I'm feeling low or experiencing depression
You may be feeling low yourself or be worried about someone. This section can help you understand the difference between experiencing low moods and depression and when it's important to ask for help.
If depression is affecting your day-to-day life it can feel like you are a long way from feeling well again. There are, however, lots of positive things you can do to help yourself feel better and people you can talk to who can help and support you. Find out more about depression, explore different self-help techniques, and find the right support services in Leeds.
What you will learn in this section:
- What is the difference between low mood and depression?
- What are the signs of depression?
- When do I need to talk to my GP?
- What should I do if my mood gets very low?
- Do anti-depressants work and what other treatments are available?
- Why do some people experience depression?
- What can keep depression going?
- What is rumination?
- How does depression affect older people?
- How could IAPT help me?
- Is it possible to experience both depression and anxiety or stress?
- What can I do to help myself?
- Find support
What is the difference between low mood and depression?
Everyone feels low or down from time to time and that's quite normal. We've all experienced situations in which we have felt upset, angry, worried or sad.
Feeling low is particularly common after a distressing event or major life change like the death of someone close, unemployment or a relationship breakdown.
Low moods should improve by:
- Talking problems through.
- Getting the support of family or friends.
- Taking positive action to resolve any problems or issues.
- Joining a support group or network.
- Getting enough sleep.
Low moods tend to lift after a few days or weeks. If they continue and won't go away it can be a sign of depression. Depression is when we feel low or negative for long periods of time. Someone experiencing depression may think too much about events in the past and feel hopeless about the future which can start to affect their daily life.
What are the signs of depression?
Someone who is experiencing depression may show some of the following possible signs:
- Feeling sad, upset, tearful or hopeless.
- Loss of interest in activities or things that they used to enjoy or take pleasure in.
- Withdrawing from family and friends and not wanting to go out to see people.
- Feeling angry and irritable and may over-react to what others say.
- Feeling very tired and lacking energy (may do nothing for hours except watch television) or being restless (can't sit still or stay in one place).
- Problems sleeping or sleep too much.
- Poor memory and difficulty concentrating or taking in information.
- Thinking negatively and expecting or looking for bad things to happen.
- Feeling very guilty and 'down on' themselves.
- Questioning themselves more and experiencing a loss of self-esteem.
- Loss of appetite (weight loss) or over-eating (weight gain).
- Less interest in sex.
- Neglecting basic needs (like keeping themselves and their home clean and tidy).
- Drinking more alcohol, smoking or taking drugs to try to feel better.
- Difficulty with managing money which may include spending more.
- Some people feel 'numb' or empty and unable to express sadness.
Depression can affect people to different degrees:
- Mild depression: People experience less interest in doing routine tasks or things that they used to enjoy. Mild depression makes life much harder but does not stop people from continuing with their usual day-to-day life.
- Moderate depression: People experience a real lack of interest and motivation - it can take a big effort to complete everyday things so that some tasks are left undone. Moderate depression can also affect self-confidence which makes it even harder to continue with day-to-day life creating a 'vicious cycle'. It can often affect basic needs such as sleep and appetite. People may experience thoughts that life is not worth living.
- Severe depression: People can feel great upset, guilt and hopelessness, experience a severe lack of energy and loss of interest and withdraw from the company of other people. This can impact on self-esteem and make it extremely difficult, or impossible, to continue with work and a normal social life. Thoughts of death or suicide are not unusual for people with severe depression and poor sleep and loss of appetite can lead to physical health problems.
Some people may feel low for weeks or months while other people may find they experience a period of depression from time to time.
When do I need to talk to my GP?
It is normal to feel low from time to time but if these feelings won't go away and are starting to affect your everyday life, you should consider going to see your GP. Read more about when you should talk to your GP and how to prepare for a GP appointment.
Some people can experience hallucinations, hearing voices, have thoughts of suicide or self-harm along with other symptoms of depressions. If these issues are affecting, you it is important to talk to your GP.
Need to talk to someone now? You can find help in I need help now
What should I do if my mood gets very low?
If you're struggling to cope and having suicidal thoughts it's important to know that you are not alone. Talking to someone can help you see beyond how you are feeling right now. You could try talking to a family member or friend, or, if this doesn't feel right, there are people who want to talk to you and can help:
- Call 111 (freephone, open 24 hours a day) - a trained adviser will ask you a series of questions and immediately direct you to the best service to support your needs.
- Call the Connect helpline on 0808 800 1212 (freephone) which gives emotional support and information to people in Leeds every night of the year (6pm-2am).
- Talk to the Samaritans on 116 123 (freephone, open 24 hours a day) if you need someone to listen at any time of the day or night.
If you have had previous contact with mental health services in Leeds, do you have a crisis plan with contact details? If you don't have a crisis plan or are unable to find yours:
Call Leeds Crisis Assessment Service (CAS) on 0300 300 1485. Leeds CAS is a 24-hour assessment service for people 18 years and over. You will speak to a highly trained clinician who will ask a series of questions to assess your needs.
You can also click here for I need help now where you can find help for any problem including money worries, benefits and housing issues, bereavement and the breakdown of a relationship.
Is your life in immediate danger? Have you attempted suicide? Call 999
Do anti-depressants work and what other treatments are available?
Anti-depressants increase a group of chemicals in the brain called serotonin and noradrenaline which can improve a person's mood. Some people who take anti-depressants find that they start to improve some of the symptoms of depression after a short period (usually two to four weeks) but may also experience some side effects including headaches, sickness and loss of appetite.
There is a Leeds campaign called Me + My Medicines, led by patients and supported by clinical staff, which aims to help people raise concerns and use their medicines better. This means that if you, your family or your friends have any issues or concerns about your medication, no matter what they are, you should speak to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse to enable you to find a solution that most suits you.
Taking anti-depressant medication does not, of course, address any of the causes of stress which may be behind a person's depression. This means that anti-depressants are often prescribed together with another form of treatment or, a different treatment or service may well be more appropriate and helpful instead. These may include:
- Leeds Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) which supports people experiencing common mental health problems such as anxiety, stress and depression. Leeds IAPT is run by Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, Community Links, Touchstone and Northpoint Wellbeing. The service provides assessments and a range of talking treatments using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques. Read more about IAPT and how to self-refer.
- A 'social prescribing' service which can help you to access a range of non-medical services and activities provided by voluntary organisations and local community support groups. Your GP may refer you to a social prescribing service in Leeds or you can refer yourself.
- A type of therapy such as psychotherapy.
- Referal to a specialist mental health team.
- A counselling service.
- Peer support or support group.
If you want to find out more about any of these treatments and what might be right for you talk to your GP.
Why do some people experience depression?
There is no single cause of depression. Indeed some people can feel low for no obvious reason.
Our mental health is more complex than our physical health and it's not always as obvious what might be wrong. Experiences that we go through can affect how we are feeling and this can then affect our mental health.
Some people may develop depression when experiencing a big life change or one or a series of stressful experiences which can include:
Life changes: Getting married; moving; changing job; the end of a career or retirement; children moving out.
Trauma: A life-threatening danger, abuse, violence, crime (including hate crime) or bullying, whether recently or in the past.
Bereavement: It's very normal to feel upset and distressed when experiencing the death of someone close. People need to come to turns with their loss in their own time. If feelings continue, however, and start to get worse a depression may have developed.
Ill health: A long-term health condition or the diagnosis of a serious or life-threatening health problem.
Having a baby: Many women can feel low in the first week or so after childbirth (and sometimes during pregnancy). Unfortunately, for some women these symptoms get worse and can continue for weeks and even months known as perinatal or post-natal depression.
Loneliness: Being separated from family and friends or lacking social contact and friendship.
There are also some factors that can might make it more likely that someone might experience depression - particularly at a time when life starts to get more stressful. These can include:
Family history: People who have a close family member who has experienced depression have a higher risk of developing depression themselves. We are still trying to understand the exact reason for this risk and while there is evidence for a genetic cause of depression, if parents are depressed this can have an impact on their children.
Early experiences: Children who experience abuse or neglect, a lot of change and disruption, or the loss of a parent/guardian may be more likely to develop low moods and depression later in life.
Personality type: People who have low self-esteem, are very self-critical, worry too much or question themselves may be more likely to experience depression.
Poor diet and lack of sleep and exercise: Feeling constantly tired, not exercising regularly and eating an unhealthy diet high in bad fats, refined sugars and junk food can have a big effect on how someone feels and on their general wellbeing.
Alcohol or drug problems: Drinking too much alcohol or taking illegal drugs can affect the brain and increase the risk of depression. Dependency can also create different life problems which can also, in turn, cause low moods and depression.
Depression can also be linked to other health problems:
- Some people may experience depression as part of another mental health problem such as eating disorders, bipolar disorder, a 'personality disorder' or Schizophrenia.
- Some physical health conditions like thyroid problems can have symptoms which are like those of depression.
- People with dementia may experience depression at times during their illness - indeed depression and dementia have some similar symptoms which can make them difficult to tell apart.
What can keep depression going?
If you're feeling low, you may be having negative thoughts a lot of the time. These thoughts will be affecting how you're feeling and, as a result, making it harder to do things which may, in turn, be leading to more negative and self-critical thoughts. This can create what's called a Vicious cycle which can help to keep the depression going.
Download the 'Vicious Cycle of Depression' sheet which shows how our feelings, thoughts, physical symptoms and how we behave can all be connected. So feeling low can create more negative thinking and stop you from wanting to do your usual activities which can then start to affect your self-esteem and how you think about yourself.
Being more aware of how we tend to think in situations which we find difficult or stressful can help us to challenge negative thinking. Use these blank sheets to look at how your thoughts may be affecting how you feel and behave.
The example sheet below shows how experiencing a vicious cycle could affect someone in a specific situation - experiencing unemployment.
Go to the MindWell self-help section for depression to find ways to break through the Vicious cycle.
What is rumination?
Rumination is a name clinicians use for dwelling on or thinking too much about upsetting issues or difficulties (usually in the past).
Everyone ruminates about problems to some degree and it can be helpful if it stops when a solution is found. Rumination becomes unhelpful, however, when someone focuses repeatedly on what has gone wrong rather than on problem-solving.
- Why are things always going wrong?
- Why are people against me?
- Why did he do that to me?
- What's wrong with me?
- I should have done it differently.
When this kind of negative thinking becomes a habit it can just go round and round in a circle. This can lead to someone to feeling very low and distressed and 'trapped' in their own thoughts.
You can find some helpful strategies for coping with rumination in the MindWell self-help section for depression.
How does depression affect older people?
When growing older we enter a new phase of life which can offer more time and freedom. We will face, however, a different set of challenges which may include:
- Finishing work.
- Living on less money.
- Less mobility and energy to get about.
- Health problems.
- The death of a partner or friends.
- Less social contact.
- Living alone.
And while depression is not a part of getting older it is common for older people to feel low at times and experience depression or anxiety.
Other factors can come into play which could also affect our mental health when we get older:
- Some physical conditions like thyroid problems and arthritis can give symptoms which are like those of depression or anxiety like difficulty sleeping, lack of energy and loss of appetite.
- It is common for people with dementia to also experience depression at times during their illness – indeed depression and dementia have some similar symptoms which can make them difficult to tell apart.
- People experiencing and coming to terms with a long-term health condition such as cancer or heart disease may experience low moods and depression.
- Older people can start to feel more anxious about their health, whether or not there is an actual problem. This anxiety can affect the memory and cause confusion which then creates more worry and low moods.
- Depression is also often experienced by people looking after someone with long-term conditions like dementia because of the stresses and pressures that they can face each day.
If you are concerned about how you are feeling it is important to talk to your GP who can help you look after your mental wellbeing as well as any physical health problems.
Leeds Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) runs a four week course for older people called Live Well in Later Life. The course is aimed at people who are getting older and are dealing with a range of difficulties which can often lead to feeling worried or anxious, stressed, disconnected or low in mood.
How could IAPT help me?
Leeds Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) supports people experiencing common mental health problems such as anxiety, stress and depression.
IAPT also runs a four week course for older people called Live Well in Later Life. The course is aimed at people who are getting older and are dealing with a range of difficulties which can often lead to feeling worried or anxious, stressed, disconnected or low in mood
If you're over 17 years of age, registered with a Leeds GP and experiencing one or more of the mental health difficulties mentioned above, you can self-refer to the service through an online form. A number of questions will pop-up - these are to make sure you are being directed to the right service. You don't need to see your GP to access this service although your GP will be updated about your treatment.
Is it possible to experience both depression and anxiety or stress?
It is quite common, for example, to experience anxiety and depression at the same time. Feeling low or depressed can make someone feel more anxious and worry more; and experiencing anxiety or stress can sometimes lead to feeling low or depressed.
Everyone is different – explore more areas of this section to help you understand more fully why you may be feeling unwell.
What can I do to help myself?
Find out how you can start to change ways of thinking and learn helpful tools and techniques which can help you feel better soon.
Leeds Mind Peer Support - offer free courses, workshops and support groups. Check the website for a current programme.
Leeds Mind Counselling - low cost counselling for people experiencing difficulties with their mental health.
Andy's Man Club - a talking group and safe place for men to talk about issues and problems they are facing (or have faced) with other men in similar situations. The club meets weekly at Leeds College of Building.
Elefriends - is a supportive online community where you can be yourself.
Depresssion UK - a national self-help organisation that helps people cope with their depression.
CALM (Calm against living miserably) - a charity which offers support to men in the UK, of any age, who are down or in crisis via helpline (0800 58 58 58) and website.
Blurt – website dedicated to helping people with depression.
Inkwell - is a creative arts space in Leeds which promotes positive mental health.
Tools and apps
Living Life to the Full – self-help resources and learning sessions that can help you feel better.
Blurt – website dedicated to helping people with depression.
Recommended reading - Mindfulness by Mark Williams, Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, The Reality Slap Dr Russ Harris