Life's ups and downs: reasons we're not cheerful
Most people experience ups and downs in their life, and can feel unhappy, depressed, stressed or anxious during difficult times. This is a normal part of life.
Many difficult events and experiences can leave us in low spirits or cause depression: relationship problems, bereavement, sleep problems, stress at work, bullying, illness, and pain being just a few.
Changes to hormones, such as during puberty, after childbirth and during the menopause, can also have an effect on your emotional and mental health.
But sometimes it's possible to feel down without there being an obvious reason.
What is the difference between low mood and depression?
A general low mood can include:
- an anxious feeling
- low self-esteem
However, a low mood will tend to improve after a short time. Making some small changes in your life, such as resolving a difficult situation or talking about your problems and getting more sleep, can improve your mood.
A low mood that doesn't go away can be a sign of depression. Symptoms of depression can include the following:
- 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
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
- feeling anxious or worried
Read more about the symptoms of depression, including the physical and social effects.
Depression can also come on at specific points in your life, such as the winter months (SAD) and after the birth of a child (postnatal depression).
Whatever the cause, if negative feelings don't go away, are too much for you to cope with, or are stopping you from carrying on with your normal life, you may need to make some changes and get some extra support.
"We all know what it feels like to be down," says Professor David Richards, professor of mental health services research at the University of Exeter. "Most people who feel low will start to feel better after a few days or weeks. But if these feelings persist or get in the way of everyday life, it's time to seek help."
If you're still feeling down or anxious after a couple of weeks, talk to your GP or call NHS 111. A GP will be able to discuss your symptoms with you and make a diagnosis.
Seek help immediately
If you start to feel like your life isn't worth living, get help straight away. Either see your GP or call NHS 111. You can also contact helplines such as Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 for confidential, non-judgemental emotional support.
If you've had depression or anxiety in the past, even if they weren't formally diagnosed, get help immediately. You're more likely to have an episode of depression if you've had one before.
What type of help is available?
Whether you have depression or just find yourself feeling down for a while, it could be worth trying some self-help techniques. However, if your GP has diagnosed depression, it is important that you also continue with your prescribed treatment.
Life changes, such as getting a regular good night's sleep, keeping to a healthy diet, reducing your alcohol intake and getting regular exercise, can be effective in helping you feel healthier and more relaxed. This can often help people feel more in control and more able to cope.
Self-help techniques can include activities such as meditation, breathing exercises and learning ways to think about problems differently. Tools such as self-help books and online counselling can be very effective.
Read more about self-help therapies.
If you are diagnosed with depression, your GP will discuss all of the available treatment options with you, including antidepressants and talking therapies.
There are many types of talking therapies available. Different types of talking therapies suit certain problems, conditions and people better than others. To help you decide which one would be most suitable for you, talk to your GP about the types of talking therapy on offer, and let them know if you prefer a particular one.
Read more about the types of talking therapy available.
The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme has been introduced to help people in England access the therapies used to treat depression and anxiety. More and more local health authorities are introducing the option of self-referral. This means that people who prefer not to talk to their GP can go directly to a professional therapist. To find out what's available in your area, see our counselling and psychological therapies directory.
Antidepressants are a type of medication commonly used to treat depression and other conditions. There are several types available, including SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants) and MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors). If your GP prescribes you antidepressants, they will explain the type they have chosen and why it suits you.
Read more about antidepressants.