What is depression?
Although it is a common term for feeling down, the term depression is used to indicate a set of symptoms just as we might find with a physical illness. The ‘general’ depression we talk about in the related articles would be defined by psychiatrists or GPs as either a Major Depressive Episode/Disorder, Depressive Episode or, where depression is cyclic (without mania), Recurrent Depressive Disorder.
Some of the symptoms are listed on our Depression Symptoms page. These symptoms define a ‘mental illness’ called depression and categorise a person with these symptoms as having a Major Depressive Episode. The theoretical model used for categorising emotional distress in this way is a medical model. The use of a medical model to define how we feel is subject to debate among professionals and the wider public.
Types of depression
The medical model distinguishes between different types of depression, each categorised by their symptoms. Among these are the following:
- Post-natal depression (PND) – usually develops within the first four weeks after childbirth, however, it can start several months or even up to one year following childbirth. Many women fear getting help and many do not know that the illness can develop over weeks and months after the birth, however help is available and the outlook for PND sufferers is good. Around a third of women who have PND, have symptoms that start in pregnancy. Around 10-15% of women are estimated to experience post-natal depression.
Note that this is not to be confused with ‘baby blues’ which commonly occurs between the 3rd and the 10th day after the birth and includes being weepy, irritable, anxious and feeling low.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – where the onset of depression is during the winter months and generally lifts during the spring and summer. For more on this please see our feature on page 18.
- Bipolar Disorder – characterised by cyclic mood changes from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression).
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - Depression can also occur as a result of a traumatic event, for example a car crash. Someone who has experienced such an incident, particularly if they felt it was life threatening, might feel quite low. They may also become irritable and experience anxiety. The depression experienced here may be associated with what is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Adjustment Disorder rather than depression, however, and may require a different strategy to help the person recover.
Depression and anxiety
Around half of people who suffer from depression also suffer from anxiety. If we are feeling down and lacking energy and confidence, things in general might become more difficult for us and lead to us becoming stressed and anxious. Equally, if we are feeling anxious about things and worrying a lot, then this can lead to us having doubts about our capacity to cope which in turn can end up with us withdrawing from pleasurable situations that might have lifted our mood and boosted our confidence.
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