Depression (clinical)

Depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up, it is a serious mood disorder. It can be life threatening. With the right treatment and support, most people with depression can make a full recovery. See your GP if you think you may be depressed.

Symptoms of depression

Having symptoms of depression is one of the most common reasons for people seeing their GP. The symptoms of depression can be complex and vary widely between people.

As a general rule, if you're depressed:

  • you feel sad
  • you feel hopeless
  • you lose interest in things you used to enjoy
  • your symptoms continue for weeks or months -  they are bad enough to interfere with your work, social life and family life

There are many other symptoms of depression. You're unlikely to have all of those listed below.

Psychological symptoms

The psychological symptoms of depression (affecting how you feel) include:

  • continuous low mood or sadness
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • having low self-esteem 
  • feeling tearful
  • feeling guilt-ridden
  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others 
  • having no motivation or interest in things
  • finding it difficult to make decisions
  • not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • feeling anxious or worried 
  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself

Physical symptoms

The physical symptoms of depression include:

  • moving or speaking more slowly than usual 
  • changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased) 
  • constipation 
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • lack of energy
  • low sex drive (loss of libido)
  • changes to your menstrual cycle
  • disturbed sleep – for example, finding it difficult to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning

Social symptoms

The social symptoms of depression (affecting everyday activities) include:

  • not doing well at work
  • avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities
  • neglecting your hobbies and interests
  • having problems in your home and family life

How depression is described

Depression can often come on gradually, so it can be difficult to notice something is wrong. 

Many people try to cope with their symptoms without realising they're unwell. It can sometimes take a friend or family member to suggest something is wrong.

Doctors describe depression by how serious it is:

  • mild depression – has some impact on your daily life
  • moderate depression – has a significant impact on your daily life
  • severe depression – makes it almost impossible to get through daily life; a few people with severe depression may have psychotic symptoms

Grief and depression

It can be difficult to distinguish between grief and depression. They share many of the same characteristics, but there are important differences between them.

Grief is a natural response to a loss, while depression is an illness.

People who are grieving find their feelings of sadness and loss come and go. But they're still able to enjoy things and look forward to the future.

People who are depressed constantly feel sad. They don't enjoy anything and find it difficult to be positive about the future.

Other types of depression

There are different types of depression, and some conditions where depression may be one of the symptoms. These include:

  • postnatal depression – some women develop depression after they have a baby; this is known as postnatal depression and it's treated in a similar way to other types of depression, with talking therapies and antidepressant medicines
  • bipolar disorder – also known as ’manic depression’, in bipolar disorder there are spells of both depression and excessively high mood (mania); the depression symptoms are similar to clinical depression, but the bouts of mania can include harmful behaviour, such as gambling, going on spending sprees and having unsafe sex 
  • seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – also known as ’winter depression’, SAD is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern usually related to winter

When to seek help

See your GP if you experience symptoms of depression for most of the day, every day, for more than two weeks.

Many people wait a long time before seeking help for depression, but it's best not to delay. The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner you can be on the way to recovery.

A low mood may improve after a short time. Read more about low mood and depression.

If you've been feeling low for more than a few days, take this short test to help find out if you're depressed.

Causes of depression

Sometimes there's a trigger for depression, often there is no obvious trigger. Life-changing events, such as bereavement, losing your job or even having a baby, can bring it on.

People with a family history of depression are more likely to experience it themselves. But you can also become depressed for no obvious reason.

Depression is fairly common, each year, about one in twenty adults experience an episode of depression. It affects men and women, young and old.

Treating depression

Treatment for depression can involve a combination of

  • lifestyle changes 
  • talking therapies
  • medication

Your recommended treatment will be based on whether you have mild, moderate or severe depression.

If you have the condition, your GP will discuss treatment options with you.

Living with depression

Many people with depression benefit by making lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, cutting down on alcoholgiving up smoking and eating healthily.

Reading a self-help book or joining a support group are also worthwhile. They can help you gain a better understanding about what causes you to feel depressed. Sharing your experiences with others in a similar situation can also be very supportive.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published December 2017

This page is due for review February 2020

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