Depression and the blues

Written by: 
Dr Knut Schroeder, General Practitioner and Author, Diagnosing Your Health Symptoms For Dummies

Grey winter days can make anyone feel blue. But if the clouds don’t want to lift and life’s becoming a struggle, could this mean you’re depressed? Of course, there are many reasons why people may feel low, such as stressRelating to injury or concern., major life events, physical illness or a time of mourning. But depression is common, too, with over two million people in the UK suffering from this illness any one time – many of whom without knowing. Research shows that even those who think they may be depressed often feel too embarrassed to seek help about it. This is a real shame, because very effective treatments (including talking therapies and medication) are available. Seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) is a type of depression that occurs regularly in the winter months (‘winter blues’) and may be treated with light therapy (phototherapy).

Spotting depression isn’t always easy. To find out if you could be depressed, try answering the following questions:

  1. Over the past four weeks, have you regularly or more often than not felt ‘low’, ‘down’ or ‘hopeless’?
  2. Over the last month, have you often had little interest or pleasure in activities that you normally enjoy doing? 

If your answer is ‘no’ to these questions, you’re unlikely to be depressed. But if you’ve answered ‘yes’ to one or both of them, you may suffer from depression. Apart from feeling low and losing interest in things like hobbies and sex, depression can cause many other symptoms:

Appetite: You may lose your appetite or develop a tendency for overeating.
Energy: You may feel tired all the time, have little energy and can’t be bothered to do things – or you can only do them with a lot of effort on your part.
Sleep: You may find getting to sleep difficult. Or you wake up once or more times in the middle of the night or too early in the morning. Alternatively, you may sleep too much, and struggle to get up.
Concentration: You may have difficulty concentrating on things such as listening to the radio, watching television, reading the newspaper or books, or talking to other people.
Movement: You or other people may notice that you move or speak slower than you used to. Or you may be more fidgety and restless.
Self-worth: You may feel that you’ve let yourself or other people down and feel bad about yourself. You may also see yourself as a failure.
Thoughts of self-harm: You may have thoughts that you’d be better off dead, that the world would be better off without you, or that life’s just not worth living anymore. Or you may think that you want to hurt yourself (or others) in some way. Such thoughts can be very distressing.

These symptoms don’t necessarily mean that you suffer from depression, but if you recognise any of them in yourself – particularly if they’ve been going on for a couple of weeks or longer, or they’re severe – consult your doctor without delay. Remember that you’re not alone and that help is available!