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According to the Black Dog Institute, one in 16 Australians are affected by depression every year. Some people will know they feel depressed, others might not realise that the symptoms they’re experiencing are a sign of depression − they might simply have a sense of ‘not feeling right’. In some cases, symptoms of physical illness (like feeling tired or losing weight) may be an indicator of depression.
The core symptoms of depression are persistent low mood or sadness – which may or may not involve bouts of crying – and significant loss of interest in activities you would normally enjoy.
If you’ve lost interest in doing things you used to enjoy, or if you feel sad or miserable most of the time, you may be suffering from depression.
There are various types of depression, from mild and moderate to severe, and there are different treatment options. An average episode of depression can last six to eight months, and unless it’s mild it’s unlikely to go away without treatment. Living with depression can be distressing for you and those around you, which is why it’s important to seek help.
This article might help if someone close to you is experiencing depression.
Remember, depression can be treated, and you can feel better.
If you or someone you know, needs urgent help, go straight to your GP or hospital emergency department, or contact a 24/7 crisis centre.
Symptoms of depression
The symptom checklist below is from the mental health charity Beyond Blue. If you experience symptoms from at least three of these categories for more than two weeks, seek help from your GP or health professional.
- Irritable or angry
- Lacking in confidence
- ‘I’m a failure.’
- ‘It’s my fault.’
- ‘Nothing good ever happens to me.’
- ‘I’m worthless.’
- ‘Life’s not worth living.’
- ‘People would be better off without me.’
- Not going out anymore
- Not getting things done at work/school
- Withdrawing from close family and friends
- Relying on alcohol and sedatives
- Not doing activities you usually enjoy
- Difficulty with concentration
- Tired all the time
- Feeling sick and run down
- Headaches and muscle pains
- Churning gut
- Problem sleeping
- Loss or change of appetite
- Significant weight loss or gain
If you’re not sure if you’re suffering from depression, take this simple checklist from Beyond Blue. The answers are confidential, and they don’t store any of your information.
What causes depression?
We don’t fully understand what causes depression. It can happen following a stressful event, such as the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job, or it may occur without any apparent cause.
Some people have an increased risk of developing depression because of family history, personality type or biology. Genetics, hormones, serious illness, substance abuse, long-term stress and life-changing events like the breakdown of a relationship or moving house, can all trigger an episode of depression.
Depression is more common in people who have a serious physical illness, and women tend to develop depression more often than men, especially after childbirth and the menopause.
Dementia can sometimes cause symptoms that seem like depression, as can other physical illnesses like an underactive thyroid or pituitary gland.
There are many ways to successfully treat depression. Start by seeing your GP, who can:
Perform a mental health assessment
Your GP can also put you on a mental health plan, which means Medicare may subsidise up to 10 sessions with a mental health professional.
We’re all different, and we all respond differently to treatment. Often, a combination of treatments works best.
The symptoms of mild depression may be alleviated with self-help strategies, such as exercise. This is one of the best ways to boost your mood, especially if you exercise outdoors in nature.
Relaxation exercises, meditation and breathing techniques can also help control the physical symptoms of depression. Mindfulness can help treat mild depression by helping you relax and stay present, observing any negative thoughts without reacting to them. Try our mindfulness video to learn a five-minute mindfulness exercise.
Getting a good night’s sleep can help you manage your symptoms, and a healthy diet is also important. People who eat more fruit and vegetables may experience higher levels of wellbeing. There is a clear association between diet quality (amount of nutritious foods consumed consistently) and risk for depression. A diet higher in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, legumes, fish, lean red meat, nuts and olive oil and lower in discretionary items, has been shown to lower the risk of depressive symptoms.
Drugs and alcohol can cause symptoms of depression and they can also make depression worse, so they are best avoided.
Guided online courses can also help with mild depression. Head to Health has several free apps, programs and forums to help you manage depression, and the Black Dog Institute recommends My Compass and This Way Up – online courses that are clinically proven to help.
And remember, depression is a mental health condition. It’s not your fault.
Moderate depression may also benefit from the self-help and lifestyle strategies above, as well as more structured ‘talking therapies’ and medication.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is designed to change the way you feel, think and respond. It’s a widely-used therapy that works to shift negative thought patterns by breaking down and examining the things that make you feel anxious or depressed. As a general rule, the more specific the problem, the more likely it is that CBT can help. CBT doesn’t involve digging deep into your past, like traditional psychoanalysis.
Counselling in individual or group sessions and by phone or by video consult with psychologists, psychiatrists, or other trained therapists can help to treat depression. Studies have shown that online therapies can be just as effective as face-to-face interactions for people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
Some people with depression show changes in the levels of chemicals such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine in the brain. Anti-depressant medication can be effective in treating these chemical changes. This may help to improve your general wellbeing, so you feel more able to tackle the root cause of the depression.
Mood stabilising medication can also help to reduce the severity and frequency of mood swings.
Anti-depressants are commonly used to treat severe depression, which may be resistant to other treatments and self-help strategies. Combining anti-depressant medication with a psychological treatment, such as cognitive behaviour therapy, is thought to be better than either treatment alone.
Most psychological treatments for depression take place over months (sometimes even years) of sessions, which are between one to two hours each. If severe depression is linked to a relationship it may also be worth undertaking couples therapy.
Electro convulsive therapy (ECT) has a small but important role in treating severe depression if it doesn’t respond to other forms of treatment. Doctors at the Black Dog Institute have found ECT to be, ‘the most effective, proven biological treatment currently available for depression’.
If severe depression is accompanied by psychotic symptoms, suicidal thoughts, the potential to harm others or impaired function, a hospital stay might be needed.
Get urgent help now
If you or someone close to you needs help now, contact 000 or one of the services below.
For crisis support:
For general mental health support:
Post-natal depression is very common among new mums. It affects one in every seven women who give birth in Australia every year, and dads aren’t immune. According to Raising Children, up to one in 10 men experience antenatal or postnatal depression.
Pregnancy and birth can stir up powerful emotions for both men and women.
If you experience any symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, talk to your loved ones about what you’re going through or seek help from your GP.
You can also call PANDA on 1300 726 306.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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