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How can you recognise the signs of depression in yourself or your loved ones?

When you are having a bad day, experiencing sadness, disappointment or fatigue caused by overwhelming responsibilities, you tend to say: ‘I think I’m depressed’. Such a statement is supposed to emphasise the feeling of resignation resulting from your temporarily worse mood, but it has little to do with the nature of depression. Temporary weariness is usually forgotten after a good night’s sleep, a success at university or work or a pleasant meeting with friends.  

Depression is in fact a mental health condition which changes the functioning of an individual in a more fundamental way than a temporary state of apathy. Depression is diagnosed by a general practitioner or psychiatrist and requires medication and/or psychotherapy. Depression can be experienced by any of us, including children, teenagers or the elderly. The World Health Organization estimates that there are about 350 million people with depression all over the world (WHO 2012). In Poland, 3 out of 100 people aged 18-64 have experienced at least one episode of depression in their lifetime (Moskalewicz et al., 2012). 

Depression manifests itself in an individual’s daily functioning in a number of ways, such as mood, the level of motivation or cognitive and physical functioning. The duration of those symptoms provides a hint as to whether the low mood is still a normal reaction to the challenges of everyday life or whether it is already a condition that needs to be looked into by a professional. 

A lonely, huddled man, he has a hood on his head

Consider consulting your GP or psychiatrist if you or someone close to you has been experiencing the following symptoms for more than two weeks: 

  • lowered mood with depression or irritability lasting most of the day, 
  • loss of interest in and pleasure derived from previously enjoyable activities, 
  • decreased energy levels leading to fatigue and reduced activity. 

Other experiences that may be indicative of depression include recurring problems with falling asleep or waking up early, impaired memory and concentration, a negative self-image, feelings of worthlessness and a the pessimistic view of the future, feelings of guilt, loss of appetite or suicidal thoughts (WHO 2019). 

The experience of depression is not the same for all people diagnosed with a depressive episode. According to the ICD-10 International Classification of Diseases applied by physicians, depression may be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the number of symptoms and their impact on an individual’s daily functioning. The causes of the development of depressive disorders and their treatment are also diverse. The development of depression is attributed to the interaction of three groups of factors, including psychological, biological and social.  

Despite the frequent occurrence of depressive disorders in the population and the growing number of educational activities in the field of mental health, the experience of depression is still perceived as shameful and the symptoms are hidden from view. Due to misconceptions about depression and the fear of talking about the difficulties experienced, many people may be reluctant to accept the nature of their persistent ill health and thus to seek professional help. Reading testimonies of people with depression (e.g., I Had a Black Dog by Matthew Johnstone (2007), Little Brown Book Group; Twarze depresji by Anna Morawska (2015), Wydawnictwo Świat Książki), self-observation of your own experiences and the alertness of people around you to the changes in your functioning may be helpful in dealing with these obstacles. An honest and calm conversation with a trusted person about the changes experienced/observed and the concerns associated with them, as well as the willingness to accept/look for professional support is often a good start leading towards recovery. 

Reference literature 

Moskalewicz Jacek, Kiejna Andrzej, Wojtyniak Bogdan (ed.), Kondycja psychiczna mieszkańców Polski. Raport z badań „Epidemiologia zaburzeń psychiatrycznych i dostęp do psychiatrycznej opieki zdrowotnej – EZOP Polska”. Warszawa: Instytut Psychiatrii i Neurologii 2012. 

Seligman Martin, Walker Elaine, Rosenhan David, Abnormal Psychopathology, W W Norton & Co Inc, 2001. 

World Health Organization, A Global Public Health Concern. WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, 2012. 

World Health Organization, The ICD-10. Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders. Clinical descriptions and diagnostic guidelines, 2019. 

About the author

Anna Prokop-Dorner – sociologist and psychologist, assistant professor at the Department of Medicine Sociology of the Jagiellonian University Medical College. Her research interests involve the social context of mental health, the strategies of coping with the stigma of a mental illness, the cultural conditioning of health convictions and behaviour and the qualitative methodology of social studies.