Help for depression

Depression is a common condition. About one in six people will experience depression during their lifetime.

It can affect anyone: men and women, young and old. Although more women than men seek treatment for depression, this does not necessarily mean that men are less likely to get depressed. It could mean they are more reluctant to seek help.

Sometimes there is a trigger for depression. Life-changing events, such as bereavement, having a baby or losing your job, can all cause depression. But you can also become depressed for no obvious reason.

What is the difference between feeling low and depression?
Feeling low or down is something we all experience from time to time. It’s a common response to sad or difficult events and situations. Depression is when these feelings are persistent or so strong that they prevent you from doing the things you would normally do.

What are the symptoms of depression?
Symptoms of depression include lasting feelings of sadness, losing interest in the things you used to enjoy, feeling constantly tired, having difficulty getting to sleep, loss of appetite and feeling life is not worth living. For a more extensive list, see Symptoms of depression.

When to seek medical help

Scroll down to watch a video in which an expert explains how to spot the early warning signs of depression and describes the treatments available

Most people who feel low begin to feel better after a few days or weeks. But if these feelings continue or become so bad that they get in the way of everyday life, you should get help.

If you're still feeling down after a couple of weeks, talk to your GP or call NHS Direct (0845 4647).

The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme has been introduced to help people in England access the different types of therapy used to treat depression. Many primary care trusts (PCTs) are introducing the option of self-referral. This means that people who prefer not to talk to their GP can go directly to a professional therapist.

This service is already available in some parts of the country. To find out what's available in your area,  see our psychological therapy services directory.

Seek help immediately
If you start feeling like you can't cope, life is becoming very difficult or your life isn't worth living, get help straight away. These are signs that you need to talk to someone.

Either contact your GP or call NHS Direct (0845 4647). You can also contact helplines such as Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) for confidential, non-judgemental emotional support. 

If you've had depression and/or anxiety in the past, even if they weren't formally diagnosed, seek help immediately. You're more likely to have an episode of depression if you've had one before.

What treatment is available for depression?

Depression is mostly treated in primary care. This means that GPs generally help you choose the most appropriate treatment and manage your care.

In recent years doctors have prescribed fewer antidepressants as the main treatment for depression. Instead, people are now offered a wider range of treatment options including:

  • Psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling.
  • Guided self-help, which could, for example, mean your GP gives you a list of recommended self-help books.
  • Advice on changes you can make to your lifestyle that will help you.

“The type of treatment or combination of treatments that suits you will depend on your preferences, your general health and on how severe your depression is,” says Dr Alan Cohen, a GP with a special interest in mental health.

“It's difficult to judge for yourself how severe your depression is,” says Dr Cohen. “I would advise people to discuss their symptoms with their doctor to establish the best treatment.”

Many people with moderate or severe depression wait a long time before seeking help. Dr Cohen’s advice is to seek an early diagnosis. “There is a range of options available to treat depression. With the right treatment most people make a full recovery. The sooner you get help, the sooner you’ll feel better.”

For more information about the different types of treatment for depression, see Treating depression.

Self-help and lifestyle changes

There are several things you can do yourself that might help you cope better with depression or prevent another episode of depression. These include exercising on a regular basis and finding a support group. Mild depression, in particular, is more likely to respond to self-help.

As well as using the information you’ll find on this website, ask your GP for suggestions and choose the strategy or strategies that appeal to you.

Looking after someone who's depressed

For advice if you’re concerned about someone who seems depressed, see Worried someone may be depressed?

To find out about the help available for people who look after a partner, relative or friend who has depression, see Caring for someone with depression.


Depression explained

In this video, an expert describes the various levels of depression, the early warning signs and the treatments available.

Last reviewed: 25/08/2009

Next review due: 25/08/2011


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Droylsden62 said on 17 March 2011

This page could really do with some links to self help groups for sufferers of depression.

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