Frequently Asked Questions
Below, you can find the answers to a number of frequently asked questions about depression.
Not always. People often use the word “depressed” to mean feeling sad or stressed within the normal limits of life experience, generally without meaning a clinical condition.
A person’s mood is generally changeable in reaction to daily events, and usually ranges from lightly sad to lightly happy. In depression, mood is consistently below a people’s usual mood range. For clinical depression, certain symptoms have to be present for a period of at least two weeks, namely depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, and decreased drive or energy.
Depression has multiple causes: a combination of psychological, biological and social factors contribute to the development of the depression. Biological risk factors include genetic inheritance, immune system, hormones and neurotransmitters in the body. Certain personality traits can also constitute a “risk factor”. Negative thinking patterns or low self-esteem can play a big role. Even though a patient can sometimes name a specific event as the trigger for the depression, the underlying causes are often diverse and complex.
If a person experiences low mood most of the time, has no drive or has lost interest in doing things that were normally enjoyable to him or her, these could be important symptoms of depression. In addition, there are other symptoms, which can vary from individual to individual, such as sleeping problems, changes in appetite with weight change, problems concentrating and thinking, loss of energy or loss of sexual interest. Also, thoughts about death and suicide can be present.
Vulnerability for depression can be genetically inherited. However, being genetically vulnerable does not mean depression will automatically develop, because life events also play a part. Genes are not the only important factor, but the risk of depression is higher if there is a family history of depression or mental illness.
As a family member or friend of someone who is diagnosed with depression, it is important to be available to listen. Taking the first step to speak openly about depression can be difficult both for the person experiencing depression and for you, but it is a key step towards recovery. As well as listening empathically, try to encourage and facilitate them in seeking or continuing professional help. Professional help may need to be sustained for months or even years. Often it is helpful when relatives schedule an appointment and accompany a person who may be depressed, because they may be incapacitated due to the illness and may not able to do so alone. For a person diagnosed with depression, relatives are very important: they can help with daily life, support their treatment, and make them feel they matter: it is important to convey the message “I am there for you”.
Caring for someone with an illness can be demanding, so make sure to care for yourself too, by keeping up your regular hobbies and leisure activities and seeking out additional supports if you feel the need.
Yes, they can. Children and adolescents can develop a depressive disorder, which is often harder to recognise than in adults. Puberty can be responsible for changing emotions and can be a possible trigger for depression. If it looks like a young person is sad, despondent, resigned and hopeless, or perhaps irritable with behaviour changes, is worrying a lot and withdraws from others, it is important to contact an appropriate mental health professional, e.g. a psychiatrist for children and adolescents.
Yes, there is. The symptoms of “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD) are a little different from typical depression: people often have increased appetite (they feel like they need to eat more carbohydrates, like pastas, rice, bread, potatoes) and sleep a lot more. SAD has been reliably linked with lack of light during the winter months. Light therapy, antidepressants and psychotherapy are very effective treatment options. Also, regular physical exercise like walks or other outdoor activities (e.g. jogging or cycling) can help to prevent or overcome the low. But don’t forget: it is not unusual to feel less energetic and a bit slowed down when days become shorter and the weather colder. It’s important to talk to your doctor if you suspect that you suffer from SAD.
In general, an employer has no right to request information about the diagnosis of employees, no matter what disease might affect them. Depending on the individual case, however, it might be helpful to involve your employer in the course of the recovery. It can be important to discuss potentially helpful measures, such as restructuring the workplace, starting a work-related reintegration or accessing workplace counselling, all of which can be supported by the employer. Your doctor or therapist, social workers, relatives or other affected people can help you to decide whether you prefer to inform your employer, but this is ultimately up to you.
A single depressive episode will generally pass fully. After initial treatment of the symptoms, the treatment continues, focusing on preventing a repeated depressive episode. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee there will be no further episodes in the future. Some people only ever have a single depressive episode.
There are three main types of treatment: (1) medication, (2) psychological treatment, and (3) social treatment. There is clear evidence that these treatments work best in combination in most cases.
Generally, depression can be treated with medication such as antidepressants [such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or tricyclics] and psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioural therapy or psychodynamic therapy). Antidepressants are often the first pillar of treatment, considering their effectiveness, acceptability, cost and accessibility. In some cases, additional therapies can be used, like physical activity, light therapy, relaxation techniques, occupational day activities, electroconvulsive therapy, or wake-therapy.
As a first step, it’s important to talk to your general practitioner (GP) and schedule a visit. Your GP can help to identify your needs and to access appropriate treatments. If you don't feel confident or are unsure about approaching your GP, talk to a close friend or family member so that they can help you to reach out.
Based on their assessment of your situation, your GP might then refer you or advise you to consult a specialist in mental health with a medical or psychological background, such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist.
In Ireland, medical card holders can visit their GP for free; others pay around €50-60 per visit. You can access psychiatrists and clinical psychologists working within the public health service free of charge but you will usually need to be referred from a GP or other health care professional and may need to wait a while for an appointment. If you prefer to see a psychotherapist outside of the public health service, the fee is usually €50-60. However, many counselling centres fees operate on a sliding scale and some psychotherapists see medical card holders free of charge.
Apart from antidepressants, psychotherapy is another important pillar of depression treatment. In milder cases of depression, psychotherapy can be used alone with no accompanying medication. Psychotherapy is less accessible and more expensive since it depends on the availability of highly trained professionals for a substantial period.
Quality might be an issue so it is important to ensure that the professionals you access are qualified and accredited. Cognitive-behavioural therapy and some forms of psychodynamic therapy, e.g. interpersonal therapy, have been found to be effective in treating depression. In the case of cognitive-behavioural therapy, this involves, for example, structuring your day and planning pleasant activities, but also identifying and challenging negative attitudes and automatic thoughts, which often occur in depressed people. Interpersonal therapy involves identifying problems arising with important people, and understanding the causes and effects of these problems.
Medications for treating depression are called antidepressants. They are the first pillar of treatment for depression.
Most medications used to treat depression have an effect on neurotransmitters, including serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine, or target sites or receptors in the brain.
Antidepressants can also help people with nervousness or anxiety. Other medications can be used in combination. For this reason, it is important to talk to your doctor and other health providers (such as pharmacists) about how your medications should work for you.
The impact depends on the substance, but a specialist should be consulted. For instance, St. Johns wort is a natural SSRI substance and should not be used in combination with pharmaceutical antidepressant medications There is also evidence that St. Johns Wort should not be taken in combination with HIV medications, transplant drugs, warfarin (a blood thinning agent), some heart medications, anticonvulsants used in the treatment of epilepsy, the contraceptive pill and migraine treatments.
As well as your general practitioner, you can consult specialists in mental health with a medical or psychological background, such as psychiatrists and psychologists. If you go to the Get Help section in iFightDepression.com (at the top of the page), you can look for more general support and listening services in your area. Also, your GP might know of additional support services.
Relatives and colleagues or friends can encourage the affected person to visit their GP or to seek specialised treatment, can help the person in making the appointment and can accompany them. People suffering from depression should contact their doctor, just as they would do with any other kind of disease. This doctor can be the general practitioner or a specialist, like a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. Seeing a specialist is especially important when depressive symptoms are not improving after several weeks of treatment.
Everyone should understand why they are prescribed any kind of medication. If you are not sure why medication has been prescribed for you, you should talk to your doctor to find out why. Medications can be prescribed to help people with symptoms of depression to get well and stay well. Usually, for depression, antidepressants are prescribed but other types of medications may be needed.
While depressed, the brain works differently than before and medications like antidepressants can help the brain to function better again. It is the similar to how people take medications for other health problems, like asthma or diabetes.
Medications that treat depression can help people get back to their usual activities such as going to work or school, spending time with friends, or playing music or sports.
Before you start medication, it is good to talk about how you feel about it and what you expect to happen with treatment. Your GP can help you get the facts about medications and other treatment options.
You and your GP should make a clear plan about how often to meet (e.g. in person at an appointment) or talk (e.g. on the phone) about how you are doing after starting a medication. It is important to keep track of how you feel while taking a medication.
Your GP and other health providers (such as your pharmacist) will talk about the good things that happen with taking a medication like improved symptoms, but also side effects that can happen in the short-term. Medications may cause side effects and this can happen before your symptoms improve. Keep in mind that not everyone gets side effects. You can talk to your GP about possible side effects and how to deal with them if they happen.
Medications for depression do not usually work right away but more gradually over time. How well a medication works and when it starts to work can depend on the kind of symptoms you have and how severe they are. You can ask your GP about which symptoms should improve with medication use and when they should improve.
You should expect to visit your doctor more often after starting medication. This can let your GP see if your medication helps, does nothing, or causes problems. If the medication causes unacceptable side effects or doesn’t work after several weeks, your GP might change the amount or type of medication, or might suggest other treatments.
No, this is a common myth. Antidepressants are not addictive. They stabilise mood in depressed patients, but do not increase happiness or give a “high” feeling in healthy people. Tapering off medication (when your doctor recommends it) is easy if it is done over days or weeks and is never impossible to achieve. Some medications are easier to taper-off than others.
Your doctor and other health providers such as pharmacists have special training and experience with medications. If you have questions or concerns about your medications, you can talk to these people to get more information.
You need to know what your medication is used for before you can tell if or how well it is working. The best way to tell if a medication is working for you is to come up with a plan for reviewing your symptoms, side effects, and activities before you start taking medication. In general, if medication is helping, your symptoms will start to get better and you should be getting back to your regular activities. How quickly things start to improve can depend on the kind of symptoms you have and how severe they are. In depression treatment with antidepressants, you will typically start to improve in 2 to 6 weeks and might achieve remission of depression by the 8-12th week of treatment.
It is very important to talk to your GP about how to tell if you are getting better, staying the same, or getting worse while taking medications.
It is not uncommon for a person to try more than one medication in order to find the one that works. This happens with other conditions and not just with depression. There is no reliable way to know which medication will work for what person. There are many different antidepressants used to treat depression, so that if one doesn’t work, another one can be tried and might be more suitable.
Sometimes your GP might recommend that you continue taking antidepressant medication for an extended period. Many people with depression take antidepressant medication for a long time and lead long, healthy lives.
How long you take a medication will depend on many things. You and your GP will consider the kind of symptoms and type of depression you have in order to recommend how long to take medication. For some people with depressive disorders, symptoms have caused a lot of problems in their lives or stopped them from doing things they normally like doing, too many times and for too long. For these people, if they agree, it might be better to take medication long-term to help them to stay well and continue doing the things they need and like to do.
iFightDepression was created to foster depression awareness and to empower people suffering from depression through information and communication technologies (ICT). The iFightDepression website (ifightdepression.com) and self-management programme (iFightDepression tool) were developed for this purpose.
ifightdepression.com provides comprehensive information for all about depression and suicidal behaviour in addition to details of local and regional helplines and support services. The website also provides information on helpful strategies to promote positive mental health, including self-management resources. There are tailored resources within ifightdepression.com to equip family members, healthcare professionals and community professionals to both recognise and respond to depression.
The iFightDepression tool is a self-management programme for individuals experiencing mild to moderate depression that is based on principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and is guided by a trained GP or mental health professional. Further information on the iFightDepression tool can be found in the link below.
Depression is very common. Often, people don’t have access to quality, accurate information about the disorder, and so may not be able to access the help they need. iFightDepression aims to equip those who are concerned about depression with quality-assured, reliable information and resources to assist them in both identifying and responding to depression.
The "Preventing Depression and Improving Awareness through Networking in the EU" (PREDI-NU) consortium created iFightDepression.com and the iFightDepression tool. The PREDI-NU project is funded by the European Commission in the Framework of the Health Programme - Consumer, Health and Food Executive Agency, CHAFEA (formerly EAHC - European Agency for Health and Consumers) under grant agreement no. 2010 12 14. It was promoted and submitted by, and has the support of the European Alliance Against Depression (EAAD).
There are two questionnaires within this website that are optional for website viewers to complete – a feedback questionnaire about viewer’s impressions of the website, and a self-test for viewers to assess their mood. You will not be asked to reveal your name on either of these questionnaires or anywhere else within the website.
The information entered into either the website feedback questionnaire or the self-test is stored in an anonymised way, and IP addresses are not stored. This means that it is not possible to identify where this information was sent from. Anonymised information from both the website feedback questionnaire and the self-test may be accessed by the iFightDepression research team for evaluative purposes.
There is more information on data collection within our Privacy Statement, which you can access at the link below: