What's your depression age?
Knowing how and when the black clouds may strike is the trick to beating this debilitating condition. By Caroline Carr
There’s nothing new about depression – it’s been around for thousands of years. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Now, thanks to a massive push to reduce the stigma around mental health issues, it’s OK to talk about it. This is great news, as depression affects almost everyone – either because you experience it yourself, or you know someone else who does.
Being depressed can be awful and you can’t just snap out of it – no matter how much you want to. It can hit suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue. But it can also creep up slowly. You might feel sad and gloomy for months or even years, and not have any idea why. It’s much more than ‘moodiness’ or feeling a bit down. And often you can become very anxious and panicky, too. Studies have shown that the rate of depression in women may have doubled over the past 40 years – largely due to changes in lifestyle and the range of roles that women now fulfil. Some women can be more prone to depression than others. It might run in your family. Perhaps the hormonal changes you go through at different times have more effect than you think. Life events, the things that have happened in the past, and whatever is going on in your life now and your way of dealing with these, can contribute to your becoming depressed.
Types of depression
Postnatal can be very serious, affecting 10-30% of all mums. It could start just after a birth, or months afterwards.
Bipolar disorder is generally characterised by huge mood swings with terrific surges of energy swiftly followed by crashing ‘lows’. This is thought to affect a small number of people.
Seasonal affective disorder – SAD is where the lack of sunlight affects the chemistry in the brain. Studies show that women are more susceptible to SAD in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
General depression – by far the most common form. It just seems to descend and take over your entire life.
You may be at the peak of your career, and also have a family to bring up. You probably find juggling the demands and responsibilities of these stressful and exhausting, and get a sense every now and then that your life is spiralling out of control. On the other hand, you may be without a job and have constant financial worries. Or it might be that your 40s are tinged with sadness about something. Perhaps you’d like to have had children, but it’s never been the right time – or maybe you haven’t had the relationship that you want, and, as your biological clock ticks on, this seems less and less likely to happen. And as your metabolism begins to slow down in your 40s, you may gain weight more easily than before, and this could be a constant source of stress for you.
Your menopause is probably under way now, and apart from all the physical changes that this brings, you might feel desperately sad as your ability to conceive comes to an end. Some women do have a tough time at menopause, and all this could fuel depression. On top of this, your children may have left your home, and you’re probably worried about their uncertain future. Also, your parents will be getting older, and might rely on you more for help and support. Perhaps it’s all getting on top of you, leaving you worn down and exhausted, without the confidence that you once had.
As your 50s merge into your 60s, you may have the same concerns – only they’ll have been going on for that much longer. On top of which, your partner may have retired and long to go on adventures with you – but you can’t because you’re looking after elderly relatives. Or he may be grumpy and bored and unsure how to fill his time. He may even be depressed himself. Living with all this on a daily basis puts a huge strain on you. You may be a woman of this generation who doesn’t ‘do’ depression. Like the menopause, perhaps you feel you should ‘just get on with it, and not make a fuss.’ But if you experience some of the symptoms, please – take them seriously. You don’t have to battle against depression, because you can work with it, and you owe it to yourself to seek support.
Are you depressed?
● Do you often feel sad?
● Have you lost interest in things you usually enjoy? Do you avoid doing them – especially if they involve other people?
● Are you exhausted? Do you feel so tired that even speaking takes an effort?
● Do you feel overwhelmed and find it hard to plan, or even star t doing things?
● Do you feel your life is spiralling out of control?
● Do you feel negative all the time, and find it difficult to see the positive?
● Are you feeling guilty or worthless? Has your confidence plummeted?
● Have you gone off food? Or do you eat, or use alcohol or drugs to feel better?
● Do you have trouble falling and staying asleep?
● Have you lost interest in sex?
● Do you have difficulty concentrating, or remembering things?
● Do you have aches and pains, or other physical symptoms?
● Do you have an overwhelming sense of helplessness and hopelessness?
● Do you think of suicide? Do you self harm?
Any of these factors could be due to a range of things. But they could also be a sign of depression, especially if you’ve experienced several consistently for a few weeks or more. It’s important to get checked out by your doctor, as they can eliminate other medical reasons.
How to help yourself
Express how you feel
Speak to someone you can trust - don't bottle things up
Even a short walk each day will increase your energy levels and boost the feelgood factor.
Get outside as often as possible
Sunlight boosts your mood.
Stress depletes minerals and vitamins, so be sure to get what you need.
You might feel like withdrawing from life, but being around others will help.
Seek out the positive
If you can’t – let someone else point it out to you.
It’s surprising how this lifts a low mood.