Depression can have a lot of symptoms, as is different for everyone. Some of the most common things perople experience are:
- loss of energy
- loss of interest in activities and in life
- loss of appetite and weight
- difficulty concentrating
- feelings of hopelessness
- withdrawal from other people
- difficulty making decisions
- suicidal thinking
Depression isn't the same as the common experience of feeling unhappy or fed up for a short period of time. If you're depressed, feelings of extreme and ongoing sadness and hopelessness can last for a long time, and can be severe enough to interfere with your daily life and functioning.
Talking therapies can help you overcome depression through teaching you new skills and helping you to understand how to respond more positively to situations that usually contribute to your depression. If you think you may have depression, you can take our wellbeing questionnaires here to assess your symptoms.
Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. Most people recognise the worry of new or stressful situations such as sitting an exam, moving house or having a medical test to name a few.
Anxiety is a commonly felt emotion and in its mild form is not usually a problem: it can even be helpful in some situations when we need to perform well. However, when anxiety is ongoing or more severe, it can affect your daily life, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks.
Some people experience a continuous state of high anxiety, sometimes described as 'generalised' anxiety. This often involves constant worrying and "What if?" thoughts, such as 'What if I lose my job?', 'What if I fall ill - how will my children cope?', 'What if I can't pay my bills next month?'.
We all worry from time to time, but the thing that makes generalised anxiety different from ordinary worry is that the worry lasts a long time (usually over six months), and the level of worry is out of proportion for the situation.
Examples include: not sleeping the night before because of worrying about being late for a dental appointment; avoiding inviting people around to your house because of worrying about the clean up afterwards; thinking that because your partner is late from work that 'they must have had an accident', rather than 'they have been delayed in traffic' or 'they've stopped to talk with a colleague'.
Generalised anxiety is particularly difficult to live with, as the worry and anxiety are not tied to a specific situation or event. It can cause problems with sleep and the ability to maintain a job, as well as impact on close relationships.
If you think you may have Generalised Anxiety disorder, you can take our wellbeing questionnaires here: Wellbeing Questionnaires.
A panic attack is a period of intense fear or discomfort with four or more of the following symptoms listed below. These symptoms usually happen very suddenly, often without warning and for no apparent reason (out of the blue).
- a sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
- trembling or shaking
- sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- a feeling of choking
- chest pain or discomfort
- nausea or churning stomach
- feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
- feelings of unreality or being detached from yourself
- fear of losing control or going crazy
- a feeling of dread or fear of dying
- numbness, or pins and needles
- chills or hot flushes
The physical symptoms of a panic attack are unpleasant, and they can also be very frightening and distressing.
For this reason, people who experience panic start to fear the next attack, which creates a cycle of living in 'fear of fear' and adds to the sense of panic. Sometimes, the symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense they can make you feel like you are having a heart attack.
However, it is important to be aware that symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, or shortness of breath, will not result in you having a heart attack. Also, although a panic attack can often be frightening, it will not cause you any physical harm.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological and physical condition that can start after any traumatic event. A traumatic event is one where 1) we experience being in danger, or our life is threatened in some way, or where we see other people dying or being seriously injured; and 2) our reactions involve intense fear, helplessness or horror.
Typical Traumatic Events
- serious accidents
- military combat
- violent personal assault (sexual assault, physical attack, abuse, robbery, mugging)
- being taken hostage
- terrorist attack
- being a political prisoner or prisoner-of-war
- natural or man-made disasters
- being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness
What are the signs and symptoms of PTSD?
Many people feel grief-stricken, depressed, anxious, guilty and angry after a traumatic experience.
In addition, there are three main types of symptoms:
Flashbacks & nightmares
You find yourself re-living the event, again and again, even when you do not want to. This can happen both as a 'flashback' in the day and as nightmares when you are asleep. These can be so realistic that it feels as though you are living through the experience all over again.
Avoidance & numbing
It can be just too upsetting to re-live your experience over and over again. So you try to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma, or avoid activities, places or people that remind you of what happened. Or you may find yourself being unable to recall an important aspect of the trauma, or that you show less interest in activities you previously enjoyed. You may deal with the pain of your feelings by cutting off from other people and trying to feel nothing at all.
Constantly being 'on guard'
You find that you can't relax; you stay alert all the time, as if you are looking out for danger. The slightest thing sets you off. You find it difficult to concentrate on things and have problems falling or staying asleep. Other people will notice that you are jumpy and irritable. ('It's like walking on eggshells around them').
We all have habits of some description, such as having to double check the front door is locked or making sure the TV is unplugged from the wall before going to bed.
For people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), these habits 'take over' and begin to seriously impact on their quality of life.
Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, ideas, urges, impulses or worries that run through the person's mind over and over again. Often the ideas do not make any sense, or are unpleasant or opposite to the person's values or beliefs. They are accompanied by fear, guilt, worry, sadness or anxiety.
Common obsessions include:
- repeated impulses to kill someone you love (even though that is the last thing you'd want to do in reality)
- worries about dirt, germs, contamination and infection
- recurrent thoughts that something has not been done properly, even though you know it has
- fear about losing something important
- fear about being responsible for keeping someone safe/preventing harm
- ideas that certain things must be in a certain place
Compulsions or rituals are repeated behaviours or mental actions that are used to reduce anxiety or discomfort caused by an obsession. The purpose or intention behind a ritual is to ease or reduce a person's anxiety/worry. Most people recognise that these rituals are excessive but still feel compelled to do them in a particular way, according to their own rules, like checking the car door six times.
Common rituals are: hand washing, showering, cleaning, touching certain objects, repeating an action to undo a thought or image, placing things in a particular order, collecting items, repeating certain phrases, exchanging a 'good' thought for a 'bad' one. Compulsions may occur only now and then, or they may take up many hours every day.
OCD is often a long-term condition that fluctuates over time. The person with OCD may go to great lengths to hide the problem so that the disorder goes unnoticed, even by family members. However, when the symptoms start to impact on different aspects of a person's life, sometimes becoming their major life activity, OCD becomes difficult to conceal.
A specific phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of an animal, object or situation. Fears and phobias are very common. In a recent national survey, 60% of the people interviewed reported that they feared some situation or thing. The most common fears were fears of bugs, mice, snakes, bats, heights, water, public transportation, storms, closed spaces, tunnels and bridges. Many people reported that they feared several things and that they consciously avoided them.
In fact, over 11% of the people indicated that their fears qualified as specific phobias. That is, their fears were persistent and associated with intense anxiety; they avoided or wanted to avoid certain situations; they realised that their fears were excessive or unreasonable; and their fears resulted in distress and difficulty in their normal lives.
Pregnancy is sometimes thought of as a time of wellbeing, both physically and emotionally, but in fact problems with mental health during this time are common, with up to 20 per cent of pregnant women experiencing a mood disorder and/or an anxiety disorder.
Postnatal depression (PND) is a type of depression some women experience after they have had a baby.
The symptoms are the same as those found in depression, i.e. feeling down, depressed or hopeless, and having little or no pleasure in doing things, but women with PND sometimes have additional symptoms of mood fluctuations, over-concern with their baby, or difficulties bonding with their baby.
The difference between PND and depression is that in PND, symptoms begin in the period after giving birth, usually up to one year after having a baby. Whereas in some women, the symptoms can take months to develop, many women find they become depressed within four to six weeks of childbirth.
PND can be distressing but there are treatments, including talking therapies, that have been proven to help.
Less well known than PND is postnatal anxiety: a feeling of constantly being hyper-alert, worrying constantly about their baby or other things, and sometimes frightening thoughts of hurting their baby, even if this is the last thing they would do. These are all are really common symptoms of postnatal mental health illnesses also, and can be treated.
Sometimes people feel they have difficulties with their relationships with people, particularly when they are depressed. When we are low in mood we may find ourselves withdrawing from others, in conflict with people we care about, or noticing our relationships becoming more negative in general.
Medical support can go a long way to help in managing long-term health conditions, but there will often be a strong emotional struggle that people feel they need help with. We offer therapies that aim to help people manage a number of different long-term health conditions, ranging from diabetes to chronic pain. The main focus is on discussing techniques that enable people to better manage the conditions and improve their emotional wellbeing.