As we face new challenges and change it can be all too easy to soldier on whilst not feeling at our best. But if this continues we can become vulnerable to mental health problems. It is important to take action early to notice the spiral down, look after ourselves and put in place strategies to boost our wellbeing. In this blog we show you how to recognise and overcome depression when it strikes. Catching it early, spotting the symptoms and putting in place a strategy will prevent it from taking over.
Increasingly we are hearing about how the Covid pandemic has been linked to a rise in mental health difficulties. A recent Office for National Statistics report shows that the rates of depression in Great Britain have doubled since before the pandemic. 1 in 5 people are now reporting some form of depression compared with only 1 in 10 before March 2020.
This alarming spike in depression highlights how many of us may now be vulnerable. And this heightened risk is not just limited to those who have been directly affected by the Covid infection. The onset of depression has also been associated with a number of factors impacting our lives during the pandemic. These include rising rates of loneliness, financial worries, job insecurity and relationship difficulties.
How to recognise depression
It is important to spot when depression is becoming a problem. The condition can present in a variety of ways. Sometimes the signs and symptoms are not particularly unusual or troubling initially. But when we experience several together, or they go on for a long time, they can become a problem.
If you have never suffered mental health problems before it can be hard to recognise when difficulties start to emerge.
Symptoms to watch out for:
- Loss of interest or pleasure in doing things
- Feeling down, low or hopeless
- Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Feeling tired or having little energy
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Feeling bad about yourself (e.g. that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down)
- Trouble concentrating on things, such as work or watching television
- Moving or speaking more slowly than usual, or being restless or fidgety
- Having thoughts that you would be better off dead or of hurting yourself in some way
If any of these symptoms have been troubling you for several days or increasingly over the last 2 weeks, it might be time to consider seeking some help or advice. In particular, if the difficulties you have identified make it hard for you to do your work, take care of things at home or connect with other people, then it is important that you access some support.
We all feel a bit down in the dumps from time to time, but depression is more than this. Once depression sets in, it can be hard to pull ourselves out of it. Here are some tips that can slow the spiral down and help you bounce back, preventing depression from becoming chronic.
When we experience low mood or depression, we can lose motivation for the activities we normally enjoy. As we disengage from these activities, opportunities to experience meaning and pleasure are reduced. Try making a list of the things that have boosted your mood and wellbeing in the past. Schedule time to engage in one activity per day. This might be as simple as planning to go for a walk, chat to a friend or reconnect with an old hobby.
It has been difficult to participate in some activities due to the government restrictions. But taking time to plan pleasurable, relaxing or interesting activities each day will ensure your positive emotions get a daily boost.
Look after yourself
Making space for self-care often isn’t top of our priority list. But ensuring you are eating healthily, taking exercise and staying in contact with loved ones is crucial for your wellbeing. For tips on how to attend to all the dimensions of self-care, check out our self-care blog.
It’s also important to watch out for unhelpful ways of coping that can raise stress levels or undermine motivation. Actions such avoidance, rumination or numbing emotions through drinking alcohol, gaming, online shopping or overworking are all ok in small doses, but can lead to more stress if we overuse them.
Stay in touch
When we feel depressed, we might tell ourselves that other people won’t want us around. Seeing or speaking to friends and family can feel overwhelming. We might feel we need to put on a ‘coping front’ and hide how we are really feeling. But as we withdraw from other people, we can end up feeling lonely and isolated and this can further impact our mood.
Try talking to someone you trust about how you feel. You may be surprised by their reaction. Often our friends and family want to help and are glad when we open up to them.
Overcome negative thinking
When we are depressed we can easily become overly focused on negative thoughts or events. We are likely to see ourselves, other people and the world in a negative way. This can contribute to feelings of hopelessness and undermine our ability to bounce back.
Try writing down any negative thoughts and brainstorming other ways of viewing the situation. What is the evidence that things are really as bad or hopeless as you think they are? How would someone else see this? Would you be as hard on a friend as you are being about yourself? Check out our flexible thinking blog for more information about how to combat negative thinking.
Depression is often associated with other forms of psychological distress such as stress or anxiety. Noticing when we are feeling anxious and putting in place a strategy to calm ourselves and manage unpleasant physiological symptoms can help. Check out our recent blog on managing anxiety for some more tips and strategies.
How to access help & support
Talk to friends or family
This is a good place to start. Opening up with the people you trust will help you feel supported and less alone with your worries. Another person’s perspective often helps us see things in a different way and reconnects us with what is important.
See your doctor
When the problems go on for a long time and are unremitting it is important to access professional help. Make an appointment to speak to your family doctor. Sharing your concerns with a professional will help you make sense of what is going on for you and will bring some initial relief. Your doctor will know what to do and will make suggestions. They may ask you to keep in regular contact with them, offer self-help materials or guidance, or refer you to an organisation offering specialist counselling or talking therapies.
In the UK you can access some key NHS services via self-referral. These services, known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies services, draw on a number of evidence-based therapy models to help people manage and overcome common mental health difficulties, such as depression and anxiety.
Remember, with the rise in mental health difficulties over recent months it is important that we all become more alert to the signs and symptoms of mental distress. Supporting one another to recognise and tackle depression when it strikes will be key to getting through this difficult time. And sharing our experiences will reduce stigma and increase our ability to cope.