According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, as many as 1 in 5 of us will experience depression during our lifetime.  Depression, in the medical sense, is not just feeling a bit low or sad from time to time.  This is very normal and we all experience some fluctuations in our moods over time. Depression is a condition where the person will experience persistent low mood over a period of time, for some it may be months or even years.

They may notice changes to their appetite, and consequentially gain or lose weight.  Their sleep patterns may be disrupted and they may feel tired and lacking in energy and motivation.  A loss of interest in activities normally enjoyed is also common and people may find it hard to engage in social activities. 

For some they may also experience feelings of hopelessness and consider self harm or experience suicidal thoughts. 
If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of self harm or suicide it is important to reach out and get support.  If you are already under the care of a psychiatrist then it is important to let your care co-ordinator or the duty worker know how you are feeling.  Alternatively you can book an urgent appointment with your GP.  Other support is also available through services such as the Samaritans, Papyrus, Sane and Big White Wall.  If you or a loved one is or was serving in the armed forces Combat Stress is also there to support you.  The Samaritans, Big White Wall and Combat Stress can be accessed 24 hours a day. 

You can also access emergency help via your local accident and emergency department stating clearly that you are experiencing a mental health crisis but, it is best to speak with your doctor or local mental health crisis service prior to making the trip as they can often ring ahead and get you seen and assessed faster.  They may also be able to assess you at a more suitable location.

Below are some essential aspects of self care that are important to help you improve your mental well being when you are feeling depressed.

1. Sleep
When you are feeling low in mood it's important to keep to a regular sleeping and waking routine.  Your sleep may be disturbed and you may feel tired and lethargic but getting into bed at a regular time and out again in the morning will help.  Once you are up, washed and dressed open the curtains and make your bed.  Lay out your clothes for the next morning as this will help with any indecision in the morning. 

2. Food and drink
Appetite can really suffer when you are feeling depressed so try and keep some healthy snacks, such as fresh fruit, cereal bars and nuts, at home.   Having some quick and easy meals on standby can remove some of the stress around cooking and preparing a meal.  If you can't face food shopping you could put in a supermarket order online and get it delivered or you may find a service like Wiltshire Farm Food helpful.  They offer a large choice of nutritional ready meals in a range of sizes and you can get these delivered to your door. 

Also take care to ensure that you are properly hydrated and limit alcohol intake as alcohol is a depressant and can a contraindication with some medications. 
3. Exercise
Some regular exercise can help you to manage your mood.  There are lots of choices available and they don't all need to be formal exercises or cost money.  If you have a garden then some weeding and watering of plants is one option.  If you have a pet dog then taking them for a walk twice a day will also get you moving.  You don't need to walk during busy times and having a dog with you will help you to feel motivated and give you company.  You could also find exercise apps, such as Yoga Studio and 7 minute workout, or watch some exercise videos on YouTube. 

4. Personal care and grooming
Attending to your personal care needs will help you to feel clean and tidy.  It will also help to keep you physically healthy and can help with self esteem and confidence.  You should be aiming to clean your teeth twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.  You will also need to bathe or shower daily, use deodorant and wear clean clothes.  If you are struggling to feel motivated then you may want to buy yourself some special toiletries and listen to music, the radio, a podcast or an audio book while you wash.  This will provide you with a distraction from any negative thoughts and make the task more enjoyable.   

5. Social
Getting out and seeing other people regularly may feel like the last thing you feel like doing when you are feeling low but it is important to reduce the sense of isolation that is common with depression.  Social activities could include meeting a friend for coffee, attending an activity, social or support group, attending an exercise class, gym session or walking group, attending a local place of worship and volunteering for a local charity.   

6. Meaningful Occupation
Doing small chunks of activities that feel meaningful to you can boost self esteem and provide a sense of achievement.  It can also help to break up the day and provide a distraction from negative or anxious thoughts.  Activities such as creative hobbies, reading, housework, caring for a pet and volunteering, are some possible suggestions.

7. Sunlight
Sunlight is extremely important in the maintenance of a healthy sense of wellbeing and mood.  Sunlight can help boost energy levels, stimulate appetite and regulate sleep.  You can increase the amount of sunlight you are getting by ensuring that your curtains or blinds are open in morning, getting outdoors and adjusting workspaces such as computers so that you are facing a window and getting lots of natural light. 

You can also purchase light boxes that are especially designed to help with low mood.  These can be helpful during winter months when the days are shorter and the sunlight isn't so intense.  When purchasing a light box check that the box is certified to help with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  Not all light boxes are of the same light intensity and the light that best mimics the sun is higher than that of a normal light bulb.