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Mental Health Now factsheet: depression

What is depression?

Depression is a persistent low mood or sadness. Individuals with depression lose interest or pleasure in their usual daily activities. It affects a person’s ability to enjoy relationships, work or study. There may also be a lack of energy and tiredness, with the individual often being more tearful. For a diagnosis, the duration must be at least two weeks but most episodes of depression last several months. 

While most people would experience a transient low mood as part of a normal reaction to loss, say of a loved one, clinical depression is different. 

Common symptoms of depression

Some or all of the following:
  • Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day
  • Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of the day
  • Significant weight change (5%) or change in appetite
  • Change in sleep (sleep less, sleep more or frequent waking)
  • Change in activity (agitation, for example restlessness; or retardation, for example thoughts slowing down or less physical movements)
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Less able to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or has a suicide plan

Treatment and recovery

For most people, depression is time-limited, and left untreated it usually resolves in 3-6 months. However, relapse can be frequent with support. 
Professional treatment is available with many options so individuals have a choice and can find what works best for them. Effective treatment can include or be a combination of the following:
  • Antidepressant medication
  • Self-help with support
  • Physical activity programme
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
  • Behavioural Activation (BA)
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
  • Counselling
  • Short-term psychodynamic therapy (STPT)
  • Behavioural couples therapy
  • Relapse Prevention
  • Crisis and intensive home treatment for people with more severe depression who are at significant risk

Supporting people with depression in the workplace

Individuals experiencing symptoms of depression can try to mask them, but changes in their behaviour may be an indication that someone is wrong. 

Listen to them and given them a chance to express the difficulties they are experiencing. Let them know that depression is a common mental health issue and that they are not to blame for feeling ‘down’. Give them hope and optimism that it will get better with the right help. Let them know that effective treatments are available from a GP and/or other sources of support. Depression can make it hard for people to feel motivated or they might feel overwhelmed by fears and everyday activities, so be patient and encouraging in your support. 

Consider asking people with depression directly about suicidal ideation and intent. Asking about suicide is more likely to be experienced as supportive and does not increase their risk of suicide. See Factsheet ‘Suicidal Crisis’.

Where to find out more