Low mood and depression

Life’s ups and downs: reasons we’re not cheerful

Most people experience ups and downs in their life, and can feel unhappy, depressed, stressed or anxious during difficult times. This is a normal part of life.

Many difficult events and experiences can leave us in low spirits or cause depression: relationship problems, bereavement, sleep problems, stress at work, bullying, illness, and pain being just a few.

Changes to hormones, such as during puberty, after childbirth and during the menopause, can also have an effect on your emotional and mental health.

But sometimes it’s possible to feel down without there being an obvious reason.

What is the difference between low mood and depression?

A general low mood can include:

  • sadness
  • an anxious feeling
  • worry
  • tiredness
  • low self-esteem
  • frustration
  • anger

However, a low mood will tend to improve after a short time. Making some small changes in your life, such as resolving a difficult situation or talking about your problems and getting more sleep, can improve your mood.

A low mood that doesn’t go away can be a sign of depression. Symptoms of depression can include the following:

  • continuous low mood or sadness
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • having low self-esteem
  • feeling tearful
  • feeling guilt-ridden
  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others
  • having no motivation or interest in things
  • finding it difficult to make decisions
  • not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
  • feeling anxious or worried

What type of help is available?


Whether you have depression or just find yourself feeling down for a while, it could be worth trying some self-help techniques. However, if your GP has diagnosed depression, it is important that you also continue with your prescribed treatment.

Life changes, such as getting a regular good night’s sleep, keeping to a healthy diet, reducing your alcohol intake and getting regular exercise, can be effective in helping you feel healthier and more relaxed. This can often help people feel more in control and more able to cope.

Self-help techniques can include activities such as meditation, breathing exercises and learning ways to think about problems differently. Tools such as self-help books and online counselling can be very effective.

If you are diagnosed with depression, your GP will discuss all of the available treatment options with you, including antidepressants and talking therapies.

Talking therapies

There are many types of talking therapies available. Different types of talking therapies suit certain problems, conditions and people better than others. To help you decide which one would be most suitable for you, talk to your GP about the types of talking therapy on offer, and let them know if you prefer a particular one.

Why go for self-help?

Self-help therapy has some advantages over professional face-to-face counselling. It’s convenient, cheap and you can do it in your own time and when it suits you.

Self-help therapy is generally only suitable for people with mild to moderate mental health issues.

Self-help books

There are thousands of self-help books in bookshops, libraries and available online. Some are excellent but many are not. So how do you choose a good one?

Joyce’s advice is to check whether a book was written by an accredited counsellor with lots of experience. Look for self-help books that have been endorsed by a professional organisation or health professiona

NICE (the independent body that produces national guidance on the effectiveness of medical treatments) recommends these books for anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and, sometimes, depression. For more information on Books on Prescription and to find out if it’s available in your area, ask your GP or go to the Overcoming website.

Computer counselling

Computer counselling involves completing a series of exercises on your computer and learning self-help techniques to tackle the problems in your life.

  • Beating the Blues is a computerised CBT course for mild depression.
  • FearFighter is a computerised CBT course specifically for panic and phobias.

Both Beating the Blues and FearFighter have been recommended by NICE and can be prescribed by your doctor.

  • Living Life to the Full Interactive is a CBT-based course for overcoming mild to moderate depression and anxiety. You complete the six-session course under the supervision of your GP or a qualified therapist.

There are other online therapy courses, although the Department of Health recommends that you always use these under the supervision of a therapist.

  • Overcoming Bulimia is an online CBT-based course to help people with bulimia and other eating disorders. The course includes eight sessions, which you complete at your own pace.
  • Overcoming Anorexia is an online course, based on CBT, for carers of people with anorexia nervosa.
  • MoodGYM is a free self-help computer program to teach CBT skills to anyone vulnerable to depression and anxiety. It was devised in Australia, and consists of five sections, an interactive game, anxiety and depression assessments, downloadable relaxation audio, a workbook and feedback assessment.

Phone and email counselling

Phone and email counselling are alternatives to face-to-face therapy. They can be ideal if you’re shy or don’t want to meet the therapist or if you can’t find one in your area. They save travelling time, can avoid the problem of having to find childcare if you have children and are available at evenings and weekends. You can also have three-way conversations for couples therapy.

Phone counselling is just like having a face-to-face session except that you talk to a trained counsellor over the phone.

Phone and email counselling are increasingly being offered by private therapists and sometimes by employers and charities.

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