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Depression affects many of us in Ireland and, thankfully, it is an issue that people have become increasingly open about. As a result, it’s easier for us to understand what we are feeling when we depressed, and easier for us to know how to cope with such feelings. Depression is different from feeling down or sad. A person suffering from depression may experience intense emotions of anxiety, hopelessness, negativity and helplessness, and the feelings stay with them instead of going away. As you read through the symptoms below, you might recognise lots of them. You may be suffering from a depressive episode if you have a persistently sad low mood and experience four or more of these symptoms for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks. If you are worried, don't diagnose yourself, but seek the professional opinion of your GP or a counsellor. You may also feel that a friend of relative has displayed behaviour such as those listed below, bear them in mind and think about whether this person might be suffering from depression and might need to be reached out to.
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Noticeable changes in appetite - either you stop eating, or you eat all the time
- Stomach problems, including constipation or diarrhoea
- Feeling tired and lacking in energy most of the time
- Feeling constantly restless and agitated
- Changes in your sleeping habit e.g struggling to sleep, sleeping too much
- Changes to your menstrual cycle
- Drinking more alcohol or taking other drugs more than usual
- Crying a lot
- Losing interest in your sex life
- Feeling lethargic
- Feeling worse at a particular time each day, usually in the morning
- Self-harming (by cutting yourself, for example)
- Feeling irritable and impatient and intolerant of others
- Feel anxious finding it hard to concentrate or make decisions
- Blaming yourself and feeling unnecessarily guilty about things
- Lacking self-confidence and self-esteem
- Being preoccupied with negative thoughts
- Feeling empty, pessimistic and despairing
- Having a continuous low mood or sadness
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Thoughts of suicide (killing yourself)
- Social Symptoms
- Taking part in fewer social activities
- Avoiding other people, even your close friends
- Losing interest in the things you used to enjoy
- Finding it hard to function at university
It is very common for people suffering from depression to withdraw from their normal activity (going to lectures) and isolate themselves (not socialising, locking yourself in your room) which only serves to leave you alone with your own depressing thoughts. This is how depression keeps you down.
Causes of depression
No one simple factor has been identified as the cause of depression. There usually appears to be more than one reason, and these will differ from person to person. Each person’s experience of depression is in some way unique and individual to the person, but that doesn’t mean that others can understand and support you in your situation.
People with a family history of depression have an increased probability of developing depression because of their individual make-up, (including body chemistry), or because of certain early experiences.
Distressing events and the surrounding circumstances. In times when everything appears to be going wrong it is easy to fall into a depression, especially if it feels as if we are completely alone in facing those circumstances.
Depression is a common accompaniment to physical illnesses, especially life-threatening ones like cancer and heart disease. Depressive episodes also appear to occur more often in individuals with a history of drug dependence and certain psychiatric conditions.
A person’s deeper beliefs and assumptions can predispose them to depression.
If you feel that you are falling into a hole of depression and that you will never be able to get out of it, then it important that you let someone know. While the feelings you have may make interaction with other people seem harrowing and pointless, ultimately it could be the thing that helps you out of your current state of depression. Depression does not own you and letting it overcome you will only lead to its worsening. There are a number of ways in which you can approach depression with the hope that, given time, you will be able to overcome it.
Self-Help – Keeping active, exercising, eating well, sleeping enough and being assertive with your life is an important part of overcoming depression. Meditation, practicing mindfulness and allowing yourself to have time to reflect logically on what you are feeling are ways of attempting to balance emotions in your head. Certainly being able to communicate with friends and family members what you are feeling, even if it is not necessarily severe, is also of enormous importance. Nothing you feel is ever insignificant and, if you are worried that you may be falling into a period of depression, then talking to someone about it will be crucial. For people with mild depression self-help based on the principles of CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy) is proven to work successfully. http://www.llttf.com/
If your depression has gone on for a long time, or is affecting you badly, then it may be your GP will suggest a course of antidepressants or a course of talking therapy or both. Psychotherapy (or counselling) may be enough to overcome the problem. I you do take antidepressants, then counselling can help you to work on some of the things in your life that might otherwise make you become depressed again.
In order to begin to improve, you must acknowledge you have a problem, have some motivation (admittedly difficult when depressed) to challenge the problem and believe that there is hope that you can defeat depression. As depression can be debilitating, even beginning to think about asking for help can seem too much. It is really important to ask though. Have a look at the help available and consider which service you think is the easiest one you might approach first.
It is fundamental to remember that people with depression do recover and find ways to manage their depression and continue with their life. You are no different, although it might not feel like it just now. That is why seeking help, while it may feel difficult to do, is vital. If you had broken your leg, or contracted a virus, you wouldn’t keep that hidden from others. You would go and get help to ensure you would recover more quickly. The same if true if you are suffering from depression.
Communication will prove to be your most valuable asset. Whether it be with a friend, family member, partner or professional counselor, communication of feelings and sharing of the weight will be the most important thing in tackling depression. It may feel like you are unloading baggage on people and that they will resent you for that, but if these people are close to you and value you, or are in a professional position to help you, then there will never be any sense of resentment. You are valued and your feelings matter to other people. Knowing that other people understand what you are going through (or at least try to) will decrease feelings of isolation and despair in the face of depression. Talking about things will help you put them into perspective, and venting of emotions through talking, crying, or shouting can feel incredibly cathartic and beneficial. Everyone should be aware that they do not need to face depression alone. Having people around you will feel like a safety net, or like the lift that will pull you out of that dark hole.
If you feel that you have reached a point in a depression where you need to seek professional help then NUI Galway has a number of resources available as well as the various services available in the city, all of which are there to provide the best support possible in a non-judgmental, welcoming, and friendly way.
Other useful links are:
Aware - Defeat Depression
Support for people whose lives are directly affected by depression
Helpline: 1890 303 302 Email: email@example.com www.aware.ie
Mental health support service for young people 15-25 years
An interactive online community providing health and lifestyle information, signposting to support services, a youth media space, and a platform for youth engagement.
The Centre for the Prevention of Self-Harm and Suicide offers help for people thinking about suicide or self harm
A 24-hour confidential phone line for people who need someone to talk to
Helpline: 116 123 available 24/7 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.samaritans.org
I am concerned that a friend/family member/or fellow student may be suffering from depression and has not addressed their situation
Firstly, it is great that you have noticed this in a person. It shows that you are attentive enough to be aware of shifts in behavior and emotion in those you are close to. If you are worried about someone’s mental health we advise look at the ‘Worried About a Friend’ section of the website in which information and advice is given on the matter.