From the GP’s surgery, by Alexandra Phelan
Today, the third Monday in January, is often described as Blue Monday because it is said to be the most depressing day of the year. The reality is that depression doesn’t pick and choose the days it affects sufferers. However, Blue Monday provides a good excuse to talk about a condition that either has or will affect many people.
What is depression?
Depression is a mental health condition characterised by feelings of unhappiness, hopelessness and anxiety.
We all have days when we feel a bit down, but depression is when you feel continuously low for weeks and months, rather than a few days.
The illness affects people in different ways. Symptoms can include aches and pains, being tired all the time, losing interest in socialising or friends, feeling tearful, losing your appetite and having a low/non-existent libido.
Talk about it
There are still many misconceptions surrounding depression; sometimes people do not want to admit when they are suffering.
Many don’t seek help as they feel they will be shamed or won’t be taken seriously.
Depression is an illness, with real symptoms. It is not a sign of being unable to cope or weakness.
Depression can be severe. Some people feel so desperate that they consider suicide or self-harm. It’s important if you are feeling particularly low to seek professional help. Many people put off getting help, but the sooner you get help, the better.
If you have mild depression your doctor may suggest some lifestyle changes and allowing time to see it improves.
You may be prescribed talking therapies or a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
If you have a more moderate to severe depression, you may be prescribed anti-depressants as well as talking therapy. You may also be referred to a specialist mental health team for more intensive treatment.
- There are lifestyle changes that can support you to help beat depression, or improve your daily mental health even if you don’t suffer from depression.
- Diet: eating healthily has been shown to help maintain mental health and lift your mood.
- Drink less: when you’re depressed it can be tempting to use alcohol to cope. However, alcohol is a depressant and can make you feel worse.
- Exercise: there’s evidence that taking 20 minutes of exercise a day can help by encouraging the body to release natural endorphins that influence a positive mood. Don’t feel the need to run a marathon, a brisk walk or gentle swim can help.
- Stay in touch: depression can lead sufferers to isolate themselves and lose interest in socialising. However, keeping in touch with friends and family provides a support network that can improve your mood.
- Routine: when you’re down it can be tempting to sleep in the day or stay up late at night, which can give you poor sleep patterns or make you miss meals. Create a routine and try to stick to it.
- Face up to it: sometimes when we’re depressed we avoid situations that are hard or make us anxious. Face up to these fears or you could lose confidence.
If you are feeling low or depressed, call NHS 111 or see your GP for advice.
If you self-harm or feel life isn’t worth living, talk to someone immediately. The Samaritans have a 24-hour hotline (call 116 123) you can call NHS 111 or you can present yourself at a medical walk-in centre or A&E.
Dr Alexandra Phelan is a working NHS GP and Online Doctor with Pharmacy2U. For more information go to www.Pharmacy2U.co.uk.