I think and worry so much it often gives me headaches. Every day feels like a challenge.


Did you know this?

Depression is one of the most common psychological disorders worldwide. As it occurs in many different forms and degrees, it is not always easy to recognise. Sometimes depression goes hand in hand with an anxiety disorder. It is more common among females than males. Over the last 12 months, 5 to 7 per cent of the Belgian population has dealt with depression. Among students, the proportion that screens positive for depression is estimated at 14 per cent. However, only one in five students seek (professional) help.

Deeper than a dip

We all have the occasional dip or moment of discouragement - sometimes called ‘languishing’ or ‘bwa de vivre’. That is quite normal, it often has a clear cause and it generally passes by having a good cry or by talking to a relative or professional.

Depression, however, goes deeper. It manifests itself as a daily sombre mood and less interest in people and things you used to enjoy. When this continues for several weeks and when it is paired with symptoms like insomnia, restlessness or inhibition, this might indicate a depressive disorder.

People who suffer from depression often see their appetite decrease or increase, and they struggle with feelings of worthlessness, an unwarranted sense of guilt, a loss of concentration, indecisiveness and recurring thoughts about death or suicide.

Depression can take different forms

Light and heavy

Each depression varies in severity. In case of mild depression, people often manage to perform their daily activities. Severe depression, however, is marked by more serious symptoms and has a significant impact. Everyday activities no longer seem possible or feel very difficult. In this case, professional help or guidance is a must in order to pull through and recover

The difference between mild and severe depression is not always very clear. Mild depression can pass, but it can also evolve into more severe depression. The reverse is also true: severe depression can become milder.

    Everyone is different

    Depression does not mean the same for everybody. Despite similar underlying mechanisms, depression can present itself in very different ways. We can distinguish between:

    • unipolar depression, in which gloominess prevails
    • vital depression, in which bodily functions are affected; it is characterised by overall lethargy
    • depression with psychotic features, where you lose your grip on reality and you may suffer from hallucinations and delusions
    • depression as a phase of bipolar disorder, in which depressive periods alternate with periods of intense activity and even euphoria
    • seasonal depression, in which depressive moods mostly occur in autumn, winter or early spring
    • perinatal depression, which is characterised by gloominess around giving birth
    • persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia, in which mild symptoms continue for more than two years

      A major impact on daily life

      In addition to psychological symptoms, a depressive disorder is also accompanied by physical symptoms like backaches, joint and muscle pain, gastrointestinal issues, headaches and dizziness, palpitations and shortness of breath, pain or a tight feeling in the chest, little or no interest in sex, and sleeping problems (sleeping too much or too little, difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night). All of these symptoms have a significant impact on your daily life and ability to function.

      Depression also has a significant impact on thoughts, feelings and concentration levels. It makes concentration levels decline, and increases negative thoughts and worrying. You will often struggle to bring yourself to do activities you used to enjoy.

      Moreover, depression can have a major impact on relationships with others. During periods of depression, you may feel an intense need to be surrounded by others, and for them to be close. Conversely, you may prefer to be on your own, withdraw and avoid social contact as much as possible.

      Talk about it

      Are you struggling with a persistent sense of gloominess? An important first step in coping is to talk about it. This can be a relief and help you get things straight.

      Talk to somebody you trust and feel good around, preferably someone you know, like a good friend, your parents or siblings.

      If you struggle to talk to someone in your close surroundings, try to approach a person who is familiar with similar experiences, such as a GP or a student advisor at your college or university.

      Would you prefer to share your story anonymously? You can always call on Awel (102 or awel.be) or Tele-Onthaal (106 or tele-onthaal.be). For questions about suicide, contact the Suicide Hotline (1813 or zelfmoord1813.be).

      Coping with depression

      Do you prefer to work on your depression symptoms yourself? The online self-help programme Depression Help gives you access to tools to enhance your mood, free of charge and anonymously.

      Seek help

      Do you feel you cannot cope all by yourself? Then reach out for professional help. Generally depression can be treated well. By seeking help in time, you prevent your depression from becoming more severe, and you reduce the risk of relapses. Psychotherapy has proven to be effective as you learn to understand what feeds your depression and you practise behavioural changes. Mindfulness, worry training and relaxation therapy can also help you break the cycle of depression. In case of severe depression, medication (antidepressants) can be helpful, too. However, this needs to be evaluated by a health professional and discussed on a case-by-case basis.

      Feared and conquered: students & experts sharing their experiences

      Anxiety, stress and depression. Sooner or later, many students will have to deal with these issues to some extent. In this episode, our host addresses this topic together with her guests, Birthe and professor Patrick Luyten (KU Leuven & University College London), who is specialized in mood disorders.

      Worried about someone?

      Have you noticed a friend dealing with symptoms of depression, and are you worried about your friend? Talk about it and share your concerns. Try to be understanding and listen to the story without judging.