Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life.

In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn't stop you leading your normal life, but it can make everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile.

At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal.

Different types of depression

If you’re given a diagnosis of depression, you might be told that you have mild, moderate or severe depression. This describes what sort of impact your symptom are having on you currently, and what sort of treatment you're likely to be offered. You might move between mild, moderate and severe depression during one episode of depression, or across different episodes.

There are also some specific types of depression:

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – depression that occurs at a particular time of year, or during a particular season

  • Dysthymia (chronic depression) – continuous mild depression that lasts for two years or more

  • Prenatal depression – depression that occurs during pregnancy

  • Postnatal depression (PND) – depression that occurs in the first year after giving birth

The PANDAS Foundation also has information and support for anyone experiencing prenatal or postnatal depression.

Common signs and symptoms of depression

How you might feel
  • down, upset or tearful

  • restless, agitated or irritable

  • guilty, worthless and down on yourself

  • empty and numb

  • isolated and unable to relate to other people

  • finding no pleasure in life or things you usually enjoy

  • a sense of unreality

  • no self-confidence or self-esteem

  • hopeless and despairing

  • suicidal

You might
  • avoid social events and activities you usually enjoy

  • self-harm or feel suicidal

  • have difficulty speaking, thinking clearly or making decisions

  • lose interest in sex

  • have difficulty remembering or concentrating on things

  • use more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual

  • have difficulty sleeping, or sleep too much

  • feel tired all the time

  • have no appetite and lose weight, or eat too much and gain weight

  • have physical aches and pains with no obvious physical cause

  • move very slowly, or be restless and agitated

Psychotic symptoms

If you experience an episode of severe depression, you might also experience some psychotic symptoms. 

These can include:

  • delusions, such as paranoia

  • hallucinations, such as hearing voices 

If you experience psychotic symptoms as part of depression, they're likely to be linked to your depressed thoughts and feelings. For example, you might become convinced that you've committed an unspeakable crime. These kinds of experiences can feel very real to you at the time, which may make it hard to understand that these experiences are also symptoms of your depression. They can also be quite frightening or upsetting, so it's important to seek help. 

You might feel worried that experiencing psychotic symptoms could mean you get a new diagnosis, but psychosis can be a symptom of depression. Discussing your symptoms with your doctor can help you get the right support and treatment.

Self-harm and suicide

If you’re feeling low, you might use self-harming behaviours to cope with difficult feelings. Although this might make you feel better in the short term, self-harm can be very dangerous and can make you feel a lot worse in the long term. 

When you're feeling really low and hopeless, you might find yourself thinking about suicide. Whether you're only thinking about the idea, or actually considering a plan to end your life, these thoughts can feel difficult to control and very frightening. You should reach out to the Samaritans or call 999 immediately.


It's very common to experience depression and anxiety together. Some symptoms of depression can also be symptoms of anxiety, for example:

  • feeling restless

  • being agitated

  • struggling to sleep and eat

See our pages on anxiety for more information.

What causes depression?

There are several ideas about what causes depression. It can vary a lot between different people, and for some people a combination of different factors may cause their depression. Some find that they become depressed without any obvious reason but there are some factors that can play a part including

Childhood experiences

There’s good evidence to show that going through difficult experiences in your childhood can make you vulnerable to experiencing depression later in life.

This could be:

  • physical, sexual or emotional abuse

  • neglect

  • the loss of someone close to you

  • traumatic events

  • an unstable family situation

We know that going through lots of smaller challenging experiences can have a bigger impact on your vulnerability to depression than experiencing one major traumatic event.

Difficult experiences during your childhood can have a big impact on your self esteem and how you learned to cope with difficult emotions and situations. This can make you feel less able to cope with life's ups and downs, and lead to depression later in life.

NAPAC support anyone who experienced abuse in childhood – including sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and neglect.

Life events

In many cases, you might find your depression has been triggered by an unwelcome, stressful or traumatic event.

This could be:

  • losing your job or unemployment

  • the end of a relationship

  • bereavement

  • major life changes, like changing job, moving house or getting married

  • being physically or sexually assaulted

  • being bullied or abused, including experiencing racism

It's not just negative experiences that cause depression, but how we deal with them. If you don't have support to help you cope with the difficult emotions that come with these events, or if you're already dealing with other difficult situations, you might find that a low mood develops into depression.

Other mental health problems

If you experience another mental health problem, it's common to also experience depression. This might be because coping with the symptoms of your mental health problem can trigger depression. You may find you experience depression if you also experience:

  • anxiety

  • PTSD

  • eating disorders

Physical health problems

Poor health can contribute to your risk of developing depression. Many health problems can be quite difficult to manage and can have a big impact on your mood.

These could be:

  • chronic (long-term) physical health problems

  • life-threatening physical illnesses

  • physical health problems that significantly change your lifestyle

You might be offered support for your mental health at the same time as you are treated for a physical health problem.

There are some physical health problems that can cause depression and these include:

  • conditions affecting the brain and nervous system

  • hormonal problems, especially thyroid and parathyroid problems

  • symptoms relating to the menstrual cycle or the menopause

  • low blood sugar

  • sleep problems

If you think any of the above applies to you, make sure your doctor knows about them. Some can be diagnosed by simple blood tests – your doctor may suggest these are done to help make the right diagnosis, or you can ask for blood tests if you think they may be relevant.

Genetic inheritance

Research has shown that if you have a close family member with depression, you’re more likely to experience depression yourself.

While this might be caused by our biology, this link could also be because we usually learn behaviour and ways of coping from the people around us as we grow up.

Medication, recreational drugs and alcohol

Depression can be a side effect of taking a lot of different medicines. If you’re feeling depressed after starting any kind of medication, check the patient information leaflet to see whether depression is a side effect, or ask your doctor. If you think a drug is causing your depression, you can talk to your doctor about taking an alternative, especially if you’re expecting your treatment to last some time.

Alcohol and recreational drugs can both cause depression. Although you might initially use them to make yourself feel better, or to distract yourself, they can make you feel worse overall.

Sleep, diet and exercise

A poor diet and lack of sleep and exercise can affect your mood, and make it harder for you to cope with difficult things going on in your life.

Although a poor diet, or not getting enough sleep or exercise, can’t directly cause depression, they can make you more vulnerable to developing it.

See our pages on food and mood and physical wellbeing for more information.

What can I do to help myself?

Experiencing depression can be very difficult, but there are steps you can take that might help.

Talk to someone you trust

It might feel hard to start talking about how you’re feeling, but many people find that just sharing their experiences can help them feel better. It may be that just having someone listen to you and show they care can help in itself.

If you aren't able to open up to someone close to you, the Samaritans run a 24-hour helpline that you can call to talk to someone confidentially.

Peer support

Peer support brings together people who've had similar experiences to support each other.

Many people find it helps them to share ideas about how to stay well, connect with others and feel less alone. You could contact a specialist organisation and you can find details of support groups, forums and helplines on the SANE and CALM websites.

See our pages on peer support for more information about what peer support involves, and how to find peer support that suits you.


Mindfulness is a way of giving your full attention to the present moment. Some studies show that practising mindfulness can help to manage depression.

See our pages on mindfulness and relaxation for more information about what it involves and how to get started.

Look after your physical health

Try to get good sleep

For lots of people who experience depression, sleeping too little or too much can be a daily problem. Getting good sleep can help to improve your mood and increase your energy levels.

Think about your diet

Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. See our pages on food and mood for more tips.

Try to do some physical activity

Many people find exercise a challenge but activities like yoga, swimming or walking can be a big boost to your mood. If you don't feel confident doing exercise, you could start off with smaller activities - such as gentle chair-based exercises in your own home - and build from there. See our pages on physical wellbeing and your mental health for more information.

Try to look after your hygiene

When you're experiencing depression, it's easy for hygiene to not feel like a priority. But small things, like taking a shower and getting fully dressed whether or not you're going out of the house, can make a big difference to how you feel.

Try to avoid recreational drugs and alcohol

While you might want to use recreational drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings about yourself, in the long run they can make you feel worse and can prevent you from dealing with underlying problems.

Try to keep active

Try joining a group

This could be anything from a community project or a sports team to a hobby group. The important thing is to find an activity you enjoy, or perhaps something you've always wanted to try, to help you feel motivated.

Try new things

Trying something new, like starting a new hobby, learning something new or even trying new food, can help boost your mood and break unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour.

Try volunteering

Volunteering, or just offering to help someone out, can make you feel better about yourself and less alone. Your local Volunteer Centre and the charity Do-It can help match you with a volunteering opportunity in your area.

Set realistic goals

Try to set yourself achievable goals, like getting dressed every day or cooking yourself a meal. Achieving these things can help you feel good and boost your self-confidence, and help you move on to bigger goals.

Keep a mood diary

Keeping a mood diary can help you keep track of any changes in your mood, and you might find that you have more good days than you think. It can also help you notice if any activities, places or people make you feel better or worse. There are many freely available, including diaries from Bipolar UK and MoodPanda.

Spend time outdoors

Spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems like depression. We offer ‘green’ projects to help you get outside while being supported.

Make a self care box

You could put together some things that might help you when you're struggling – a bit like making a first-aid kit for your mental health.

It could include

  • your favourite books, films or CDs

  • helpful sayings or notes of encouragement

  • pictures or photos you find comforting

  • a soft blanket or cosy slippers

  • anything that you find reassuring or distracting

Practise self care

Taking time to look after yourself, such as doing something you enjoy, can help to support your recovery and improve your quality of life.