I’ve been feeling low – how can I tell if I’m depressed?


“I’m so depressed” has become a common refrain when we’re feeling stressed, anxious or just a bit down in the dumps.

The triggers for these feelings can be major life events, such as losing a loved one, or something as insignificant as a rainy day or a bad day at work.

But while even the most upbeat people experience the occasional bout of the blues, there’s a big difference between feeling low temporarily and having clinical depression.

Sadness is a low mood often tied to a particular trigger and will fade once you get over whatever put you in that funk to begin with.

Clinical depression affects more aspects of our wellbeing and functioning, and lasts continuously for at least a couple of weeks. You might feel persistently unhappy towards multiple areas of your life, or lose interest in the things you used to enjoy.

People who have depression may experience any number of the following: low mood or unhappiness; the sense of worthlessness and inadequacy; guilt and anxiety; loss of energy and motivation; trouble sleeping; changes in appetite; loss of libido, a reduced interest in sex; difficulty concentrating or making decisions; feelings of hopelessness towards the future; social withdrawal or isolation from loved ones; and avoiding certain situations.

These symptoms then become persistent – that is to say they do not lift in a few hours and can even last for several days.

Often, they will affect your performance at work, and according to the Health and Safety Executive, 12.5million working days are lost each year to stress, depression or anxiety.

It is a vicious cycle; job insecurity and performance pressures can trigger additional stress and anxiety, which only adds to the problem. That’s why if you are feeling persistently unhappy, it’s very important to seek help.

How can I seek help?

The good news is that depression is treatable. Your GP will be able to advise you on the

best course of action, whether it’s talking therapies, medication, or a combination of both. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based type of talking therapy and one of the most common and effective approaches to treat depression.

CBT helps patients identify how their thoughts affect their feelings and behaviour, and then teach them coping skills that help them to make a positive change in their life.

Given the proper tools in CBT, a depressed person will often learn how to control or eliminate their symptoms altogether.

What changes can I make myself to help my depression?

When we feel depressed, our fatigue or negative thinking means that we tend to do less.

We stop doing things we used to enjoy, we stop seeing our friends and families, some of us stop going to work or even leaving the house altogether. Here are the best ways to turn things around.

Do more: In spite of feeling tired and depressed doing more will help you feel better.

Get some exercise: walk, swim, go to the gym, cycle… choose something you like doing though, otherwise it could prove counter productive.

Pamper yourself: If you feel overwhelmed, take time out and do something you enjoy. Contact a friend or visit family, even a quick catch up can make all the difference.

Pay attention to your surroundings: Be mindful of what you see, hear, smell. Holding an object that is comforting or familiar can help with a bout of anxiety.

Write down your thoughts and feelings: Get them out of your head and on paper. Start by planning two small things each day: something that gave/will give you a sense of pleasure, and also something that will provide a sense of achievement.

Take things one step at a time: Planning ahead can get overwhelming, so breakdown tasks into smaller achievable chunks.

Lee Grant is Clinical Director at Efficacy efficacy.org.uk