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NHS Kernow’s website closed on 30 June 2022. Visit the NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Integrated Care Board website for information about our health and care services.


Depression is often an illness. If you are depressed, the usual feelings of sadness that we all experience temporarily remain for weeks, months and years. They can be so intense that daily life is affected. You can not work normally, you don’t want to be with your family and friends, and you stop enjoying the things you usually do.
If you experience depression, you may feel worthless, hopeless and constantly tired. In most cases, if you have milder depression, you can probably carry on but will find everyday tasks difficult. If you have severe depression, you may find your feelings so unbearable that you start thinking about suicide.

About 1 in 10 of us develops some form of depression in our lives, and 1 in 50 has severe depression. It affects not only those with depression, but also their families and friends.

Depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a long term condition that may require long term management or treatment. Some people only have depression once, but many people have repeated episodes.

An episode of depression commonly involves a number of events that combine to take you into a downward spiral. Studies suggest women are about twice as likely to have depression as men, but this may be because women are more likely to seek help.

Some studies have suggested depression is more likely as we get older and it is more common among people who face difficult social and economic circumstances.

Are you at risk of depression?

Depression is complex and the risk of developing it may increase if the information below relates to you.

Experience a stressful life event

It takes most people time to come to terms with these kind of events. You are at a higher risk of depression if, when these stressful events happen, you stop seeing friends and family and try to deal with things on your own.

Have a long term condition

You could be at risk of depression if you are diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness such as coronary heart disease or cancer

Being vulnerable to depression

You may be vulnerable to depression due to certain personality traits, e.g. low self-esteem or being overly self-critical. This may be due to genes you have inherited from your family, or your personality or early life experiences, which can each have a profound effect on the way you think about yourself in later life.

Have recently given birth

Some women are particularly vulnerable after pregnancy. The hormonal and physical changes, as well as the added responsibility of a new life, can lead to postnatal depression.

Cut off from family and friends

Social isolation may be a risk factor for depression, or a response to feeling depressed as the downward spiral takes hold.

Drink excessively or use drugs

Substance abuse can be a cause of depression. Use of drugs such as cannabis and cocaine can also lead to feelings of depression. Some people try to cope by drinking too much alcohol or taking drugs. This can result in a spiral of depression where the isolation, alcohol or drugs make you feel worse about yourself so you isolate yourself and drink or take drugs even more.

Getting help for depression

Getting help as soon as you think you may have depression may prevent your depression getting worse. The exact causes of depression are not fully known. It seems more likely to occur if there is depression in the family, but having a relative with depression does not mean you will necessarily become depressed yourself. There are also a number of lifestyle factors or influences in the world around you that may increase the risk of you developing depression.

The good news is that with the right treatment and support, most people make a full recovery from depression. It is important to seek help from your GP if you think you may be depressed. Although GPs are able to help most people to manage depression, for some people, particularly those with more severe depression or where treatment is not successful, more specialised care may be needed.

NHS 24/7 helpline

To talk to someone about your mental wellbeing you can call the 24/7 NHS mental health telephone support helpline on 0800 038 5300 for advice and triage. Support is available to anyone, regardless of age, all day every day. If you or someone you know feels they need to access urgent mental health support, they will listen to you and assess how best to help.

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