Understanding Depression

     Depression is more than just a low mood - it's a serious illness. While we all feel sad, moody or low from time to time, some people experience these feelings intensely, for long periods of time and often without reason. People with depression find it hard to function every day and may be reluctant to participate in activities they once enjoyed.

     Depression is one of the most common of all mental health problems. Depression can affect anyone whether clinical, a chemical imbalance in your life or following an incident. Events like trauma may end in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or following a birth may result in Post Natal Depression.

     There are different types of depression that have similar symptoms. Major depression can lasts for at least two weeks, and can be complicated by Psychotic Depression, a depressed mood which includes symptoms of psychosis. Others experience Dysthymia, a less severe depressed mood that lasts for years. Depression is often seen with a combination of symptoms of anxiety.

Symptoms of Depression

     Change in certain behaviours is the most obvious symptoms, especially sleep and eating habits. When you are depressed it is hard to think objectively and have a clear perspective. People suffering with depression do not have to experience all the symptoms to be diagnosed with depression, however common behaviours associated with depression includes:

  • Moodiness that is out of character
  • Increased irritability and frustration
  • Finding it hard to take minor personal criticisms
  • Spending less time with friends and family (withdrawal)
  • Loss of interest in food, sex, exercise or other pleasurable activities
  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Staying home from work or school (avoidance)
  • Increased physical health complaints like fatigue or pain
  • Taking unnecessary risks (e.g. driving fast or dangerously)
  • Decrease in motivation
  • Less caring about bigger issues
  • Slowing down of thoughts and actions

     Depression affects your sleep, mood and food intake, and therefore acts in a vicious cycle. Only when one aspect changes can this cycle be broken down.

Depression is also common with physical illness. According to Professor David Clarke (Beyond Blue's Research Advisor, 2009), the common symptoms of chronic illness, such as unrelenting pain, "loss of spirit", feeling helpless, and uncertainty about the future, can all contribute to depressive symptoms. Many studies have shown that if depression is not treated in tandem with the physical illness, chances of recovery are impeded.

Treatment of Depression

     Depression is an illness that is likely to get worse if left untreated. Depression is to be taken seriously; it is more “than having a bad day”. Seeking professional help is essential.

An assessment of the type and severity of the depression needs to be determined by a Doctor or qualified therapist before a treatment plan is established. Once Depression is diagnosed there are steps to be taken that will ensure an improved quality of life and feeling better about participating in life.

If urgent intervention is required, do not hesitate to call an ambulance or attend a Mental Health Assessment Team at a hospital. Another option is to contact someone you know who can assist you straight away or call Lifeline on 131114.

     If you are depressed but able to get dressed and think beyond morbid thoughts, work with your doctor to commence a treatment plan. Your doctor can refer Under the Better Access Initiative; Mental Health Care is now more accessible and affordable for people living with mental illness.  A claim under Medicare can now be made for a rebate for up to 12 individual and/or 6 group based psychological treatment sessions within a calendar year.  This involves a GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician referring to a psychologist, social worker, occupational therapist or a specially trained GP.

     Talk therapy and counselling is in a supportive, non-judgemental and private space. It provides an objective professional point to attend regular sessions whilst working on contributing factors to your depression, and strategies to deal with these feelings.

Antidepressant medication is often prescribed, alongside psychological treatments. Your doctor may consider antidepressant medication in the short to medium term, or long term. Research shows that more severe forms of depression are associated with specific changes in the brain, including changes to some hormones and chemical message systems. In these forms of depression, there are alterations in the activity of the brain in areas under the influence of the brain chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline. Different types of antidepressants work in slightly different ways, but they all act on chemicals in the brain related to emotions and motivation.

     There are many types of Antidepressants, however contributing factors, like age, breastfeeding, work and addiction history might determine which one is more suitable for you. Unfortunately antidepressants take a few weeks to become effective, and initial side effects like nausea, agitation and tiredness amongst others is common. Antidepressants are not happy pills, however they will release serotonin, and encourage clarity and improved moods.

Practical Strategies for Coping With Depression

Behaviour and Attitude

  • Try opposite behaviour to depressive thoughts! Depression is isolating and difficult. If you don’t feel like getting out of bed, the act of getting out of bed, showering and self care makes you feel better and more energised.
  • Being positive puts you in a confident, upbeat mood.  Let’s keep positivity as a goal. A realistic thought assists in getting through the day. For example if today is hard, challenging, not going well or full of disappointments, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to get through my day”. This may include phoning a friend or choosing not to answer the phone.


  • Listening to your body, as depression is your body’s way of telling you something needs to change. Exercise is effective like antidepressants. Both release Serotonin, which reduces Cortisol (stress hormone) in our brain.
  • Taking small steps, such as walking around your coffee table or washing line, is a start to exercising. Tomorrow you might try two laps around the garden. Don't set expectations, do what you need to do to get through the day. Aiming realistically and managing one task involves effort and avoids feeling like a failure.


  • Good Lifestyle choices need to be a way of life not an event. This includes eating well, balancing work and entertainment, self-care strategies, such as manicures and exercise regimes.
  • Choose healthy coping strategies, such as realistic thoughts, exercise or talking to someone. This is more helpful over unhealthy ways like alcohol or drug use, avoidance and isolation, which may cause secondary problems and addictions. When addictions become a priority the reasons and symptoms of depression get ignored. Depression needs to be addressed as ignoring it perpetuates the symptoms.
  • Hobbies and relaxation tools can not be underestimated. The trick is to find one that you enjoy. This is good for pleasure as well as distraction.