Depression: It’s a REAL Illness


According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 4 people will experience some form of mental health problem within the course of a year.

Of these problems, Depression and Anxiety are the most common illnesses. And according to the statistics, the UK has the highest rates of self-harm throughout the whole of Europe, with a total of 400 people per 100,000. Depression is found to be more common in women than in men, with a shocking rate of 1/4 women being treated for some form of depression at some point in their lives.

There are lots of students at the University of Southampton that are suffering from a mental health condition. I have friends here that self harm, friends here that suffer from Anoerexia, and I myself suffer from Depression. In fact, I’ve been suffering from it for five years.

Unfortunately, lots of other students here don’t understand depression. Earlier this year I hit a really low point and was contemplating suicide. Some of my friends still refuse to talk to me because of it, claiming that I was attention seeking.

Depression is not an excuse to attention seek. If anything, attention makes me more uncomfortable. I am writing this article to speak to those at the University at Southampton who share my pain. Depression is a real illness. It is not an excuse to attention-seek, or an exaggeration of sadness. Depression, like every other illness, comes with a number of symptoms. These include a low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration.

Depression can be helped by anti-depressants. There are a number of different types, and the most well-known of these is called Prozac, or its medical name Fluoexetine. I took Prozac for about 6 months but have recently changed to a different type called Mirtazapine, which helps me sleep. Anti-depressants work by altering the levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals) in the brain.

However, anti-depressants are unlikely to cure depression. Statistics from The Royal College of Psychiatry estimates that between 50-65% of people treated with an antidepressant for depression will benefit from their effects. Although I find that Mirtazapine helps me to sleep, it doesn’t really help my mood. I go through moments where I feel completely hopeless. Being depressed is like being overwhelmed with sadness. You can’t concentrate on anything else. All you can do is sit there and cry.

I can see how it’s hard for a “normal” individual to understand depression. Sure, everyone gets sad. What makes depression so different?

Like I said before, depression is more of an overwhelming than a feeling. This is why depressed individuals consider self-harming or committing suicide. Feelings become too much to handle which is why therapy can also help those with depression. Talking to another person about our feelings helps us to cope with them, as we are expressing them in a healthy way. It has often been thought that a combination of anti-depressants and counselling can help someone recover from depression.

There are lots of different types of therapy, including the cognitive behavioural therapy (which encourages challenging our negative thoughts), group therapy, and psychotherapy (which involves focusing on you past to help recover from present issues). I have used a combination of CBT and psychotherapy to help with my depression.

So, what should you do if you believe that you or one of your friends is suffering from depression? Firstly, check the symptoms. If they have been feeling low for a long period of time, have had changes in appetite and/or sleeping patterns, and have been contemplating suicide or self-harm, then it is likely that they are depressed. The first port of call is your GP, who will prescribe you medication and/or refer you onto therapy.

However, nothing is more valuable than support. If you believe that one of your friends is suffering from depression, they need you. Depression is a lonely and horrible illness and I’ve found that having a friend support you is more useful a therapy than counselling or antidepressants.

Depression isn’t an excuse, it’s a real illness.


I have always wanted to write. It's more of a need than a want. I will not rest until I am a professional journalist, and I am going to start with the Wessex Scene...

Discussion16 Comments

  1. avatar

    The best way to describe depression so that others will consider it as the real illness it is, is to explain it in terms as biological as possible.
    Depression, when officially diagnosed, is caused by a chemical imbalance where one’s body does not produce enough endorphins to keep one happy and motivated towards life. This instigates a vicious circle where an individual with no motivation will shirk opportunities to do that which they enjoy and is likely to up the endorphins. As such, even less are produced and so on.

    Fluoxetine is a SSRI or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. This stops your body from re collecting any serotonin in your stream so that over time, the minimal amounts that ARE added can join an ever-growing level of serotonin enabling you to make decisions rationally and actually get out of bed in the morning. This is why it can take 2 weeks or more to actually work.

    As a side note it should be mentioned to those ashamed of having thoughts of suicide, this doesn’t necessarily mean one is considering it.
    When dealing with problems your brain is clever enough to look for the simplest solution and unfortunately will offer this up as COMFORT that no matter how bad things get there’s always an escape.
    It’s flawed logic of course but that’s your subconscious for you.

    • avatar

      I’m not medically trained in this, so forgive me if I’m a little out here, but I was under the impression that depression doesn’t necessarily need to be a chemical imbalance in the brain to be diagnosed as depression. This means that although SSRIs may be prescribed, they won’t work due to this not being the root cause of the depression, which may be more environmental than anything else. For example, a bereavement may lead to depression but that won’t necessarily have a direct neurological cause.

      • avatar

        At present you’re right though I would argue that the bereavement can be a trigger of depressive behaviour that leads to the overall condition.

        If anything its difficulty to objectively diagnose and define is what leads to it often being misunderstood or trivialised.
        I offer my explanation as a form of clarification.

      • avatar

        Also worth noting that all SSRIs do is prevent serotonin from being reclaimed by the body so they work regardless of the cause of the condition.
        You’re always gonna be happy when you’re flooded with super-lucky-go-fun-time hormones.

        A lot of people assume they are a cure to depression which is false, they are intended as a balancer: something to give you the strength and motivation to address the real problems in your life which cause depression in the first place.
        Otherwise once you stop you’re simply back at square one and it isn’t long before the root cause catches up with you.

  2. avatar

    There’s something about depressives and being an extrovert that I just don’t understand. I’ve suffered with depression, the sheer loss of all energy and motivation to even get out of bed in the morning. It’s not nice. But what’s worse is when people like you publicly whine about your condition to the point OF attention seeking. Depression IS an illness and most people already know this. But this display only paints people suffering with depression in a bad light.

    • avatar

      Hi Anon,

      I think it was very brave of Imogen to write this article.
      It is very well researched and she certainly isn’t whining and as far as I can see, she isn’t attention seeking either.

      • avatar

        Hi Anon, Hi Yara,

        Regrettably, there often is a stigma surrounding mental health. It is very normal to feel uncomfortable when discussing a topic which society currently deems taboo. I personally feel articles such as Imogen’s are indispensible in enabling the mentally stable to develop appropriate and compassionate responses to the suffering of their peers.

        I found the above article both emotionally moving and informative. I would however comment that Imogen’s article significantly fails to represent the mental suffering of men. In the U.K men are nearly THREE TIMES more likely to commit suicide than females. I believe this is because out-dated cultural attitudes sentence men to suffering in silence. I am interested to hear other people responses to this dilemma; depression is more common in women, yet suicide is more common men…Is it an innate feature of the male psyche to suffer in silence?

  3. avatar

    First thing to say is that talking about mental health issues is inherently personal and difficult in such a public arena as this, so thank you Imogen for writing this.
    Depression comes in many forms and can vary quite drastically in acuteness and how it is treated. The problem is that on such a vast sliding scale from feeling worse than “just a bit upset” to a chronic and life debilitating illness, it can be difficult to pinpoint where someone actually stands.
    Depression is very difficult to diagnose objectively, simply due to the fact that it is often the patient themselves who needs to explain how they feel and how these feelings affect them to reach any conclusions. Because of the fact that depression may not have many obvious outward signs and can be transient, people can be sceptical of someone’s diagnosis.
    Whilst depression is undoubtedly a real and potentially serious mental illness, I do have reservations, in my opinion, about the over diagnosis of depression. People deal with life situations in different ways and some people can seem to not help themselves and be in a spiral of negative choices. From the outside, this can be very frustrating to see someone unable to help themselves.
    Then, you have the group of people who play up to depression or mental illness as an excuse for their actions. I deal with these people on a semi regular basis as a Police Officer and although I believe they are very much in the minority, it is a very vocal minority. People like this can often trivialise the condition for the wider public which leads to scepticism.
    Depression is an illness that rarely just goes away and a good support network of people is vital to recovery. To get this support network you need to talk to people and tell them how you feel. Don’t be scared to ask for help from friends or your GP as they are the best way to starting on the road to recovery.

  4. avatar
    Alistair Steward

    “Depression is found to be more common in women than in men” – probably due to the classic male ‘man up and don’t talk about it’ attitude which continues to be so pervasive in society…

  5. avatar

    It was very brave of you to write this. Depression is something that many of us keep very private and feel uncomfortable to share with others. I suffer myself and only found the courage to tell many University friends recently, already having known many of them for over a year.

    Just to add, the biological cause of depression hasn’t been definitively determined. With many mental illnesses, as the cause is not something as obvious a broken bone etc, it can be hard to discover what factors are at play. It has been suggested that the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine may play a role, especially as SSRIs seem to provide relief for many sufferers. But even so, one must question whether depression is caused by those imbalances, or CAUSES the imbalance. Diathesis-stress model, i.e. that many pose a genetic predisposition and an environmental situation will trigger it, is now being widely accepted within the study of depression.

    Depression is a lot more common than people realise. Many will suffer in silence, or will not even be aware they are suffering themselves. I really praise groups that try to raise awareness and dispel social misconceptions of mental illness, such as the Mental Wealth society here at the University.

  6. avatar

    After seeing your name at the top and remembering a previous article you wrote which touched on depression, I came to this assuming I was going to end up pissed off.

    What I ended up reading was a pretty good approximation of the condition as I have experienced it for the past few years. Kudos.

    What I would add is that if you suffer from depression, even if you don’t tell your friends, tell your tutors or whoever is in charge or pastoral support in your department. For me they very helpful and understanding with regards to deadlines and exams, and it’s far easier to get these things sorted out if you’ve let them know beforehand than trying to sort out thing retrospectively. Work pressure can create a vicious circle deriving from the low motivation and energy levels inherent to the condition.

    One more thing: Just because your mate seems happy doesn’t mean he/she is. I don’t think I’ve had a single friend not surprised by the fact I have depression when I told them because I don’t let it show. In fact most people seem to think I’m feeling better when I’m feeling my worst.

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