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With the Christmas holidays almost here, this is a time of year when many people across the country will suffer from depression.

There are a variety of reasons for this.

Those who live alone or have recently been bereaved, for example, may feel especially sad and lonely when facing social gatherings.

Christmas can also be a time of financial strain, with the pressure to spend money being particularly stressful for those on low incomes.

Whatever the reason, figures from the Depression Alliance charity show that it receives a 40 per cent increase in calls to its helpline over the festive period.

But depression is not just confined to Christmas and New Year.

It is estimated that at any one time, almost three million people are affected by depression to some degree.

Some people think that depression is trivial, but it is a genuine condition with physical symptoms.

The symptoms of depression can include, but are not restricted to:

· A low mood

· Sensitivity

· Tearfulness

· Tiredness

· Reduced appetite

· Disturbed sleep

· Poor concentration

More severe symptoms can include headaches, stomach cramps and suicidal thoughts.

Depression does not discriminate by age or gender – it can affect men or women, and studies have shown that around four per cent of children aged between five and 16 years are also affected.

If you think you may be suffering from depression, it is important to seek help as early as possible.

Fortunately, depression is treatable with the right support and most people can make a full recovery from the condition.

Your GP is a good place to start.

By talking to them, they can recommend the best course of action.

This may involve talking therapies or counselling.

The approach taken will reflect which type of depression you are suffering from.

Your doctor may also discuss options of medication, if it is appropriate.

After seeking professional advice, there are a number of simple steps you can also take yourself to help relieve the symptoms.

Many people find they benefit from getting more exercise, such as joining the gym or going for walks.

Eating more healthily can also help, as can cutting down alcohol consumption and giving up smoking.

You might also feel better if you are able to meet and talk to people, rather than spending a lot of time on your own – perhaps think about joining a club or class, or invite some friends you haven’t seen for a while round for a coffee

Support groups and charities are also available to help.

The Depression Alliance, for example, holds mutual support groups and also have a pen-friend scheme, where people with the condition can write to those who have experienced it in the past, to benefit from their support and guidance.

If you are feeling depressed this Christmas, it is important not to suffer alone.

Talking to people about the problem and seeking help is the first step on the road to recovery.

Further information can be found on the Depression Alliance website at depressionalliance.org/ or on the NHS Choices website.