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

On this page:

Definition  |  Symptoms  |  Causes  |  Treatment 

What is Clinical Depression?

Depression varies in severity, ranging from mild and moderate depression to more severe forms of depression. Clinical depression 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 greatly 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.

Clinical Depression – More Than Just Feeling Sad

Clinical depression is more than feeling unhappy, sad, or fed up for a few days. Clinical depression is characterised by a pervasive low mood, which 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.

Clinical Depression Symptoms

Symptoms and causes of clinical depression

Many of the symptoms of depression overlap with other severities. However, with clinical depression, symptoms are typically 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 that you once enjoyed
  • Low self-esteem
  • Being unable to sleep (insomnia) or finding that you are 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

It’s not uncommon for people with clinical depression to experience suicidal thoughts and impulses, or have frequent thoughts about dying.

If you or someone you know is experiencing or acting upon suicidal thoughts, it’s important that you get urgent help by: Dialling 111 and selecting option 2 (this is the emergency mental health number), dialling 999, or attending your nearest A&E department.

Remember, you’re not alone. You don’t have to suffer with clinical depression – there is 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 of Mental Illness

If you already struggle with a mental health condition or have done in the past, this can make it more likely you will develop any type of depression, including clinical depression.

There is also evidence that genetics can play a role in developing depression. If a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, has suffered with depression, it may increase your chances of doing so too.

Gender

Women are more likely to struggle with depression than men, with hormonal changes, social pressures, and the higher production of stress hormones known as contributing factors. 

Find out more about depression in women and depression in men.

Age

There is a strong correlation between ageing and the chance of developing depression. Older people are more likely to become depressed, with factors including:

  • The natural deterioration of the brain, which can have an effect on neurotransmitter pathways that are linked to mood
  • The symptom of another health complication, such as a stroke, dementia or cancer - which all increase in likelihood with age
  • Older people are also more likely to become lonely or isolated, as the ability to enjoy an active social life reduces

Neglect or Abuse

Going through difficult experiences, such as neglect or abuse, as a child can leave you less able to deal with negative emotions. This can lead to an increase in the likelihood of experiencing mental health problems in later life.

Distressing or Traumatic Events

Experiencing a traumatic life event, such as a bereavement, relationship breakdown, or losing your job, is a common trigger for depression.

When under significant distress, your ability to cope can be diminished, leading to a mood disorder like depression.

Major changes in life

Going through big life events can be a trigger for depression. These may be high-stress scenarios such as having a baby or moving house, or their impact may be less obvious. Sometimes the upheaval of change is all that is needed to develop clinical depression. 

Personality traits 

Certain traits, such as perfectionism and being very self-critical, are linked with a higher chance of developing depression.

Physical Health Conditions

Struggling with chronic and/or life-limiting physical health conditions can be a significant trigger for depression.

These types of conditions can lessen our independence or ability to lead a normal, healthy life - leading to many of the symptoms of depression. 

Clinical Depression Treatment

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 whole range of evidence-based techniques to treat your clinical depression, empowering you to take back control of your life.

When it comes to clinical depression, it’s important to understand that:

  • You don’t have to suffer on your own
  • We can treat clinical depression and help you take steps towards a full and lasting recovery
  • Your clinical depression treatment will be tailored to you and structured within National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, to make sure you achieve the best outcomes for you as an individual
  • We offer a number of effective therapeutic techniques
  • We can prescribe medication for your clinical depression if this is needed

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 is a whole 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)

Therapy can be delivered in the following formats:

1:1 therapy

Takes place on an individual basis between you and one of our clinical depression experts

Group therapy 

Takes place in a group setting with other patients who are struggling with clinical depression or other mental health issues

Family therapy

Takes place with you and your loved ones

Taking Off the Mask: Adam's Story

"Whatever expectations I had of therapy were smashed on the first day. My first session showed me that the other patients were just like me; ordinary people who had given too much for too long until finally, something had to give."

Read Adam's Story

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 is especially important for people who have thoughts of harming themselves.

Other treatment programmes that we’re able to 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

Is 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, Priory Connect.

It may be that you can 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.

Get the Best Mental Health Support

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or make an enquiry. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here.

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