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What is depression?

We often hear about depression - that someone has been diagnosed with depression, or they report feeling depressed. But, what is depression? How does it develop? How do you overcome it or treat it? Read on to find the answers to these questions.

What is depression?

  • Depression is a psychiatric disorder (recognised by the two major diagnostic manuals: the DSM-IV-TR or DSM-5 and ICD-11)

  • Depression is classed as a common mental health problem, rather than a serious mental illness

  • The official title is Major Depressive Disorder.

  • Depression is limiting and grim

Depression - depressed man, what is depression image

I appreciate that the summary above isn’t that descriptive, so here is more detail on what it is like to have depression. A person who is depressed, will typically have a blend of the following, to lesser or greater degrees, depending on their own personal circumstances:


A negative view of themselves, the world, the future – this was first described by Aaron Beck, the founder of Cognitive Therapy (as it is known in the USA). He noticed this pattern of thinking in the patients he saw. He called it the negative cognitive triad. One’s thinking is heavily affected when depressed.


When depressed, we are self-critical – nothing we do is that great, it’s error after error. Everything we do is rubbish. Not only that, but we are rubbish too. We can develop a dislike of ourself. A self-loathing or self-hatred. And as we are always with ourselves, our self-criticism and loathing makes life grim.

When we think of the past, we recall negative events, mistakes, missed opportunities, regrets. We mull over these time and time again, ruminating on them.

We may even start to think about and struggle to find the point of anything we do. Of being here. Of living.

Mood wise, we will have a persistent low mood, feeling down. Actually, we may be more irritable too, or experience more irritability than low mood. Remember, depression gets expressed differently in different people. When more irritable, we are more snappy and angry. This means that we aren’t the best company for others.

We are likely to feel rather hopeless about the future, about things ever improving.

Not only that, but we feel a sense of helplessness. Helpless to do anything that will help the situation, improve things for us, make us feel better.


Feel better, your brain scoffs at you even mentioning it. Nah. No chance!


Body wise, we feel lethargic, tired all the time – despite not doing much. We want to sleep more. We likely spend more time in bed. But often wake early, well before it is time to get up. We wake tired, not rested or refreshed.


We may experience aches and pains, other physical symptoms. If we visit our doctor, they can’t find any physical cause. We suppose that is probably good.


We lack drive and motivation. We can’t be bothered. Things are hopeless. We are helpless. So, why bother?


We take less care of ourselves. Maybe get a bit less bothered about hygiene, washing, the clothes we wear… Our diet gets worse. If we drink, our alcohol intake probably increases. So does the intensity of any hangovers or roughness the day after.


We withdraw from other people. We dodge social invites. After a while we get invited to less things. We spend more time alone, isolated, becoming more lonely.


All of this feeds the depression, what we think, do and don’t do, keeps it going. It’s like a fire, with us continuously feeding it more and more wood.


I write this description to help show you – if you are suffering with depression – that you are not alone. You will likely see yourself in my description of depression. It may also help you to recognise some of the other ways that you are affected by depression – maybe in some ways that you hadn’t yet noticed.


Or, if you are not depressed yourself, but know someone who may be depressed, then hopefully this helps you to better understand what it is like for that person and what is going on for them.



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