Factsheet: Depression

Authored by Action on Depression

This factsheet is available in a downloadable PDF here. 

Table of Contents

Depression Affects Us All
What is Depression?
Some Signs of Depression
Types of Depression
Getting Support
What Helps Improve Depression?
Young People and Depression
Get Talking!
Self Help
Alcohol and Depression



Depression Affects Us All

In Scotland, an estimated 16% of people over the age of 16 have been diagnosed with Depression. The number of people who are actually affected by Depression could be much more – it is likely that half of those with the condition do not go to their GP, so they do not get diagnosed. Depression does not only affect the person who is ill, it also affects their family and friends, the people they work with and other people in their life. Most people in Scotland will be affected by Depression in some way.


What is Depression?

Depression is an illness. It is not a sign of weakness and can not just be ‘snapped out of’. Throughout this factsheet and in other Action on Depression publications you will see ‘Depression’ written with a capital ‘D’. This is to distinguish the illness from the commonly used word ‘depression’. Everyone feels low from time to time and may say they feel depressed but that’s not necessarily Depression.

There are a list of symptoms of Depression below. Symptoms will be different for every person but two factors which are taken in to consideration when diagnosing Depression are that:

  • These feelings and symptoms are persistent, meaning that they just never seem to go away even when there isn’t any particular reason for feeling that way.
  • They interfere with your life, leaving you unable to enjoy normal pleasures. In severe cases, Depression can make everyday tasks like getting dressed or doing the shopping feel like an impossible mountain to climb.



Some Signs of Depression

Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling unhappy, miserable and lonely a lot of the time
  • Feeling negative or hopeless about your life and the future
  • Feeling guilty, bad or inadequate
  • Feeling agitated, anxious, irritable or moody
  • No longer enjoying the things that you use to like doing
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Difficulty getting to sleep and / or waking early
  • Poor concentration and loss of energy or motivation
  • Not looking after your personal appearance
  • Frequent minor health problems e.g. headaches, back pain or stomach-aches
  • Not liking yourself, feeling ugly
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Self Harming

If you notice several of these symptoms have been present for more than two weeks and are affecting your life, contact one of the organisations listed on this factsheet or talk to your GP.


Types of Depression

You may hear Depression described as clinical, unipolar or major Depression. Other types of Depression include:

  • Perinatal Depression which occurs around the birth of a baby
  • Bipolar Disorder where the person experiences ‘highs’ and ‘lows’
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which occurs because of the lack of light in the winter and affects 7% of people in Scotland


Getting Support

Most people can, and do, recover from Depression. The best way to treat Depression is with a variety of approaches. This is because a type of treatment which helps one person with Depression won’t necessarily help another person. Everyone is different. This is as true of antidepressants as it is of therapies and other treatments. Depression can make you feel pessimistic about the future and you may not see the point of trying another type of treatment if the first one doesn’t work for you, but don’t give up, you may respond to a different approach. Depression is a treatable illness and there are many roads to get to the place of recovery.


Your GP

For most people, the first step is to approach your GP for help. Your GP might prescribe an antidepressant initially. However, other therapies are becoming more common, so in some areas you may be offered an alternative such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), exercise or self-help books on prescription.

CBT is a type of talking therapy which research has found helps a lot of people recover from Depression. It looks at how your thoughts and behaviour affect how you feel and what you can do to change that. 

If you have particularly severe Depression, your GP may refer you to see a psychiatrist, who may prescribe different medication or refer you for talking therapy such as counselling, CBT or other psychotherapy.


What Helps Improve Depression?

Don’t just rely on your GP. Become an expert in your own illness. Do your own research on the internet, go to the library and borrow books on Depression and get information leaflets on Depression and its treatment from organisations such as DAS.

Our two websites are a good place to start:

Or contact us, using the details at the bottom of this factsheet, and we’ll send you an information pack.


Young People and Depression

NHS Lothian has developed several resources for young people – these are particularly suitable for young people under 18 and have been developed with young people. The links follow:

Get talking!

Telling someone how you feel can help. You could talk to one of your friends, relatives or someone else that you trust; you may prefer to call a helpline, there are some listed below, or talk online. If you would like to talk to a professional, consider CBT, counselling or psychotherapy.


Self Help

Self-help support groups are a good place to find people you can talk to and who will understand how you feel because they have probably had similar feelings. Many people find attending a group helps them feel less alone. To find out about groups in your area, contact us.

Many people with Depression find exercising helps them feel better and there is evidence to back this up. If you feel lethargic, tired and like the last thing you want to do is exercise; tackle it by doing something really small like walking round the block and build it up. Click here to find out more about exercise and Depression. Some people have also told us that alternative therapies such as acupuncture and massage are helpful as is changing what they eat and drink.



When you are Depressed, it may seem impossible that you will ever feel better. These thoughts and feelings are very common; however the majority of people who have Depression do recover. And many say they gain self-belief from having survived an extremely difficult challenge!

Alcohol & Depression

When you’re feeling low or depressed, it might seem that alcohol lifts your mood to feel more like your old self and helps you to cope with life. These feelings are not long lasting, and research has shown there to be a significant connection between alcohol and Depression. There is a new factsheet on Alcohol & Depression, written in association with Alcohol Focus Scotland which has more information.


Action on Depression is a registered charity, No. SC034740. Registered Company No. 255656. Registered office: 11 Alva St Edinburgh EH2 4PH

External websites related to Depression

These web sites may be useful. Please note that we are not responsible for external sites; if you find any broken links or inappropriate content please report it to the site administrators using the feedback page.

Phonelines Related to Depression

  • Breathing Space

    0800 83 85 87

    A free, confidential phone line you can call when you're feeling down. They also have an excellent website which has loads of information and a self-help toolkit.

  • The Samaritans

    08457 90 90 90

    The Samaritans will not try to give you advice, judge you or tell you what to do, they will just listen and support you. They are there for anyone, especially those who are suicidal or in crisis.

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