It's normal to have days or weeks when things aren't going right. You may feel unhappy or lose interest and enjoyment in everyday activities.

Depression is when these feelings don't go away quickly and start to interfere with your everyday life. If you’ve had symptoms almost every day for two weeks or more, it’s likely that you’ll be diagnosed with depression.

A woman hugging a cushion, looking sadly at a laptop

Around one in 10 adults in the UK will have depression at some point in their lives. On average, depression can last for six to eight months – but it can last up to two years. You may have more than one period (or episode) of depression in your life.

Depression is a clinical diagnosis. People may use the word ‘depressed’ to mean that they’re low or sad. Clinical depression can feel very different to everyday sadness.

Are there different types of depression?

Depression may be mild, moderate or severe. This describes the impact that depression is having on you.

  • Mild depression. You have very few symptoms, which don’t have a great impact on your daily life
  • Moderate depression. You have more symptoms than people with mild depression and they have a considerable impact on your daily life.
  • Severe or major depression. You feel uninterested in doing anything and daily activities are almost impossible, including eating and sleeping. You may feel like you’ve lost touch with reality. For example, you may have hallucinations (hearing, seeing or smelling things that aren't there) or delusions (irrational beliefs). This is known as psychosis.

You might move between mild, moderate or severe depression during one episode.

There are also some specific types of depression.

  • Dysthymia is a type of depression in which your mood is regularly low, lasting at least two years. The symptoms are milder than other types of depression.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that only occurs during certain seasons. It usually affects people in winter, although some people experience it in the summer months. Read more about SAD.
  • Prenatal (or antenatal) depression is depression that occurs during pregnancy.
  • Postnatal depression may develop any time between two weeks and two years after childbirth. It affects one in ten mothers.

What does depression feel like?

Depression affects different people in different ways. If you have depression you may:

  • have a continuous low or irritable mood
  • lose interest in the things you usually enjoy doing
  • cry a lot
  • lose self-confidence
  • feel tired and lacking in energy
  • find it difficult to concentrate or make decisions
  • feel guilty, worthless or helpless
  • think about death and suicide
  • lose your sex drive (libido)
  • find it difficult to get to sleep and/or wake up earlier than usual (insomnia)
  • eat more or less than usual and gain or lose weight as a result
  • have unexplained or worsening aches and pains
  • smoke, drink more alcohol or use drugs more than usual
  • feel overwhelmed or as if you can’t cope
  • feel restless or agitated
  • experience anxiety – although this is a separate condition, you may have symptoms of depression and anxiety at the same time

Most people with depression will experience at least five or six of these symptoms. They could be mild, moderate or severe and last for a long or short time.

What causes depression?

It’s not always possible to pinpoint a cause. It’s likely to result from a combination of your family background, experiences and personality.

Factors that may make you more likely to develop depression can include:

  • unsettled or difficult relationships with your parents in childhood
  • divorce, including your parents getting divorced when you were younger
  • bereavement
  • relationship breakdown
  • having a long-term or serious illness like diabetes or heart disease
  • a family history of depression
  • unemployment
  • your gender (women are more prone to depression than men)
  • isolation from friends and family
  • alcohol and drugs

What treatments are available for depression?

Treatment for depression usually involves a combination of self-help, talking (psychological) therapies and antidepressant medicines. Your treatment will depend on how severe your condition is.

  • Self-help – for example exercise, eating a balanced diet and reducing your drug or alcohol intake.
  • Talking therapies – for example, counselling, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
  • Medication – see our information on antidepressants.
  • Hospital treatment. If you have severe depression and have suicidal thoughts or if you’re struggling to cope, you, your family, or psychiatrist may feel you need the shelter and protection of a hospital.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This is rare. You’ll only be offered ECT if you're severely depressed, need urgent treatment or if medicines haven't helped. It involves having an electrical current passed through your brain to produce an epileptic fit.

For more information on treatments, see our information on common treatments and support. We also have more detailed information on depression.

A BMA logo for highly commended information

Highly Commended in Wellbeing in the 2019 BMA Patient Information Awards

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. This is because we believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and wellbeing.

Our information has been awarded the PIF TICK for trustworthy health information. It also complies with the HONcode standard and follows the principles of the The Information Standard.

The Patient Information Forum tick  This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

Learn more about our editorial team and principles >

    • Depression in adults: recognition and management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. October 2009, updated April 2016.
    • Depression. Medscape., updated 29 April 2016
    • Depression. Prevalence. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries., last revised October 2015
    • Depression: What is depression?. Mind., published June 2016
    • Depression. Royal College of Psychiatrists., published June 2015
    • Bipolar disorder. PatientPlus., last checked 12 May 2016
    • Depression. PatientPlus., last checked 21 March 2014
    • Seasonal affective disorder. PatientPlus., last checked 28 September 2016
    • Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health. Mind., published July 2016
    • Psychotherapies. Royal College of Psychiatrists., reviewed October 2014
    • Veale D. Behavioural activation for depression. Adv Psychiatr Treat 2008; 14:19–36. doi:10.1192/apt.bp.107.004051
    • Depressive illness. Oxford handbook of psychiatry (online). Oxford Medicine Online., published March 2013
    • Antidepressant drugs. NICE British National Formulary., reviewed April 2017
    • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. NICE British National Formulary., reviewed March 2017
    • Antidepressant treatment in adults. NICE pathway., accessed 7 June 2017
    • Electroconvulsive therapy. Mind., published June 2016
    • Cooney GM, Dwan K, Greig CA, et al. Exercise for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 9. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub6v Alcohol and depression. Royal College of Psychiatrists., published August 2015
    • Wright NE, Scerpella D, Lisdahl. Marijuana use is associated with behavioral approach and depressive symptoms in adolescents and emerging adults. PLoS ONE 2016; 11(11):
    • How to cope when supporting someone else. Mind., published March 2017
  • Produced by Clare Foster, freelance health editor, and Nick Ridgman, Head of Health Content, Bupa UK, September 2017
    Next review due September 2020

    Bupa UK expert reviewers:

    • Naomi Humber, Psychology Services Manager, EAP
    • Stuart Haydock, Resilience Lead, Health Clinics
    • Sarah Deedat, Head of Behaviour Change

Did our information help you?

We’d love to hear what you think. Our short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and helps us to keep improving our health information.