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Depression (Low mood) Self Help Guide

What is depression?

Depression is a common illness. About 1 in 4 people will be affected by depression at some point in their life.

Many people use the word ‘depression’ to describe feelings of sadness or unhappiness. These feelings often pass within a few hours or days and during this time, people may be able to carry on much as usual.

Depression is different from this, you feel sad more deeply and for much longer. It is common to lose interest in the things that you used to enjoy and even carrying out our daily day-to-day activities can become very difficult. At its worst, depression can leave someone feeling hopeless about their future and at times may make you feel as though life is not worth living.

Most people believe that depression is caused by a change in the level of certain chemicals in the brain. This can be set off by stressful events such as relationship or job issues, ill- health, childbirth, death of a loved one, Loneliness, changes due to the time of year, over-working, use of drugs and alcohol. However, for some people there does not appear to be an obvious trigger.

The good news is that there are treatments for depression that can really help.

The following exercise may be useful in helping you to identify how depression has affected you:

Before becoming depressed my routine activities were…

• Fun things were…

• Things that I used to look forward to were…

• Things I really wanted to do or dreamt of in the future were…

How many of these things do you still do now? It’s likely that you may have stopped doing some of these things after you became depressed.

Motivation to change

Making changes to your life is a big decision which takes dedication and commitment. However, it can feel very hard to get motivated to make changes when you are feeling low or distressed, and may even feel overwhelming.

If you are not sure if you want to make changes, imagine things being exactly the same as they are now in ten years time. You could try writing a letter to yourself encouraging yourself to consider why you need to make changes now.

If you have decided you are ready to make changes, imagine things in ten years time after you have made key changes in your life and are feeling well and no longer experiencing any distress. What would that future look like? What would that future feel like?

Blocks to making changes

We may say to ourselves;

• I haven’t the time
• I feel too down and exhausted to tackle changing at this time
• Things will never change
• Its too hard to change


• What blockages to change you might have?
• How helpful are these blockages?
• Are you scared of change?

Even if you don’t feel like it, try changing anyway – how we feel does not determine what we do – only if we choose it to. Try a diary where you list down your daily activities and achievements, no matter how small.

Often when we are feeling low, we tend to think negatively and dismiss or overlook our personal strengths. There may be a range of support and resources available including support networks or engaging in activities we enjoy. There may have been times in your life when you overcame difficulties by using your own strength and resources.

An important part of making changes is to be realistic and make changes that are manageable. If you set targets for yourself that are overwhelming, it may be setting yourself up to fail and this will result in you feeling lower.

• What might be the advantage of planning to change just one problem first?
• What are the potential dangers of trying to change everything at once?

Even the smallest change can make us feel more in control of our own lives and move us one step closer to our goals.

Useful books

A self-help guide to managing depression by Philip J Barker – Chapman and hall: London 1995
Climbing out of depression: a practical guide for sufferers by Sue Atkinson published by Lion: Oxford 1993
Overcoming depression: a self help guide using cognitive-behavioural techniques by Paul Gilbert published by Robinson: London 1997