Updated 27 November 2020

What is Depression?

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At times, we can all feel sad, unhappy, moody or low but this may not mean you suffer from depression. These emotional reactions can be a normal part of everyday life, appropriate for the situation, and last for a limited time.  For depression, these feelings must be intense and present for long periods of times (at least weeks) and there does not have to always be a reason for it. In Australia, about one in six women and one in eight men will experience depression at some time in their life. Fortunately, effective treatments are available for depression and the sooner a person with depression seeks support, the sooner recovery can commence.

Signs and symptoms of Depression

There are many signs and symptoms of depression that can be physical or psychological. Some common signs and symptoms of depression include;
  • An overwhelming feeling of sadness,
  • Persistent crying,
  • An overtly withdrawn and shy personality,
  • Numbness of emotions,
  • Disruption in sleeping patterns including restlessness, short or long sleeping hours and insomnia,
  • A complete lack of motivation,
  • A loss of interest in hobbies, leisurely activities and work that are normally enjoyed,
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence,
  • An extreme feeling of guilt,
  • A loss of appetite leading to weight loss and even anorexia,
  • A loss of sexual desires,
  • A drop in concentration and focus,
  • A thinking and learning impairment,
  • Increased levels of anxiety,
  • Body aches and pains,
  • Headaches and migraines,
  • Feeling hopeless and worthless,
  • Having suicidal thoughts, and
  • Attempting suicide.

Causes of depression

The exact cause of depression is unclear. In some cases it has no apparent cause, and in others it can be the result of one or more psychological, biological, social or lifestyle factors including: -Family history: Depression can run in families but this does not mean that you will get depression if a close relative has it. -Drug and alcohol use: this can lead to depression. Alcohol and drug use may also be the result of depression. In fact, many people with depression also have drug and alcohol problems. -Personality factors: Some people are at more risk of depression because of their personality. This is particularly  so for people who have anxiety type issues, low self-esteem or are self-critical. -Serious medical illnesses: People with serious medical illnesses can worry excessively about their illness and lead to depression. -Stressful life events: stressful events in life can contribute to or trigger depression. Some examples of these events include, long-term unemployment and financial pressure, family or relationship break ups, abusive relationships, bullying, trauma, long-term isolation or loneliness, and the death of a friend or loved one.                                                

Types of Depression

Major depression

Major Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is the most common type of depression. It is characterised by very low mood, feelings of hopelessness and despair, and a person’s loss of enjoyment of life, causing lack of concentration, low energy levels, changes in appetite, and sleep patterns. Major depression can be triggered by a distressing event that the person is unable to deal with but can also begin with no apparent cause, and can develop in people who have coped well with life and been previously happy in their family and social relationships. 

Persistent depressive disorder

This is also known as ‘dysthymia’. The symptoms experienced are similar but less severe to those in major depression. These symptoms must be experienced most of the time, for at least two years, to meet the criteria for persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia.

Psychotic depression

This is a severe type of depression in which people may lose touch with reality and experience symptoms of psychosis including hallucinations and delusions.

Antenatal and postnatal depression

Women are at an increased risk of depression during and after pregnancy. Depression experienced during pregnancy is known as the antenatal or prenatal depression and depression experienced in the year following childbirth is known as the postnatal depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD

This is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern and most commonly occurs during winter. A person's circadian rhythm (an internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle) is affected which can greatly influence their mood. For example, days seem shorter during autumn and winter seasons which can affect a person's overall mood and emotion. SAD is very rare in Australia and more likely to be found in the cold climate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. Light therapy may be a very useful treatment option for this type of depression, although prescription medication and psychotherapy will also help.

Treatment for Depression 

Many treatment options and resources are available to help manage depression. Professional help can be beneficial for all types of depression, but is particularly important and necessary for addressing severe and persistent forms. There are three broad categories of treatment options for depression including, psychological, physical and self-help/alternative therapies. Often these treatment types work best in combination.

Psychological interventions

These intervention strategies often called ‘talking therapies, and are used to modify behaviour, emotional state or feelings to help individuals cope better with life’s challenges.  Some examples include,
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which change patterns of thinking, behaviours and beliefs that are related to depression.
  • Interpersonal therapies (IPT)- a form of psychotherapy that focus on the individual and their relationships with others to help understand how these interpersonal relationships effect their emotions.

Physical Interventions

These include the use of medications to treat depression and are often prescribed when other treatments have not been successful in treating the depression or the severity of the depression is preventing the use of psychological treatments. Anti-depressant medications help restore normal patterns of sleep, appetite and reduce depressed feelings and reduce anxiety. Anti-depressant medications are not addictive and usually take one to four weeks to before a benefit is seen.

Self-help/alternative therapies

This can include
  • maintaining a healthy lifestyle by increasing physical exercise and reducing excessive alcohol and other drug use,
  • the use of support groups and online forums,
  • relaxation therapies (e.g. meditation)
  • Staying connected with your social supports (friends and family)
Treatment will depend on the person, the type of symptoms displayed and their severity. Each individual will have different contributing factors that will respond differently to treatment, therefore, it is important to have a thorough check from a health professional before treatment is prescribed.