Depression: breaking the taboo

Written by: Dr Julius Bourke
Published: | Updated: 29/11/2023
Edited by: Alex Rolandi

Everybody has a blue day or two every once in a while, when they are feeling sad or fed up with life. People suffering from depression, however, have to put up with bouts of sadness for weeks or months on end, with no sign of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Every day can be a battle for them, and misconceptions abound about this serious mental disorder. In his latest online article, highly-regarded consultant psychiatrist Dr Julius Bourke offers his expert insight into the condition. 

Overcoming stigma

Depression has been surrounded by stigma for decades, with many people believing that it is not real, but rather a sign of weakness or an attempt at attention-seeking.

It is not unheard of for sufferers to be told to ‘get over themselves’ in so many words. In the midst of their emotional torture, as they fight with whatever demons that hold them back from being happy, simple words such as ‘cheer up’ and ‘pull yourself together’ are not going to help. For people with depression, everyday can be a struggle to get out of bed but now taboos are being broken and they no longer have to suffer in silence.

Depression is now recognised as a serious mental health disorder, with its own treatments designed at helping people overcome it and get on with living. For the estimated 300 million people living with the condition worldwide, it can only be a case of ‘it’s about time’.

Stigma surrounding depression can make the sufferer feel like it is their fault, when really nobody chooses to have an illness. Stigma can also deter sufferers from seeking the much needed professional help they need. Approximately 80 per cent of people with depression in the world receive no treatment whatsoever.


The difference between depression and feeling blue

We all have our ups and downs. It’s normal to feel sad every once in a while, whether it be after breaking up with a partner or mourning the loss of a loved one, but these feelings usually pass with time. Depression, on the other hand, often shows no sign of relinquishing its grip.

Symptoms of depression vary from mild to severe, and it tends to affect people in a number of ways. Somebody with a mild form of depression may only feel low-spirited most the time, while severe depression may give rise to suicidal thoughts.

Generally the symptoms of depression vary from prolonged periods of feeling unhappy or hopeless, as though all is lost. It is common for people to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Depression may also come accompanied by anxiety, making daily life even harder.

Fatigue, loss of appetite, lowered sex drive, and trouble sleeping are also common signs of depression if they last for long periods of time. The key to differentiating between feeling blue and depression depends on how long the feeling lasts for, and whether there is a concrete cause.

If you believe you or someone you know could be suffering from depression, it is best to get in touch with a GP or specialist.


A silver lining: treatment for depression

There are a number of things an individual can do in order to manage their depression. Treatment for depression may require talking to a psychiatrist or psychologist, making certain lifestyle changes, and even taking medication. The type of treatment depends on how severe the depression.

If a patient has mild depression, it may be recommended that they wait and see if the condition improves whilst they are monitored. Taking exercise and attending self-help groups may also be advised. If there are no signs of improvement, or if a patient has moderate depression, talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy may be seen as the correct course of action so that the patient can open up and tackle their negative emotions. Antidepressants may be prescribed if the doctor deems fit.

For people who have moderate to severe depression, whose lives are more dominated by their illness, a mixture of talking therapies and antidepressants will most likely be suggested. Those with severe depression, who are perhaps more at risk of committing suicide, may be referred to a mental health specialist, as well as being prescribed medication.



Dr Julius Bourke is a renowned consultant psychiatrist based in London. If you would like to book a consultation with Dr Bourke, you can do so today via his Top Doctors profile. 

By Dr Julius Bourke

Dr Julius Bourke is a highly reputable psychiatrist based at Nightingale Hospital, London. He has a special interest in the assessment and management of neuropsychiatric disorders such as Parkinson's disease, brain injury and concussion, depression, anxiety (including PTSD and OCD) and stress-related conditions.

He is a leading expert in somatic syndromes, such as chronic fatigue and chronic pain syndromes, which lie at the interface between general medicine, surgery and psychiatry. He is frequently instructed in the provision of expert medicolegal opinion on psychiatric disorders, head injury and post-concussion syndromes.

Outside of his clinic, he serves as a clinical senior lecturer in neurophysiology and clinical psychiatry at the Queen Mary University of London. His specialist research interests are in the neurophysiology of chronic pain, the functional somatic syndromes and related disorders.

He has given numerous talks and presentations on both a national and an international basis. Dr Bourke has been widely published on an array of field-related topics. He has co-authored a textbook on psychiatry and has contributed chapters to numerous others, including a world-leading textbook on internal medicine.

Dr Bourke qualified from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, before working in emergency medicine and neurology in East London and hyperbaric medicine in Egypt. He pursued his psychiatric training in East London and then at The Maudsley Hospital

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