Feeling sad from time to time is completely normal. But what happens when a short bout of sadness extends into a long period of feeling down? Depression is a form of sadness or grief that doesn’t pass, causing you to feel joyless, hopeless and as though your energy reserves have run dry. It can leave you unable to experience pleasure and make you feel disengaged from the social circles around you.
The problem is, many mental health disorders like depression have historically been subject to social stigma. We’re told to ‘shake it off’ or ‘pull yourself together’ when really, depression is far more complex and stubborn than that and requires specific clinical help and guidance to overcome.
So how can you tell if you have depression? What are the different types of depression? What signs should you be looking out for? And, fundamentally, what treatments are available? We cover all that – as well as how New Life Portugal’s wellness retreat can help – below.
In its simplest terms, depression is the long-lasting feeling of a low mood that you just can’t seem to overcome. It’s more than just feeling sad or fed up, though; depression is a persistent sadness that lasts for weeks, months or even years at a time and is considered a mental health disorder.
It can manifest in different intensities: at its mildest, depression can make you feel persistently down or in a low mood, but at the more intense end of the spectrum, severe depression can make you feel suicidal. That’s why dealing with depression as early on as possible is so vital.
Unfortunately, depression is extremely common, as illustrated by the following statistics:
New research suggests that neurological symptoms like anxiety and depression are common symptoms of those who have contracted Covid-19.
There are many types of depression, usually categorised depending on the original trigger. These include:
Clinical depression (or major depressive disorder) is the term given to general experiences of depression. It’s where feelings of sadness, grief and lethargy persist more than two weeks and can affect anyone, no matter your age, gender, location, income, education or relationship status. Within the clinical depression umbrella, there are more specific forms, including postpartum, bipolar and seasonal depression.
It’s completely natural to feel a whole range of emotions after giving birth, particularly fatigue, sadness and intense mood swings. For many mothers, these feelings dissipate after a few weeks, but postpartum depression is where they last much longer and start to feel more intense. Caused by hormonal changes as well as the pressures of looking after a new baby, postpartum depression can affect mothers of all ages through no fault of their own.
Bipolar depression is the depressive episode experienced by someone with bipolar disorder. It may come before or after an episode of manic, high energy or irritable behaviour known as ‘mania’, or ‘hypomania’ in its less severe form.
Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is depression linked to the seasons, meaning it fluctuates or intensifies at certain points in the year. While it very rarely occurs throughout the sunnier months, its onset most often occurs in Autumn and continues throughout the winter. Naturally, where you live plays a big part in your propensity to experience seasonal depression, as some countries experience longer, darker winters than others. According to Mental Health America, 5% of the US population experience SAD, and women are more likely to suffer from it than men.
Atypical depression is where your depressed mood can temporarily lift in response to good news or positive events.
As with all mental health disorders, depression can manifest in a variety of ways spanning physical symptoms to more psychological ones depending on the individual. Furthermore, the signs may vary depending on your age. However, the common signs and symptoms clinical depression include:
Those with depression often report the constant sensation of feeling down, upset or close to tears. You may also feel pessimistic, and struggle to find pleasure in things you may once have loved.
You may feel physically uncomfortable in your own body, extremely irritable or constantly frustrated.
Depression can sometimes manifest in a feeling of emptiness, numbness or as though you’re not sure what your purpose is.
Depression can affect your self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as triggering negative feelings such as worthlessness, guilt or shame, even if the cause of those feelings seems irrational.
You may feel isolated or disconnected in social situations. Even with plenty of people around you, you might feel alone, particularly if those people struggle to understand your experiences of depression.
Depression can mess with your energy and concentration, making even the simplest of daily tasks feel like a massive insurmountable challenge.
With so many anxious or sad thoughts running around your mind, you may struggle to fall or stay asleep. This will also make you feel constantly tired.
Unexplained weight loss or changes to your appetite can be linked to depression, as can unexplained aches or pains.
As previously mentioned, severe depression can lead to suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.
Depending on the severity, longevity and each patient’s individual circumstances, the most common treatments prescribed from depression are medications and psychotherapy. Often, a combination of the two, along with holistic lifestyle changes, is recommended.
Psychotherapy, or talking therapies, can be hugely beneficial when dealing with depression. This includes depression counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). Depression counselling enables you to articulate and make sense of the causes of your depression, while CBT teaches you behaviours and exercises (such as mindfulness) you can implement to change your thinking patterns. IPT, on the other hand, focuses on establishing strong social networks and improving communication skills to help deal with depression.
In some cases, doctors will prescribe medications called antidepressants which help to soothe or remedy the symptoms of depression. They can take anywhere between 4-8 weeks to work and tend to be prescribed for long periods of time, before you slowly start to wean yourself off of them.
While professional help is hugely beneficial in beating depression, taking a more holistic approach to your treatment through different daily rituals and practices can aid your journey. Try upping your exercise to boost your mood, build a schedule with a regular bedtime to aid sleep and eat healthy meals. Try to connect with and talk to friends and loved ones, and go easy on yourself: reducing your to-do list can alleviate feelings of pressure. Furthemore, avoiding alcohol, drugs and cigarettes can help clear the body of unhelpful influences. Wellness retreats, like the one here at New Life Portugal, can also help you develop positive routines and rituals to build your resilience to depression.
It is often said that depression is caused by an internal chemical imbalance, but according to Harvard Health Publishing, the causes are much more far reaching and nuanced than that. They cite faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications and medical problems as the leading forces that can cause depression.
According to the NHS, upsetting or stressful life events just as bereavement, divorce, illness, redundancy and job or money worries can trigger depression.
That being said, depression doesn’t discriminate and can be experienced by people of all genders, races, occupations, incomes etc. Again, this is where social pressures come into play; it’s often believed that someone who appears to ‘have it all’ (a nice house, a good job etc) can’t possibly be depressed, but that’s a damaging misconception that’s simply not true.
However, some of the risk factors include:
If you’ve ever found yourself Googling the words ‘am I depressed?’, you’ll know how tricky it can be to properly recognise. The aforementioned symptoms can be a useful guide to working out if you have depression, and the NHS offers an online depression questionnaire to help guide your self-examination. However, the best way to ascertain if you are depressed is to speak to your doctor. While there’s no one-and-done test to diagnose it, they will likely carry out a series of tests and examinations and ask you a variety of questions to help their decision. They will also be able to guide you on the kind of treatment best suited to you to help you deal with and beat depression.
Here at New Life Portugal, we’ve designed every element of our wellness retreat program to feel nurturing and supportive for those experiencing depression. Our on-site trained counsellors will help you take a step back, helping you to recognise your symptoms as just that: symptoms, and not who you are.
We build tailored programs best suited to what you’re going through and you’ll have the chance to share with others with similar stories, serving as a welcome reminder that you’re not alone. Our contemplative environment and mindfulness-based practices will support you to find your meaning once again and develop your inner resilience, so you’re able to return to the real world better able to deal with life’s challenges.
For more information about the wellbeing retreat programs on offer here at New Life Portugal, click here.