What is Depression?

Depression is a disorder of mood … [which] remains nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme mode, although … the blues … give many individuals a hint of the illness in its catastrophic form.

-William Styron, Darkness Visible


Most people will experience episodes of normal depression resulting from common life circumstances such as physical illness, relationship difficulties, the loss of a job, the death of a friend.

However, depression can become an illness if -

  • The mood state is severe.depression1
  • It lasts for 2 weeks or more.
  • It interferes with our ability to function at home or at work.


Depression can be experienced in many different ways reflecting the individual’s personality, coping repertoires and mood state, as well as the type of depression. As there are no absolute rules, definitions of the ‘experience’ can only be imprecise markers of depressive subtypes.

For someone experiencing depression, their general mood state will be negative and marked by pessimism, lowered self confidence and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. They may want to ‘walk away from things’ (e.g. leave a difficult job or marriage), thus risking a drop in the social hierarchy. These features are generally more severe and pervasive in melancholic and psychotic depression. By contrast, in normal and non-melancholic depression, individuals may be able to ‘bounce out’ of the mood state, perhaps in response to support from others or something pleasant occurring in their life.

“Depression isn’t the kind of illness that you wake up one morning and suddenly have…”

The same can be said of overcoming depression. In the beginning I was naïve, believing that depression was curable, that I would wake up one morning and it will be gone. But I know now this is never going to be the case. To overcome depression requires strength, persistence and a lot of hard work And sometimes, even when you try your hardest, it just doesn’t seem to be good enough. The key to winning the battle with depression is to never give up, no matter how dark, how hopeless, how difficult things seem…*

“Accepting depression as an illness…”

One of the most beneficial factors was accepting that I have a mental illness and that, whilst it cannot be cured, it can be controlled through a good medication regime and regular monitoring… Don’t expect the doctor to do all the work and remember they don’t have a crystal ball. If you are not open and honest about what you are experiencing, then you cannot expect to get the best treatment plan. If you keep changing your medication dose, or stop taking it without first consulting your doctor, you cannot expect to recover quickly.

Even when you feel better, you need to continue taking your medication. So many people make the mistake of stopping or reducing the medication, then wonder why they slip straight back into a depression…*

“Depression does not discriminate…”

It didn’t matter that I was well educated and more than capable at my job, with a comfortable lifestyle, children and close friends and an apparently happy marriage. In the past eighteen months, I lost my health, my marriage, my job and my sense of purpose and self-esteem.

If it wasn’t for my general practitioner, psychiatrist and counsellors, and the care and support of my family and a few close friends, I might even have lost my life. And it wasn’t as if I could do anything about the onset of depression. Unbeknown to me, work colleagues first started noticing my mood swings, increasing pessimism and personality changes more than two years ago. Depression had crept up on me.

By the time my marriage collapsed eighteen moths ago, I was on the verge of a massive crash. The marital separation pushed me over the brink into a black despair that I am still fighting. Grieving and in denial, I became a recluse, a prisoner in my own home. I shunned all social contact and was unable to carry out the simplest of tasks, let alone report for work.

For months I believed there was nothing I could do about my depression. I was so afraid of the shame and judgement of anyone finding out about my inner pain and sadness. I cried. Cried over the unfairness of it all, cried from the aching for happiness that I perceived in the lives of others…

I had to overcome my misplaced pride, and fear of the stigma. I had to make a response when everything seemed out of control but once I did, once I agreed to seek further help, I was on my way to recovery (although I didn’t see it that way at the time). It took a long time for me to accept that these people kept encouraging me to seek help not because I was worthless or a failure but because I was suffering from a serious illness and they cared for me.*

Useful resources – Books on Depression & Bipolar Disorder

* Journey’s with the Black Dog, by Professor Gordon Parker

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