Depression can happen to anyone and is a common condition with 1 in 7 Australians experiencing depression in their lifetime. Persistent sadness, dark thoughts, low self-esteem, loss of interest or pleasure are all signs of depression. It is not just a case of ‘the blues’ – it is a real disease and affects all aspects of daily life. 

1 in 7 

Australians experience depression in their lifetime

1 million

Australians experience depression in any given year

Understanding Depression

Many things can be linked to the onset of depression. It usually appears after a combination of recent issues and other longer-term factors (eg long-term unemployment, an abusive relationship, prolonged work stress) rather than one sudden issue. Major life events such as losing your job or a particularly stressful event may be the trigger if you’re already at risk. Family history, chronic disease, smoking, an addiction to alcohol or other substances can also increase the risk of depression.

Depression is thought to be caused by a shortage or imbalance of chemical messengers in the brain which regulate our mood. Our daily cycles – called circadian rhythms – are also often disrupted in people with depression. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a circadian rhythm.

Depression affects how people think, feel and act. A person may be depressed if, during a two week period, they have felt sad, down or miserable most of the time or lost interest or pleasure in most of their usual activities.

In addition, they have also experienced at least four of these symptoms during the same period:

  • Decreased ability to think or concentrate
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Feeling worthless
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Large change in weight or appetite (increase or decrease)
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Agitation or slowness

Not everyone who is experiencing depression will have all of these symptoms. Another way of thinking about symptoms are changes your friends and family may have noticed.

Available treatments

“Talking-type” therapy – with a psychologist or counsellor –  is recommended, regardless of the severity of the depression. It can help change thinking patterns and improve coping skills and has been shown to reduce negative thoughts and depressed feelings.

These sessions most often occur with the person meeting one-on-one with the psychologist or counsellor. Family and carers sometimes come along too.  Family and friends can play a big part in providing support.

 

Talking-type therapy is often the first treatment for mild to moderate depression and will sometimes be enough on its own to help recover. For many people, it won’t be and medicines, called antidepressants, will be needed as well. Your doctor will guide you and help you decide which treatment plan is going to work best for you.

Working together and deciding together, after looking at the options, is called ‘shared-decision making’. This may include matching the antidepressant most suited based on symptoms, medical history, preferences around which side effects to avoid, and previous or current conditions and treatments.

Usually, depressive episodes go away after several weeks or months, either with treatment or spontaneously. This is known as remission. And if it doesn’t return, this is called a recovery. For many people a new episode occurs within 5 years.