Depression is a common condition in Northern Ireland and it is thought to affect 1 in 4 people at some stage in their lives. We can all feel sad or fed-up with life sometimes. However, these are usually short lived episodes of unhappiness in response to difficult life experiences or circumstances. If you feel you could be suffering from a longer period of sadness that is interfering with your everyday living, then you could be experiencing a form of the depressive disorder.

Depression is an illness and is usually described as a mood disorder. This leads to the tendency to just focus on emotional effects of the illness. However, there are four areas that are considered to be effected by the illness. These four areas reveal symptoms to be aware of.
It is important to be aware of the several symptoms of depression to spot signs of these in yourself or others. It is also important to understand the devastating effects of depression if left untreated. The four areas are:

• Mood Experiencing extreme and persistently low mood, with feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, shame, helplessness, hopelessness and even anger.

• Mind Negative thinking and being self-critical. Blaming yourself for everything and having the belief that you are useless. Life situations may feel like they will not get better and everyone would be better without you. A pessimistic view of the world and of your future.

• Body Experiencing extreme tiredness/fatigue or having any type of sleeping problem could be an indication. The change in regular eating habits or weight loss/gain.

• Behaviour A loss of interest or pleasure in enjoyable activities can be a major sign of the depressive disorder. In withdrawal or avoidance of social situations. Neglecting everyday life responsibilities and even of personal hygiene or appearance. Involvement in risk taking activities that could involve suicidal plans.

There is no single cause of depression. It can often be the cause of the interaction of several factors. These are known as risk factors, with most people experiencing two or more of these.

The 'Aware Defeat Depression' Organisation provide a helpful acronym (H.E.L.P) to explain the various factors. The increase in the number of factors that apply to a person increases the risk of them becoming depressed. However, it is sometimes not clear the particular reason why someone becomes depressed.

• Heredity: being born to a parent or close relative who has had depression may increase our risk.
• Environment: current factors like poor housing, money worries, stress, relationship problems, physical illness, loneliness
• Life events and experiences: past issues like bereavement, abuse, bullying, job loss, relationship break-up
• Personality: people with a more sensitive personality or who have perfectionist tendencies are more vulnerable to depression.
The answer is simple. YES. Depression is very treatable. It is advised that you should go see your GP if you have been experiencing any of the symptoms of depression for more than a two weeks. They will advise you on the best treatment for you, from a range of different treatments. GPs may offer medication in the form of anti-depressants, mood stabilisers or anti-psychotic medication, depending on the case of moderate/severe depression The medication can work for some people by activating specific areas of the brain that are concerned with mood.

Yellow Ribbon currently offers alternative treatments in both cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness training.

• Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been proven to be very effective for mild/moderate depression and in preventing relapse. It involves changing our negative way of thinking and behaviour to improve how we feel and overall lives. CBT has proven very successful for most people and can help target the four areas affected by depression; increasing low mood, tackling negative thinking, examining any negative lifestyle changes. This therapy helps identify the areas and provides a positive outlook to overcome the negative thinking patterns.

• Mindfulness is one of the newest forms of treatment offered. Research has shown that Mindfulness has significant benefits for health and well-being. It can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and it enables people to learn the skills that prevent the recurrence of depression. Mindfulness is a skill for life that increases your awareness and acceptance of the present-moment reality. You will become more aware of your feelings, thoughts and emotions and through this awareness, comes knowledge, knowledge of how to deal with living your life in the present.