So far this year in Lincolnshire alone, just over two hundred people under the age of 30 were referred to the Lincolnshire NHS Partnership Foundation Trust for treatment relating to depression.
Almost five hundred people in the 30 to 50 age group were also referred to the Trust. Yet despite these high numbers, depression is still a topic few feel comfortable talking about.
Maria*, an IT support officer who was diagnosed with depression at 15, says: “I think it is still a taboo because it’s difficult for people who don’t suffer from it to understand what’s going on inside a person who is suffering from it. It’s possible that the term depression is used too loosely and people abuse it.”
Mental health charity MIND explains how the illness can affect sufferers: “Depression lowers a person’s mood, and can make them feel hopeless, worthless, unmotivated and exhausted. It can affect sleep, appetite and self-esteem, and interfere with daily activities. It may even affect their physical health,” they say.
“This may set off a vicious cycle, because the worse they feel, the more depressed they are likely to get. Depression often goes hand in hand with anxiety.”
Although Maria wasn’t diagnosed until she was fifteen, she had been feeling depressed since she was fourteen.
“I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I just remember a black cloud enveloping me as we descended deeper into the winter months that year — my mother thought it was just a phase so nothing was done about it. It didn’t make any sense at the time because there was no drama in my life in that first episode,” she says.
The following April, Maria’s parents divorced, and she began to suffer from anxiety and depression. She was put on fluoxetine (commonly known as prozac) but didn’t undertake the counselling she was offered.
Adjusting to her new home life, Maria took “the best part of a year” to recover and by the summer was off the anti-depressants. But, as the winter months approached, her depression re-emerged.
Now 23, Maria has never been properly diagnosed, but doctors have suggested that she may be suffering from different types of depression: “Since I was fourteen it appears that I have suffered from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but it’s also been suggested that I am bi-polar, or just suffer from random bouts of depression,” she says.
Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, says that there are several causes of depression for students: “The biggest triggers must include homesickness, lovesickness, financial worries and feeling unable to compete or complete the course. There may also be an ‘anomie’ or ‘weltschmerz’ — a disenchantment with the state of the world and what the adults have done to it,” he says.
Maria has been to the doctors every winter since she was first diagnosed, and in the past three years she has sought extra help from counselling, something that she was only offered when her parents split up. She is now beginning new treatments after talking to her doctor.
“In June this year I asked my doctor to refer me for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and seeing a PWP (Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner) is the second stage before going onto CBT [the first stage is being assessed by a mental health nurse],” she explains.
Maria has only had one session with her PWP, but she knows that what she will learn from her sessions will enable her to cope better: “It is all about self help. I will be taught coping methods, and to recognise when things are starting to go downhill.
“I think the point is that although I have learnt to cope with myself better as the years have progressed, I still don’t know myself well enough to be able to cope without medication just yet.”
The NHS estimates that approximately “15% of people will have a bout of severe depression at some point in their lives”.
Hodson advises anyone who is, or who thinks that they may be suffering from depression, to “obey the human givens”.
“You need sleep, good food at regular intervals, holidays, friends, love, sex and meaningful work etc. If you are lacking in these, why would you expect to feel well?” he says.
Thinking over what the depression might mean, testing those feelings for their reasonableness and then deciding whether you need to talk to someone about them, is the second step Hodson recommends.
“Thirdly, see if you need to make an important life change [such as] ditching the current goal or relationship or career path. Or embrace something which attracts you, but which you might fear.”
Hodson also encourages those suffering to look at depression in a new light: “See depression as a state of overload, uncertainty and distress – which is begging you to gain a new sense of perspective and to pursue a positive solution – contrary to the inaccurate voices which may be saying all is doom and gloom. For instance, if you think nobody loves you — run a test.
“It only takes one person to say they really will ‘be there for you’ and you’ve proved yourself wrong. Try not to catastrophise but focus on your real abilities.”
From her experience, Maria says that the best thing to do is to talk about it:
“Talk to someone about it, anyone who will listen – if you don’t think they’ll understand where you’re coming from, then try someone else. You are not alone, but you must help yourself.
“Exercise is also a key ingredient to combating the symptoms and also smiling for no reason does actually make you feel slightly better,” she says.
As she’s got older, Maria has become more open about her depression as it helps her to cope, especially if, she says, other people can recognise it in her and tell her, as often she can’t see when it begins to take over.
When Maria eventually confided in her Dad about her feelings, she found out that her Dad also suffered from depression.
“When I first started to feel depressed I only told my Mum. When I did finally tell my Dad he was more understanding as he told me he had suffered with it all his life.
“He felt enormously responsible and guilty for my depression — he felt it was he who had passed it onto me,” she says.
Maria is grateful to have her dad around for the harder times: “I’m lucky to have had my dad there to take me to the doctors when I’ve been on the brink, when suicide changes from a permanent position at the back of my mind to something extremely real at the front of it,” she says.
Depression is a long-standing illness from which some sufferers may never recover, and it affects everyone differently.
“From nearly 10 years of suffering my arms are scarred from self harm. For me there is no worse illness then a mental illness. You can become your own worst enemy and your only friend, and no one can physically see it happening,” Maria says.
If you think that you, or someone you know, may be depressed, speak to your GP, or ring MIND on 0845 766 0163, The Samaritans on 0845790 90 90 or contact the University Counselling Service.
* names have been changed to protect identitiesTweet