There can be many reasons why people experience high levels of emotional distress. Around four in every hundred people experience depression or an anxiety disorder at some time. The symptoms may go unrecognised by others. Untreated depression or anxiety can result in long-term social and emotional problems, alienation from family and friends, and may lead to more serious depression. The chances of developing depression are higher if there is a history of it in the family.



The feeling of being down may not be a serious problem. It could just be a rough patch and the sadness or lowered mood will pass. But it is important to recognise depression or anxiety early if they are present, so they can be treated, and in case they develop into a long-term problem.

If depression, anxiety or any other mental health difficulty is detected early, and help is sought, there is a very good chance that the symptoms can be reduced and overcome. Psychological therapy and medication are the main forms of treatment. Encouraging someone to talk openly about the thoughts and feelings that go with the distress  are an important first step towards overcoming the problem.

The term ‘mental health disorder’ is generally used when someone experiences significant changes in their thinking, feelings or behaviour.  The changes need to be bad enough to affect how the person functions or to cause distress to them or to other people.  If a person has always had a problem in their thinking, feeling or behaviour, then this is not usually called mental illness. It may then be called a developmental problem or a difficulty with their personality (sometimes called a personality disorder).

These kinds of definitions of course greatly over-simplify things. All of us experience changes from time to time in our feelings, thinking and behaviour, and there is no clear cut off between illness and health. Also someone may have problems which fit the definition of a mental illness, but they may be very healthy mentally in other ways.

What about suicide?

Depression can often lead to feelings of great despair and distress. These feelings can be so profound that they lead to thoughts of suicide. This does not necessarily mean that the person will act on these thoughts – it is important, however, that any talk of suicide is taken very seriously, and help should be sought immediately.

Click here for help if you think you might be in a crisis.

The page was last updated on 07 June 2013 by another.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust
Elizabeth House, Fulbourn Hospital
Cambridge, CB21 5EF

T 01223 219400 (open 8:30am to 5pm)
F 01480 398501

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