to understand is that often, there isn’t anything to see. It’s not like a broken arm or a bleeding toe, something you can point at and say “here! This is where it hurts!”
But when you think about it, there are heaps of things we can’t see. Love. Gravity. Farts. Pokemon. We still believe they exist.
However, depression can come with physical symptoms too. Some people find that they constantly feel tired, others have trouble sleeping or sprout various pains and aches. Some people lose their appetite while other people find that their appetite has quadrupled overnight.
Emotionally, people with depression may find that they have lasting feelings of sadness or hopelessness and that they don’t find happiness in things they normally enjoy. Such as hanging out with friends and family. Puppies. Chocolate milkshakes. It’s also common for people experiencing depression to have symptoms of anxiety. But that doesn’t mean that if you have depression you’ll also have anxiety, or vice versa.
TL;DR? Here's the important stuff:
- Depression is a mental illness but it can have physical symptoms too, such as fatigue, pains and aches and a loss of appetite.
- There are loads of reasons that people develop depression; sometimes there is a trigger and other times there seems to be no reason at all.
- Depression is treatable. Treatment often involves talking therapies, and medication such as antidepressants.
- It’s totally normal and ok to be sad sometimes. But if you’re worried your sadness might be something more serious, talk to your GP or an adult you trust. You don’t have to go through this alone.
It’s perfectly natural to experience feelings of sadness or anxiety at certain points in your life – especially during puberty, when often it can feel like your brain and body are running in two different races at the same time. This is part of being a human, and usually nothing to worry about in the long term.
Even though they might look similar from far away and are often mistaken for each other, when you get close up, you realise that depression and sadness are completely different things.
What causes depression?
There are loads of reasons that people develop depression – and sometimes, no obvious reason at all.
Sometimes there is a trigger, such as parents splitting up, being bullied, or losing someone close to you. Some people might just be more prone to depression than others. Every family gene pool is a lucky dip of quirks and conditions that might be passed down – from heart disease and diabetes to pointy noses, and sometimes, yep, depression or other mental health issues.
But having a history of depression in your family doesn’t mean that you will get it, just as no history of depression isn’t a guarantee that you won’t. That’s the thing about a lucky dip: no one quite knows what they’re going to get.
Is it treatable?
Yes, a million times yes. Treatment for depression often involves talking therapies, such as seeing a psychologist or a counsellor to chat about your feelings. Talking therapies can be great as they can teach you tactics to help you cope in certain situations and strategies to avoid triggers.
There are also medications such as antidepressants, which can help people cope with their symptoms and balance out their mood. It’s common for people to try a combination of talking therapies and medication, depending on their GP’s advice.
When should I go to the doctor?
It’s always best to be on the safe side, so if you feel like you have any of the symptoms we’ve been talking about, it might be a good idea to head to your GP for a chat. You can also find lots of helpful info on Childline.
Remember, it’s totally normal and ok and fine to be sad – that’s what we have Weepy Girls’ Corner for. But if you’re worried that your sadness could be depression, talk to someone. It could be a teacher, a parent, a doctor, an older sibling, a synchronised swimming instructor… basically, an adult you trust.
Because however difficult things seem, you never have to suffer in silence.