13 October, 1999, 17:16 GMT
is a common mental illness which is estimated to affect up to one in five
Britons at some point in their lifetime and to cost the UK about £8bn a year in
medication, benefits and lost working days. It can strike at any age and the
feelings of hopelessness and helplessness attached to it can make it difficult
for people to carry out their normal activities. It can be more or less severe
and symptoms are often varied, making it often hard to diagnose. It is thought
that some individuals may be more prone to depression, whether because of life
experiences, their body chemistry or genetically inherited conditions. Those who
have suffered from depression include Sir Winston Churchill and Florence
can suffer from depression. The most common symptoms include:
Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
Feeling useless, inadequate, bad
A sense of self hatred, constant questioning of
thoughts and actions and a constant need for reassurance
Feeling vulnerable and being oversensitive to
Sense of guilt
Loss of energy and the ability to concentrate and be
motivated to do even the simplest tasks
Sudden loss or gain in weight
Sleep disruption or a need to sleep very long hours
Agitation and restlessness
Loss of libido
Physical aches and pains
people only suffer two or three of these symptoms at any one time.
with severe depression may also experience suicidal feelings, stop eating or
drinking and suffer from delusions or hallucinations.
people who need treatment for depression suffer further bouts later in life.
are twice as likely to suffer from depression, but three times as many men
say this could be because women are more likely to admit to depression because
of the stigma attached to mental illness
types of depression
are many different types of depression, including clinically diagnosed
depression, manic depression and post-natal depression.
depression is marked by extreme mood swings, between highs when a person
experiences excessive energy and optimism and lows when they may feel total
despair and lack of energy.
is often treated with lithium or, in extreme cases, electro-convulsive therapy.
depression can occur from about two weeks after the birth of a child to two
years after and differs from the mood swings suffered by many in the first few
days after the child is born.
forms of depression include Seasonal Affective Disorder which is thought to be
associated with the approach of winter and may be linked to lack of sunlight.
can be caused by a combination of factors.
often runs in families, suggesting a genetic component, but it may be triggered
by stressful events.
depressive illness is usually linked to some form of chemical imbalance in the
is also thought that people with low self-esteem, a pessimistic outloook on life
and difficulty coping with stress are more prone to depression.
events which may trigger depression include bereavement, chronic illness,
relationship problems and financial difficulties.
recent years, the market has been saturated by a range of new drugs called
include Prozac which is thought to correct chemical imbalances in the brain.
types of drugs may also be used to treat depression.
positive claims have been made for anti-depressants, but some patients
experience bad side effects.
ways of treating depression include psychotherapy, which aims to uncover the
reasons for depression and help the patient to find ways of overcoming them.
help groups may also offer people a forum for talking about their condition and
sharing it with others so that they do not feel isolated and alone.
extreme cases, a person with depression may need to be treated in hospital, for
example, if they are threatening or have attempted to commit suicide.
the person is deemed a risk to himself or others, he may have to be committed to
psychotherapy and a course of anti-psychotic drugs, people in hospital may be
offered or forced to undergo electro-convulsive therapy.
involves applying electric currents to the brain. The treatment is
controversial, but safety procedures have been improved in recent years.
psychiatrists are against its use, particularly without the patient's consent,
but others believe it can be effective in dealing with life-threatening
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