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Depression is an illness that is very common in Ireland but very treatable. It is thought that 1 in 10 people in Ireland suffer from some form of depression at some time in their lives. It is believed that only 50% of people seek help for depression. Of these, only 50% will receive adequate treatment. Women are three-four times more likely than men to have depression.

The word depression is often used as a general term to describe feeling miserable, sad or distressed. However, when it comes to diagnosing an illness, doctors use the term to describe a person who has a depressive illness or low mood and who needs help to overcome this.

There are many types of depression and experts have different ways of categorising these. The broad term used to describe the different types is mood disorders. Within mood disorders, a common way of breaking down the different types of depression is as follows:

Types of Depression

  • Unipolar depression
  • Major depression (a single episode or recurring episodes)
  • Dysthymia (low level depression that lasts for over two years)
  • Bipolar depression ('highs and lows' - feeling depressed alternating with elation and mania)

Symptoms can include:

  • Feeling: Sad, anxious, down or bored.
  • Energy: Tiredness, fatigue, everything seems an effort, slowed movements.
  • Sleep: Waking during the night or too early in the morning. Oversleeping or trouble getting to sleep.
  • Thinking: Slow thinking, poor concentration, forgetful or indecisive.
  • Interest: Loss of interest in food, work, sex and life generally.
  • Value: Reduced sense of self-worth, low self-esteem or guilt.
  • Aches: Headaches, stomach aches, chest or other pains or palpitations without a physical basis.
  • Live: Not wanting to live, suicidal thoughts or thinking of death.

Depression may be preceded by difficult life events such as bereavement, relationship or financial problems, difficulties at work or illness, physical illnesses etc. There is some evidence that there may be a hereditary factor - in other words if parents or grandparents have had depression, a person may be more susceptible.

When a person is depressed there are changes in the way the brain works. It is believed that depression is linked to an imbalance of chemicals. Within in the brain there are a number of chemical messengers. There are called neurotransmitters. Key neurotransmitters are serotonin and noradrenaline. When these behave normally, mood is regulated. However, if these neurotransmitters are not moving freely as they should, depression occurs. In different ways, antidepressants medications act on the brain to keep these neurotransmitters working properly.

Drug treatment can be effective in helping to correct the problem, either alone or ideally in conjunction with counselling / therapy.