A low mood may be a sign that you’re not well. Here’s what to watch for, says Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones

A low mood may be a sign that you’re not well or one of the symptoms of depression. Here’s what to watch for…

Did you know that weight loss and restless nights might be signs of depression? © iStock

Whether we’re optimists or pessimists, we all experience low mood occasionally, often as a normal reaction to difficult situations.

But if it lasts more than a week or two, or is linked to other symptoms, it may be a sign of depression, even if there’s no obvious reason. Knowing the difference can help us to find the best way to feel better.

Feeling unhappy

We know it’s not realistic to feel happy all the time, as life often throws us problems – at home, at work or in our families and relationships.

We can usually bounce back with support from friends and loved ones, but bereavement, rejection or serious health or financial problems can make us so sad that we can’t imagine feeling happy again.

And some of us experience regular feelings of disappointment, loneliness, low self-esteem or mild depression.

Pills rarely work for this sort of sadness, although if it leads to depression, they are definitely worth trying.

But if we can’t alter our situation, talking treatments may help us to change the way we see or deal with our problems.

These include counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (recognising how our thoughts affect  our actions and responses), problem-solving therapy, support groups or deeper interpersonal and psychodynamic psychotherapy (available through your GP).

Feeling depressed

Depression can cause many other symptoms besides persistent low mood. These include loss of interest and enthusiasm for things you usually enjoy, such as hobbies, socialising, your appearance, work, food and/or sex.

Your self-confidence may plummet, so you can’t cope or make decisions. You may feel angry or tearful, find it difficult to get to sleep, or wake in the early hours, or notice physical changes such as tiredness, weight loss, constipation or absent periods (these all need to be checked out by your GP).

You may drink more alcohol than usual, or even have thoughts of ending it all, or that loved ones would be better off without you.

One of the worst things about depression is how sufferers feel hopeless, weak or that it’s all their fault.

None of these are true – it’s a treatable illness, so the first step is to tell your GP exactly how you feel.

Your treatment

If you’re severely depressed, talking treatments may feel too stressful at first, but try not to see medication as giving in – you’re actually taking back control of your life, by deciding to accept help.

You’ll probably be prescribed an SSRI antidepressant, such as citalopram.

Unfortunately, side effects such as nausea may kick in before the benefits (these may start after a few days or take up to eight weeks).

Your GP can change the drug if it’s not effective, but don’t be too impatient to stop treatment. As long as there’s a gradual improvement, ignore the ups and downs, and stay on medication until you’re really better.

Your GP can also refer you for talking treatments, or to a psychiatrist for advice if your recovery is slow.

5 ways to boost your mood

1 Talk to someone you trust – a shared cuppa, and feeling supported can really help.

2 Exercise – swimming, a brisk walk, exercise class or simply dancing to music.

3 Socialise – a hobby, a coffee date, an outing, a girls’ night out or just a phone call, whatever works for you.

4 Chill out – learn relaxation techniques, mindfulness, meditation or join a yoga or Pilates class to combine fitness with relaxation.

5 Take time for yourself – a manicure, good book, TV box set or just a long, hot bath.