Establishing the causes
No one really knows what causes low mood and depression.
Like symptoms, the reasons vary from person to person and a combination of factors is thought to be involved. Stressful situations such as job loss, losing someone close, or a difficult relationship or childhood are common triggers. There is also evidence that suggests women are more prone to depression than men and that it can run in families. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists if someone has one parent who has become severely depressed they are eight times more likely to become depressed themselves. Chronic physical illness is another risk factor. Having had a depressive episode before also predisposes someone to experiencing it again although it is worth noting that being predisposed to depression does not necessarily mean a person will get it.
Recently scientists have also discovered changes in the brains of people who are depressed. Three important neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages between brain cells) dopamine, serotonin and noradrenalin may not be functioning as they should. This in turn leads to faulty communication between brain cells. “But whether brain chemicals cause depression or are affected by it is still under debate,” explains Amelia.
Talking it through
Symptoms of depression such as hopelessness and low self worth can prevent people seeking help at a time when they need it most. They often withdraw from friends and family rather than asking for help and support.
“Perhaps the most important thing you can do if you suspect someone you care for is depressed is to encourage them to seek help from their doctor,” says Amelia. “There is plenty of evidence to suggest that people who seek help at an early stage, recover more quickly” she adds.
However tempting it may be to tell a depressed friend or family member to “pull themselves together” this is not helpful. They are probably already blaming themselves and any criticism could just make things worse. The way forward is to encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and to carry on doing normal everyday things, reassuring them in a gentle caring way that help is available and things can get better.
“Great patience and understanding are what is called for,” explains Amelia. “You must also be prepared to listen and possibly hear the same things said over and over again”.