Depression: spotting symptoms and what to do next

Many of us are living with depression (a mental illness referred to as a mood disorder) and it is more prevalent among education staff than the general population. The good news, however, is that there has been progress in how we treat, accept, and understand depression. Read on for guidance if you think you might have depression.

Guides / 4 mins read

According to the NHS, depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days. We know that education professionals display a much higher level of depression (32%) than the general population (19%). (Source: ONS) 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on people’s wellbeing – both physical and mental health. More teachers and education staff are speaking openly about their challenges and colleagues are showing their support.

So, while it can be hard to speak up, please remember that there’s hope in knowing that you are not alone. There is more of a universal acceptance of and less judgement toward mental health and illness than ever before. 

Here we cover some of the signs of depression and tips on what to do if you have or think you have depression.

Spotting the signs: the difference between low mood and depression

When you’re going through a change in feelings and behaviours, you may not always clearly see that what you’re experiencing is a mental illness. You’re likely to be feeling frustrated, confused, and worried, leaving you unable to (in that moment) recognise symptoms of depression. Rest assured that this is ok and common! 

Here is an outline to help explain some of the changes you might be going through.

Low mood: We all experience challenging times. These could trigger feeling unhappy or sad. However, these feelings last for a short period of time and don’t interrupt your daily life.

Depression: Is a mental illness known as a mood disorder, that does interrupt your daily life and work. Signs include losing interest in what you once enjoyed, feeling unexplainably teary, not wanting to socialise or face a classroom full of students, or struggling to get out of bed. You could be feeling hopeless, very tired, irritable, as well as experiencing body aches and pains, and thoughts of suicide.

While depression is a common mental illness, no two experiences are the same and symptoms vary from mild to severe. 

It is essential to speak to your GP or a medical professional for a clinical diagnosis. Always seek help as soon as you can, despite how minor you think your symptoms are.

What to do if you’re experiencing depression

What happens now? Whether you have noticed a change in your feelings and behaviours, or been diagnosed, it can be hard to know what to do next to get the support and help that’s right for you. 

Here are a few thoughts you might be having at this time, with some recommended next steps. 

1. I think I have depression, but I don’t know who to turn to. I’m not sure that I want to talk to anyone

It’s ok to be feeling this way. Staying connected can help ease feelings of hopelessness and loneliness. When facing challenges on your own, it can be hard to keep a healthy perspective. But the nature of depression also means you might want to withdraw and isolate, so connecting can be the last thing you want to do. 

It’s important to remember  that there are people who will want to help and treatments available. If you feel comfortable, reach out to trusted colleagues, family and friends, and of course contact the Education Support helpline and your GP.

2. I’m finding it hard to work, but nervous about speaking to my manager

It is valid to feel uncertain about bringing up depression at work, and teachers and school leaders can be especially worried about the consequences. Your school, college or university has a duty of care is to make sure they can reasonably do what they can to support you. It is also illegal under the disability act to discriminate against anyone living with mental health challenges. 

You could try to reach out to a trusted colleague in the first instance, before speaking to your manager. Read more about depression and the workplace.


of education staff do not feel they can share mental health issues or unmanageable stress with their employer

3. I’m ready to know what type of treatments there are

If you’re ready to consider treatment options, you’ve made a big step and should congratulate yourself - getting help is not a sign of weakness, it shows incredible strength. 

Not all treatments work the same, so you must try and practice what works for you. It is entirely your decision to take medication, attend group therapy, have talking therapy, or practice self-care.

Find more about different treatments and how to manage symptoms of depression. 

Remember, you’re not alone and help is available.

Depression is one of the most treatable types of mental illness, with 80% to 90% percent of people responding to treatment*.

Where to get support

Call our free and confidential helpline, staffed by qualified counsellors available 24/7 on 08000 562 561.

Call your GP, in emergencies call 111 or 999

Read more on NHS mental health services


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