Clinical depression: symptoms, causes and treatment

The signs of major depression, and how you can get the help you need.

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This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Donna Grant (MBBS, MCRPsych, BSc Hons), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford, in November 2021.

Depression varies in severity, ranging from mild and moderate depression to more severe forms of depression. Clinical depression is the most severe form of depression. It's is also sometimes referred to as:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Major depression
  • Unipolar depression
  • Chronic depression

Clinical depression can be extremely difficult to cope with and can reduce your quality of life. It can have a negative effect on your relationships with others, your self-esteem and sense of self-worth, as well as your performance at work or even your ability to work at all. That’s why, if you’re struggling with clinical depression, it’s so important that you get the help you need.

What is clinical depression?

Clinical depression is more than feeling unhappy, sad, or fed up for a few days. It's characterised by low mood that lasts for weeks or months, and your symptoms are likely to be intense and debilitating.

Clinical depression often causes noticeable problems in all areas of your life. It can cause you to struggle to look after yourself or carry out your normal daily responsibilities. Even the simplest tasks like getting out of bed, getting dressed and washing yourself can seem impossible. You may feel lonely and isolated and feel as though your clinical depression has infiltrated every area of your life, making every day a struggle.

People with clinical depression may also have frequent thoughts about dying or experience suicidal impulses. Therefore, clinical depression is a life-threatening condition.

However, you really don’t have to suffer in silence. Clinical depression is very treatable, and it’s possible for you to get better.

Fast access to residential treatment

We are currently able to offer fast access to private inpatient treatment at Priory. Please call us today and speak to our expert advisers.

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Clinical depression symptoms

Symptoms and causes of clinical depression

Many of the symptoms of depression are present no matter how severe your depression is. However, with clinical depression, symptoms tend to be so intense that it has a significant effect on your ability to function. Symptoms include:

  • Feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness and emptiness
  • Excessive crying and becoming tearful, even over small things
  • Feeling angry and frustrated
  • Feeling worthless and guilty
  • Frequently fixating on past mistakes or perceived failures
  • A complete loss of interest in hobbies or activities you once enjoyed
  • Low self-esteem
  • Being unable to sleep (insomnia) or finding that you're sleeping more than usual and don’t want to get out of bed
  • Chronic and unexplained physical issues such as headaches, back pain and digestive problems
  • Constant fatigue

Remember, you’re not alone. You don’t have to suffer with clinical depression – there's help and support available.

Causes of clinical depression

Clinical depression is a complex mental health condition and research suggests that there isn’t a single cause for it. Rather, there are a number of factors that can contribute to the causes of depression. These include:

  • Family or personal history: Existing mental health issues or a familial history of depression increase your risk. Genetics may play a part.
  • Gender: Women are at a higher risk, due to hormonal changes, social pressures, and increased stress hormone production.
  • Age: Ageing increases the risk due to brain deterioration, loneliness, and other health complications.
  • Childhood neglect or abuse: Difficult childhood experiences can make coping with negative emotions challenging, potentially leading to depression.
  • Distressing or traumatic events: Events such as bereavement, relationship breakdowns, or job loss are common triggers for depression.
  • Major life changes: High-stress events or significant changes can trigger depression.
  • Personality traits: Traits like perfectionism and self-criticism increase depression risk.
  • Physical health conditions: Chronic or life-limiting health conditions can lead to symptoms of depression.
Paul's inspirational story of mental health recovery

Treatment for clinical depression

Our depression specialists at Priory are dedicated to helping you every step of the way towards overcoming your severe depression symptoms and returning to the fulfilling life you deserve. We can offer a range of evidence-based techniques to treat your clinical depression, helping you to take back control of your life.

Types of therapy used to treat clinical depression

One of the most widely-used, evidence-based therapy techniques for clinical depression is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

CBT is based on the idea that depression and other mental health conditions arise and are maintained by deeply-ingrained, negative thought patterns. The purpose of CBT is to support you to identify the dysfunctional beliefs that you hold about yourself and the world, and help you to move past them in a healthy way.

As well as CBT, there are a range of therapeutic methods that can be effective in the treatment of clinical depression, such as:

  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)
  • Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT)
  • Mindfulness
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
  • Compassion focused therapy (CFT)
  • Emotion focused therapy (EFT)
  • Person-centred therapy (PCT)
  • Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS)

Introducing rTMS at Priory Wellbeing Centre Harley Street

“rTMS is a novel and very promising treatment for depression and is safe and effective. It's particularly useful where other treatment approaches haven't worked and has fewer adverse effects than other pharmacological or physical treatments.” 

Dr Leon Rozewicz, Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director at Priory Wellbeing Centre Harley Street.

Clinical depression treatment programmes

At Priory, we also offer a number of different treatment options for depression, depending on the intensity of the support you need.

When it comes to clinical depression, you may need a period of inpatient treatment so that you get intensive, round-the-clock support. Inpatient treatment is when you stay at one of our hospitals on a residential basis. Here, you’ll receive structured care for your clinical depression and will have the chance to spend some time away from the stresses and demands of your daily life so you can really focus on your recovery. Inpatient treatment for depression is especially important for people who have thoughts of harming themselves.

Other treatment programmes that we offer include:

Day care

Consists of you attending one of our sites for a certain number of full or half-days per week, where you’ll receive therapy and support for your clinical depression.

Outpatient treatment

When you attend one of our hospitals or wellbeing centres for therapy sessions, which usually take place on a weekly basis.

Online therapy

Allows you to access specialist treatment for clinical depression from the comfort of your own home, on your mobile, tablet or laptop. This can be accessed via our online therapy platform.

You might be able to benefit from day care, outpatient or online therapy for your clinical depression, following an initial inpatient stay with us. However, the exact treatment pathway that you follow will be discussed in detail with you, and our experts will make recommendations based on what we think is best for you.

Antidepressants for clinical depression

We can also prescribe antidepressant medication, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for your clinical depression, if this is needed. Antidepressants can be taken alongside the therapy you receive for your clinical depression and acts as an additional barrier against your symptoms.

Our treatment programmes are designed to help you develop the tools you need to overcome this debilitating illness, and take steps towards recovery and wellbeing. We’re with you every step of the way.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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