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What is depression?


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The word 'depression' causes much confusion. It's often used to describe when someone is feeling 'low', 'miserable', 'in a mood' or having 'got out of bed on the wrong side'.
However, doctors use the word in two different ways. They can use it to describe the symptom of a 'low mood', or to refer to a specific illness, i.e. a 'depressive illness'. This factsheet relates to depression, the illness.
This confusion is made all the worse because it is often difficult to tell the difference between feeling gloomy and having a depressive illness.
Doctors make a diagnosis of depression after assessing the severity of the low mood, other associated symptoms and the duration of the problem.
Depression is very common. Almost anybody can develop the illness; it's certainly NOT a sign of weakness.
Depression is also treatable. You may need to see a doctor, but there are things you can do yourself or things you can do to help somebody suffering from the illness.
What you cannot do is 'pull yourself together' – no matter whether this is what you think you should be able to do or what other people tell you to do.
People who have experienced an episode of depression are at risk of developing another in the future. A small proportion may experience an episode of depression as part of a bipolar affective disorder (manic depression), which is characterised by episodes of both low and high moods.

Who gets depressed?

• Depression is very common. • Between 5 and 10 per cent of the population are suffering from the illness to some extent at any one time. • Over a lifetime you have a 20 per cent, or one in five, chance of having an episode of depression. • Women are twice as likely to get depression as men. • Bipolar affective disorder is less common than depressive illness

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