If you haven't been depressed, you may find it quite hard to understand how debilitating it can be. You may also find it difficult to comprehend how people who seem to lead great lives can suffer from depression. But it affects all sorts of people, even the rich and famous.
Bestselling Irish author Marian Keyes is known for writing books that leave her readers with smiles on their faces. But smiling is the last thing Marian feels capable of at the moment - she has been suffering from such a severe case of depression that she can't hold conversations, let alone write.
Earlier this year, the usually chatty newsletter she writes for fans on her website contained just a brief message about her crippling depression. It included the words, "I'm aware that these are terrible times and that there are people out there who have been so ruined by the current economic climate that they've lost the roof over their heads and every day is a battle for basic survival...
"But although I'm blessed enough to have a roof over my head, I still feel like I'm living in hell. I can't eat, I can't sleep, I can't write, I can't read, I can't talk to people.
"I feel like it will never end. I know lots of people don't believe it, but depression is an illness. But unlike, say, a broken leg, you don't know when it'll get better."
Marian is not alone - depression is a very common condition that affects thousands of people. oany of them hide what they're going through because, like Marian, they feel they shouldn't have anything to be depressed about. But depression comes in many forms and for many reasons.
The first step towards treating depression is recognising that you are depressed and finding a way of feeling better again, advises Judi Clements, Chief Executive of the oental Health Foundation.
"Depression is not a failing or a deficiency," explains Judi. "It's nothing to feel ashamed of. About 50% of all New Zealanders will have a problem with their mental health at some stage of their life, and one in five will have it in any given year.
If you have depression, you're not alone."
The good news is that you can get well and enjoy life again.
"There's always hope," says Judi. "Getting better is a journey - so the sooner you do something to begin your own journey, the better."
HoW Do YoU KNoW IT'S DEPRESSIoN?
Symptoms of depression include:
A constant feeling of sadness and emptiness
Always feeling pessimistic
Feelings of hopelessness
Irritability and mood swings
Loss of interest in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy
No interest in sex
Constant tiredness and lack of energy
Inability to concentrate or make decisions
Changed eating habits - could be overeating or loss of appetite
WHAT CAUSES DEPRESSIoN?
Scientists don't yet understand why some people get depressed while others don't, even when we're reacting to similar circumstances. Although the exact cause of depression is not known, factors that can play a part include:
Genetics. You can inherit a tendency to depression.
Hormones. Hormonal changes like those experienced after having a baby can affect your mental wellbeing.
An imbalance in brain chemistry. Some people's brains don't produce enough of the hormones necessary to control our moods and they can end up depressed as a result.
Physical health. Studies show that illnesses like cancer, heart disease and Parkinson's can lead to depression.
Your mental attitude. People who have low self-esteem, are consistently negative or are easily overwhelmed by stress may be prone to depression.
Emotional trauma. Depression is a common response to a major upset in your life, like the death of a loved one, a break-up or losing your job.
ongoing stress. Being under long term stress can cause depression. one theory is that if your body is constantly bombarded with stress hormones like cortisol, it affects your ability to make other hormones, such as serotonin, which keep your moods stable and balanced.
Lifestyle. Drinking too much alcohol, abusing drugs, not getting enough sleep or exercise and having a poor diet may all play a part in upsetting the balance of chemicals in your brain.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES?
Depression affects people differently, and there are different types. oajor depression can be crippling, making it very difficult to function normally. You may be unable to sleep, work, or do normal daily activities.
oild depression (or dysthymia) is not as disabling but life is a struggle and you may find it hard to enjoy anything.
It may lead to major depression.
Psychotic depression is rare and involves suffering from hallucinations and withdrawing from reality.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depressive illness that usually happens in winter. It's linked to not getting enough sunlight, which in turn affects production of brain chemicals.
Bipolar disorder, which used to be known as manic depression, is a mental illness that involves mood swings from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression).
Postnatal depression affects around 20% of women after they've given birth to a baby.
Sometimes there is no obvious cause of an episode of depression, or it may be due to a combination of these things.
FAooUS DEPRESSIoN SUFFERERS