Depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days.
Most people go through periods of feeling down, but when you're depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days.
Some people think depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They're wrong – it is a real illness with real symptoms. Depression is not a sign of weakness or something you can "snap out of" by "pulling yourself together".
The good news is that with the right treatment and support, most people with depression can make a full recovery.
Get advice about coronavirus and looking after your mental wellbeing:
- Every Mind Matters: how to look after your mental wellbeing while staying at home
- Mind: Coronavirus and your wellbeing
Depression affects people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms.
They range from lasting feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness, to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling very tearful. Many people with depression also have symptoms of anxiety.
There can be physical symptoms too, such as feeling constantly tired, sleeping badly, having no appetite or sex drive, and various aches and pains.
The symptoms of depression range from mild to severe. At its mildest, you may simply feel persistently low in spirit, while severe depression can make you feel suicidal, that life is no longer worth living.
Most people experience feelings of stress, anxiety or low mood during difficult times. A low mood may improve after a short period of time, rather than being a sign of depression.
When to see a doctor
It's important to seek help from a GP if you think you may be depressed.
Many people wait a long time before seeking help for depression, but it's best not to delay. The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner you can be on the way to recovery.
Sometimes there's a trigger for depression. Life-changing events, such as bereavement, losing your job or giving birth, can bring it on.
People with a family history of depression are more likely to experience it themselves. But you can also become depressed for no obvious reason.
Treatment for depression can involve a combination of lifestyle changes, talking therapies and medicine. Your recommended treatment will be based on whether you have mild, moderate or severe depression.
If you have mild depression, your doctor may suggest waiting to see whether it improves on its own, while monitoring your progress. This is known as "watchful waiting". They may also suggest lifestyle measures such as exercise and self-help groups.
For moderate to severe depression, a combination of talking therapy and antidepressants is often recommended. If you have severe depression, you may be referred to a specialist mental health team for intensive specialist talking treatments and prescribed medicine.
Reading a self-help book or joining a support group are also worthwhile. They can help you gain a better understanding about what causes you to feel depressed. Sharing your experiences with others in a similar situation can also be very supportive.
Social care and support guide
- need help with day-to-day living because of illness or disability
- care for someone regularly because they're ill, elderly or disabled – including family members
Our guide to care and support explains your options and where you can get support.
The symptoms of depression can be complex and vary widely between people. If you're depressed, you may feel sad, hopeless and lose interest in things you used to enjoy.
The symptoms persist for weeks or months and are bad enough to interfere with your work, social life and family life.
There are many other symptoms of depression and you're unlikely to have all of those listed on this page.
The psychological symptoms of depression include:
- 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
- feeling anxious or worried
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
The physical symptoms of depression include:
- moving or speaking more slowly than usual
- changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
- unexplained aches and pains
- lack of energy
- low sex drive (loss of libido)
- changes to your menstrual cycle
- disturbed sleep – for example, finding it difficult to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning
The social symptoms of depression include:
- avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities
- neglecting your hobbies and interests
- having difficulties in your home, work or family life
Severities of depression
Depression can often come on gradually, so it can be difficult to notice something is wrong. Many people try to cope with their symptoms without realising they're unwell. It can sometimes take a friend or family member to suggest something is wrong.
Doctors describe depression by how serious it is:
- mild depression – has some impact on your daily life
- moderate depression – has a significant impact on your daily life
- severe depression – makes it almost impossible to get through daily life; a few people with severe depression may have psychotic symptoms
Grief and depression
It can be difficult to distinguish between grief and depression. They share many of the same characteristics, but there are important differences between them.
Grief is an entirely natural response to a loss, while depression is an illness.
People who are grieving find their feelings of sadness and loss come and go, but they're still able to enjoy things and look forward to the future.
In contrast, people who are depressed constantly feel sad. They find it difficult to enjoy anything or be positive about the future.
Other types of depression
There are different types of depression, and some conditions where depression may be one of the symptoms. These include:
- postnatal depression – sometimes new mothers, fathers or partners develop depression after they have a baby; this is known as postnatal depression and it's treated in a similar way to other types of depression, with talking therapies and antidepressant medicines
- bipolar disorder – also known as "manic depression", in bipolar disorder there are spells of both depression and excessively high mood (mania); the depression symptoms are similar to clinical depression, but the bouts of mania can include harmful behaviour, such as gambling, going on spending sprees and having unsafe sex
- seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – also known as "winter depression", SAD is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern usually related to winter
When to seek help
See a GP if you experience symptoms of depression for most of the day, every day, for more than 2 weeks.
A low mood may improve after a short time.
There's no single cause of depression. It can occur for a variety of reasons and it has many different triggers.
For some people, an upsetting or stressful life event, such as bereavement, divorce, illness, redundancy and job or money worries, can be the cause.
Different causes can often combine to trigger depression. For example, you may feel low after being ill and then experience a traumatic event, such as a bereavement, which brings on depression.
People often talk about a "downward spiral" of events that leads to depression. For example, if your relationship with your partner breaks down, you're likely to feel low, you may stop seeing friends and family and you may start drinking more. All of this can make you feel worse and trigger depression.
Some studies have also suggested that you're more likely to get depression as you get older, and that it's more common in people who live in difficult social and economic circumstances.
Most people take time to come to terms with stressful events, such as bereavement or a relationship breakdown. When these stressful events occur, your risk of becoming depressed is increased if you stop seeing your friends and family and try to deal with your problems on your own.
You may be more vulnerable to depression if you have certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem or being overly self-critical. This may be because of the genes you've inherited from your parents, your early life experiences, or both.
If someone in your family has had depression in the past, such as a parent or sister or brother, it's more likely that you'll also develop it.
Some women are particularly vulnerable to depression after pregnancy. The hormonal and physical changes, as well as the added responsibility of a new life, can lead to postnatal depression.
Feelings of loneliness, caused by things such as becoming cut off from your family and friends can increase your risk of depression.
Alcohol and drugs
Cannabis can help you relax, but there's evidence that it can also bring on depression, particularly in teenagers.
"Drowning your sorrows" with a drink is also not recommended. Alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain, which increases the risk of depression.
Head injuries are also an often under-recognised cause of depression. A severe head injury can trigger mood swings and emotional problems.
Some people may have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) resulting from problems with their immune system. In rarer cases, a minor head injury can damage the pituitary gland, which is a pea-sized gland at the base of your brain that produces thyroid-stimulating hormones.
This can cause a number of symptoms, such as extreme tiredness and a lack of interest in sex (loss of libido), which can in turn lead to depression.
If you experience symptoms of depression for most of the day, every day for more than 2 weeks, you should seek help from a GP.
It's particularly important to speak to a GP if you:
have symptoms of depression that are not improving
find your mood affects your work, other interests, and relationships with your family and friends
Sometimes, when you're depressed it can be difficult to imagine that treatment can actually help. But the sooner you seek treatment, the sooner your depression will improve.
The main way a GP will tell if you have depression is by asking you questions about your general health and how the way you're feeling is affecting you mentally and physically.
Try to be as open and honest as you can be with your answers. Describing your symptoms and how they're affecting you will help the GP determine whether you have depression and how severe it is.
Any discussion you have with a GP will be confidential. This rule will only ever be broken if there's a significant risk of harm to either yourself or others, and if informing a family member or carer would reduce that risk.
Treatment for depression usually involves a combination of self-help, talking therapies and medicines.
The treatment recommended will be based on the type of depression you have.
If you have mild depression, the following treatments may be recommended.
Wait and see
If a GP diagnoses you with mild depression, they may suggest waiting a short time to see if it gets better by itself. In this case, you'll be seen again by the GP after 2 weeks to monitor your progress. This is known as watchful waiting.
There's evidence that exercise can help depression, and it's one of the main treatments for mild depression. You may be referred to a group exercise class.
Talking through your feelings can be helpful. You could talk to a friend or relative, or you could ask a GP or local psychological therapies service if there are any self-help groups for people with depression in your area.
Mental health apps
You can also find mental health apps and tools in the NHS Apps library.
Mild to moderate depression
If you have mild to moderate depression that is not improving, or moderate depression, you may find a talking therapy helpful.
A GP can refer you for talking treatment, or you can refer yourself directly to an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT) without a referral from a GP.
Moderate to severe depression
If you have moderate to severe depression, the following treatments may be recommended.
They have to be prescribed by a doctor, usually for depression that's moderate or severe.
A GP may recommend that you take a course of antidepressants plus talking therapy, particularly if your depression is quite severe.
A combination of an antidepressant and CBT usually works better than having just one of these treatments.
Mental health teams
If you have severe depression, you may be referred to a mental health team made up of psychologists, psychiatrists, specialist nurses and occupational therapists.
These teams often provide intensive specialist talking treatments as well as prescribed medicine.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to help you understand your thoughts and behaviour, and how they affect you.
CBT recognises that events in your past may have shaped you, but it concentrates mostly on how you can change the way you think, feel and behave in the present.
It teaches you how to overcome negative thoughts – for example, being able to challenge hopeless feelings.
CBT is available on the NHS for people with depression or any other mental health problem it's been shown to help.
If CBT is recommended, you'll usually have a session with a therapist once a week or once every 2 weeks.
The course of treatment usually lasts for between 5 and 20 sessions, with each session lasting 30 to 60 minutes.
In some cases, you may be offered group CBT.
Online CBT is a type of CBT delivered through a computer, rather than face to face with a therapist.
You'll have a series of weekly sessions and should receive support from a healthcare professional.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) focuses on your relationships with others and problems you may be having in your relationships, such as difficulties with communication or coping with bereavement.
There's some evidence that IPT can be as effective as antidepressants or CBT, but more research is needed.
In psychodynamic (psychoanalytic) psychotherapy, a psychoanalytic therapist will encourage you to say whatever is going through your mind.
This will help you become aware of hidden meanings or patterns in what you do or say that may be contributing to your problems.
Counselling is a form of therapy that helps you think about the problems you're experiencing in your life so you can find new ways of dealing with them.
Counsellors support you in finding solutions to problems, but do not tell you what to do. You can talk in confidence to a counsellor, who supports you and offers practical advice.
On the NHS, you may be offered a single session of counselling, a short course of sessions over a few weeks or months, or a longer course that lasts for several months or years.
See a GP for more information about accessing NHS talking treatments. They can refer you for local talking treatments for depression.
You also have the option of self-referral. This means that if you prefer not to talk to a GP, you can go directly to a psychological therapies service.
Most people with moderate or severe depression benefit from antidepressants, but not everybody does.
You may respond to 1 antidepressant but not to another, and you may need to try 2 or more treatments before you find one that works for you.
The different types of antidepressant work about as well as each other. But side effects vary between different treatments and people.
When you start taking antidepressants, you should see a GP or specialist nurse every week or 2 for at least 4 weeks to assess how well they're working.
If they're working, you'll need to continue taking them at the same dose for at least 4 to 6 months after your symptoms have eased.
If you have had episodes of depression in the past, you may need to continue to take antidepressants for up to 5 years or more.
Antidepressants are not addictive, but you may get some withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them suddenly or you miss a dose.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
If a GP thinks you'd benefit from taking an antidepressant, you'll usually be prescribed a modern type called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).
They help increase the level of a natural chemical in your brain called serotonin, which is thought to be a "good mood" chemical.
SSRIs work just as well as older antidepressants and have fewer side effects, although they can cause nausea, headaches, a dry mouth and problems having sex. But these side effects usually improve over time.
Some SSRIs are not suitable for children and young people under 18 years of age. Research shows that the risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviour may increase if they're taken by under-18s.
Fluoxetine is the only SSRI that can be prescribed for under-18s and, even then, only when a specialist has given the go-ahead.
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are a group of antidepressants used to treat moderate to severe depression.
TCAs, including imipramine (Imipramil) and amitriptyline, have been around for longer than SSRIs.
They work by raising the levels of the chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline in your brain. These both help lift your mood.
They're generally quite safe, but it's a bad idea to smoke cannabis if you're taking TCAs because it can cause your heart to beat rapidly.
Side effects of TCAs vary from person to person but may include a dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, problems passing urine, sweating, feeling lightheaded and excessive drowsiness.
The side effects usually ease within 10 days as your body gets used to the medicine.
Vortioxetine (Brintellix or Lundbeck) is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for treating adults who are having a first or recurrent major depressive episode, if the current episode has not responded to 2 other antidepressants.
New antidepressants, such as venlafaxine (Efexor), duloxetine (Cymbalta or Yentreve) and mirtazapine (Zispin Soltab), work in a slightly different way from SSRIs and TCAs.
Venlafaxine and duloxetine are known as serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Like TCAs, they change the levels of serotonin and noradrenaline in your brain.
Studies have shown that an SNRI can be more effective than an SSRI, but they're not routinely prescribed because they can lead to a rise in blood pressure.
Antidepressants are not addictive in the same way that illegal drugs and cigarettes are, but you may have some withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them.
- an upset stomach
- flu-like symptoms
- vivid dreams at night
- sensations in the body that feel like electric shocks
In most cases, these are quite mild and last no longer than 1 or 2 weeks, but occasionally they can be quite severe.
They seem to be most likely to occur with paroxetine (Seroxat) and venlafaxine (Efexor).
Withdrawal symptoms occur very soon after stopping the tablets so are easy to distinguish from symptoms of depression relapse, which tend to occur after a few weeks.
- How long does it take for antidepressants to work?
- Can I drink alcohol if I'm taking antidepressants?
- How should antidepressants be stopped?
Mindfulness involves paying closer attention to the present moment, and focusing on your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the world around you to improve your mental wellbeing.
The aim is to develop a better understanding of your mind and body, and learn how to live with more appreciation and less anxiety.
Mindfulness is recommended by NICE as a way of preventing depression in people who have had 3 or more bouts of depression in the past.
St John's wort
St John's wort is a herbal treatment that some people take for depression. It's available from health food shops and pharmacies.
There's some evidence that it may help mild to moderate depression, but it's not recommended by doctors.
This is because the amount of active ingredients varies among individual brands and batches, so you can never be sure what sort of effect it'll have on you.
You should not take St John's wort if you're pregnant or breastfeeding, as we do not know for sure that it's safe.
Also, St John's wort can interact with the contraceptive pill, reducing its effectiveness.
Brain stimulation is sometimes used to treat severe depression that has not responded to other treatments.
Electromagnetic currents can be used to stimulate certain areas of the brain to try to improve the symptoms of depression.
There are a number of different types of brain stimulation that can be used to treat depression, including transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) uses a small battery-operated stimulator to deliver a constant low-strength current through 2 electrodes placed on the head.
The electric current stimulates brain activity to help improve the symptoms of depression.
You'll be awake during tDCS, which is usually given by a trained technician (although it's possible to be trained to do it yourself).
You'll have daily treatment sessions, lasting 20 to 30 minutes, for several weeks.
It can be used on its own or with other treatments for depression.
NICE has more information about transcranial direct current stimulation for depression, including the benefits and risks.
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS)
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) involves placing an electromagnetic coil against your head.
The coil sends repetitive pulses of magnetic energy at a fixed frequency, which is delivered in pulses to specific areas of the brain.
The stimulation can improve the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
If you decide to have rTMS, you'll be asked to give your permission (consent) to have the treatment.
You should also be reminded that you can withdraw your consent at any time.
The procedure is carried out in hospital by a trained technician or clinician. No anaesthetic or sedative is needed, and you can leave hospital the same day.
You can drive after having an rTMS session and continue with other activities as normal.
You'll have daily sessions that last about 30 minutes for 2 to 6 weeks.
NICE has more information about repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for depression, including the benefits and risks.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a more invasive type of brain stimulation that's sometimes recommended for severe depression if all other treatment options have failed, or when the situation is thought to be life threatening.
During ECT, a carefully calculated electric current is passed to the brain through electrodes placed on the head.
The current stimulates the brain and triggers a seizure (fit), which helps relieve the symptoms of depression.
ECT is always carried out in hospital by a specialist doctor under a general anaesthetic. You'll also be given a muscle relaxant to prevent body spasms.
ECT is usually given twice a week for 3 to 6 weeks (6 to 12 sessions in total).
Your specialist should clearly explain how ECT works, along with the benefits, risks and possible side effects, so you can make an informed decision.
If you decide to have ECT, you'll be asked to give your permission (consent) to have the treatment.
You should also be reminded that you can withdraw your consent at any time.
Your health will be closely monitored during and after each session of ECT.
Treatment will usually be stopped as soon as you start to feel better, or if the side effects outweigh the benefits.
In some cases, what's known as "maintenance" or "continuation" therapy may be recommended.
This is where treatment is given less frequently (once every 2 to 3 weeks) to ensure your symptoms do not come back.
You can read more about the NICE recommendations for the use of electroconvulsive therapy.
If you have tried several different antidepressants and there's been no improvement, your doctor may offer you a medicine called lithium in addition to your current treatment.
There are 2 types: lithium carbonate and lithium citrate. Both are usually effective, but if you're taking one that works for you, it's best not to change.
If the level of lithium in your blood becomes too high, it can become toxic. You'll therefore need blood tests every 3 months to check your lithium levels while you're on the medicine.
You'll also need to avoid eating a low-salt diet because this can also cause the lithium to become toxic. Ask a GP for advice about your diet.
There are some key steps you can take to lift your mood and help your recovery from depression.
Taking your medicine
It's very important to take your antidepressants as prescribed, even if you start to feel better. If you stop taking them too soon, your depression could return.
Talk to a doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns about the medicine you're taking. The leaflet that comes with your medicine will have information about possible interactions with other medicines or supplements.
Check with a doctor first if you plan to take any over-the-counter remedies such as painkillers, or any nutritional supplements. These can sometimes interfere with antidepressants.
Diet and exercise
A healthy diet can help lift your mood. In fact, eating healthily seems to be just as important for maintaining your mental health as it is for preventing physical health problems.
Research suggests that exercise may be as effective as antidepressants at reducing the symptoms of depression.
Being physically active can lift your mood, reduce stress and anxiety, encourage the release of endorphins (your body's feel-good chemicals) and improve self-esteem. Exercising may also be a good distraction from negative thoughts, and it can improve social interaction.
It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing. Some people call this awareness "mindfulness", and you can take steps to develop it in your own life.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends "mindfulness based cognitive therapy" for people who are currently well but have experienced 3 or more previous episodes of depression. It may help prevent a future episode of depression.
Talking about it
Sharing a problem with someone else or with a group can give you support and an insight into your own depression. Research shows that talking can help people recover from depression and cope better with stress.
You may not feel comfortable about discussing your mental health and sharing your distress with others. If this is the case, writing about how you feel or expressing your emotions through poetry or art are other ways to help your mood.
Here's a list of depression support groups and information about how to access them.
Smoking, drugs and alcohol
If you have depression it may be tempting to smoke or drink to make you feel better. Cigarettes and alcohol may seem to help at first, but they make things worse in the long run.
Be extra cautious with cannabis. You might think it's harmless, but research has shown a strong link between cannabis use and mental illness, including depression.
The evidence shows that if you smoke cannabis you:
- make your depression symptoms worse
- feel more tired and uninterested in things
- are more likely to have depression that relapses earlier and more frequently
- will not have as good a response to antidepressant medicines
- are more likely to stop using antidepressant medicines
- are less likely to fully recover
A GP can give you advice and support if you drink or smoke too much or use drugs.
You may also find the following pages useful:
Work and finances
If your depression is caused by working too much or if it's affecting your ability to do your job, you may need time off to recover.
However, there's evidence to suggest that taking prolonged time off work can make depression worse. There's also quite a bit of evidence to support that going back to work can help you recover from depression.
It's important to avoid too much stress, and this includes work-related stress. If you're employed, you may be able to work shorter hours or work in a more flexible way, particularly if job pressures seem to trigger your symptoms.
Under the Equality Act 2010, all employers must make reasonable adjustments to make the employment of people with disabilities possible. This can include people who've been diagnosed with a mental illness.
If you're unable to work as a result of your depression, you may be eligible for a range of benefits, depending on your circumstances. These include:
- Statutory Sick Pay
- Incapacity Benefit
- Disability Living Allowance
- Attendance Allowance
- Carer's Allowance
- Council Tax Benefit
- Housing Benefit
Looking after someone with depression
It's not just the person with depression who's affected by their illness. The people close to them are also affected.
If you're caring for someone with depression, your relationship with them and family life in general can become strained. You may feel at a loss as to what to do. Finding a support group and talking to others in a similar situation might help.
If you're having relationship or marriage difficulties, it might help to contact a relationship counsellor who can talk things through with you and your partner.
Men are less likely to ask for help than women and are also more likely to turn to alcohol or drugs when depressed.
Coping with bereavement
Losing someone close to you can be a trigger for depression.
When someone you love dies, the sense of loss can be so powerful that you feel it's impossible to recover. However, with time and the right help and support, it's possible to start living your life again.
Depression and suicide
The majority of suicide cases are linked with mental disorders, and most of them are triggered by severe depression.
Warning signs that someone with depression may be considering suicide include:
- making final arrangements, such as giving away possessions, making a will or saying goodbye to friends
- talking about death or suicide – this may be a direct statement, such as "I wish I was dead", but often depressed people will talk about the subject indirectly, using phrases like "I think dead people must be happier than us" or "Wouldn't it be nice to go to sleep and never wake up"
- self-harm, such as cutting their arms or legs, or burning themselves with cigarettes
- a sudden lifting of mood, which could mean that a person has decided to attempt suicide and feels better because of this decision
Contact a GP as soon as possible if you're feeling suicidal or are in the crisis of depression. They'll be able to help you.
Helping a suicidal friend or relative
If you see any of the above warning signs in a friend or relative:
- get professional help for them
- let them know they are not alone and you care about them
- offer support in finding other solutions to their problems
If you feel there's an immediate danger, stay with the person or have someone else stay with them, and remove all available means of attempting suicide, such as medicine.
Over-the-counter medicine, such as painkillers, can be just as dangerous as prescription medicine. Also, remove sharp objects and poisonous household chemicals such as bleach.
Some people who have severe clinical depression will also experience hallucinations and delusional thinking, the symptoms of psychosis.
Depression with psychosis is known as psychotic depression.
Symptoms of severe depression
Someone with severe clinical depression feels sad and hopeless for most of the day, practically every day, and has no interest in anything. Getting through the day feels almost impossible.
Other typical symptoms of severe depression are:
- fatigue (exhaustion)
- loss of pleasure in things
- disturbed sleep
- changes in appetite
- feeling worthless and guilty
- being unable to concentrate or being indecisive
- thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms of psychosis
Having moments of psychosis (psychotic episodes) means experiencing:
- delusions – thoughts or beliefs that are unlikely to be true
- hallucinations – hearing and, in some cases, feeling, smelling, seeing or tasting things that are not there; hearing voices is a common hallucination
The delusions and hallucinations almost always reflect the person's deeply depressed mood – for example, they may become convinced they're to blame for something, or that they've committed a crime.
"Psychomotor agitation" is also common. This means not being able to relax or sit still, and constantly fidgeting.
At the other extreme, a person with psychotic depression may have "psychomotor retardation", where both their thoughts and physical movements slow down.
People with psychotic depression have an increased risk of thinking about suicide.
What causes psychotic depression?
The cause of psychotic depression is not fully understood. It's known that there's no single cause of depression and it has many different triggers.
For some, stressful life events such as bereavement, divorce, serious illness or financial worries can be the cause.
Genes probably play a part, as severe depression can run in families, although it's not known why some people also develop psychosis.
Many people with psychotic depression will have experienced adversity in childhood, such as a traumatic event.
Treating psychotic depression
Treatment for psychotic depression involves:
- medicine – a combination of antipsychotics and antidepressants can help relieve the symptoms of psychosis
- psychological therapies – the 1-to-1 talking therapy cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has proved effective in helping some people with psychosis
- social support – support with social needs, such as education, employment or accommodation
The person may need to stay in hospital for a short period of time while they're receiving treatment.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may sometimes be recommended if the person has severe depression and other treatments, including antidepressants, have not worked.
Treatment is usually effective, but follow-up appointments so that the person can be closely monitored are usually required.
Getting help for others
People with psychosis are often unaware that they're thinking and acting strangely.
As a result of this lack of insight, it's often down to the person's friends, relatives or carers to seek help for them.
If you're concerned about someone and think they may have psychosis, you could contact their social worker or community mental health nurse if they've previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Contact the person's GP if this is the first time they've shown symptoms of psychosis.
If you think the person's symptoms are placing them or others at possible risk of harm you can:
- take them to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department, if they agree
- call a GP or local out-of-hours GP
- call 999 to ask for an ambulance
The following websites provide further information and support:
If you've been diagnosed with psychotic depression, it's your legal obligation to tell the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). It could affect your ability to drive.