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What is depression?

Around one in five Australians will experience depression in their lives.

There are different types of depression, and a range of symptoms. It is important to treat depression as early as possible and, fortunately, there are many treatments and support services available to help people with depression.

Everyone feels sad, or even depressed, at times. However, when depression is prolonged for weeks, months, or years at a time, it can become a serious illness. Depression is all-encompassing as it affects you emotionally, physically and mentally; and more often than not will cause you to withdraw from your daily life.

Someone who is depressed will not only feel very sad, but also overwhelmed, guilty, disappointed, irritable or frustrated. In Australia, there is a stigma attached to depression that the person who is suffering will be able to ‘snap out of it’ and return to their normal happy selves. But depression is not a sign of weakness of character; it is an illness.

Depression comes in a variety of forms including: major depression, bipolar disorder (periods of mania followed by extreme sadness), cyclothymic disorder (chronic mood fluctuation), dysthymia (prolonged depression) and seasonal affective disorder (moods determined by the seasons).

Sadly, depression can often be left untreated for months or even years, so it is important to understand the symptoms of depression and when and where to seek help. Unfortunately every year a number of Australians commit suicide as a result of depression. Recognising symptoms in yourself or others can help save lives.

Symptoms of depression

Depression affects different people in different ways, but a clear indicator is if you have been feeling down for more than two weeks and identify with the symptoms below.

The symptoms of depression can include changes in behaviour such as:

  • Constantly feeling sad
  • Not going out anymore
  • Losing interest in work or study
  • Withdrawing from your loved ones
  • Easily losing concentration
  • Not enjoying your usual favourite activities
  • Relying on alcohol or sedatives to feel better

These changes in behaviour are often in conjunction with feeling trapped or negative about your life and yourself. You can also react physically to depression. These physical symptoms of depression may include:

  • Fluctuation in weight
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling sick and rundown
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea

If depression is left untreated, it can spiral into suicidal thoughts. There is a large network of helpful resources and treatments available so do not delay in seeking help.

Causes and treatment of depression

Depression isn’t usually caused by a single event but by a number of factors including: ongoing long-term problems in your life, your family history, your personality (particularly if you have a tendency to worry), chemical changes in your brain, or drug and alcohol abuse.

Treatment for depression is often a combination of therapy with a psychologist and prescribed medication from your doctor. Some people may need to be hospitalized. There are also many community support services available to get you back on track.

There are many simple ways to manage the symptoms of depression, for example:

  • Increasing activity levels and participating in experiences that bring simple pleasures
  • Learning to control negative thinking by working with a health professional
  • Learning to understand and temper feelings of agitation and irritability
  • Establishing healthy sleeping patterns

Remember, there is always help at hand for depression. Contact your doctor or a health service today to discuss the options and pave the way to a healthy treatment plan and recovery.

Further information and sources


This article is of a general nature only. You should always seek medical advice if you think you may have the symptoms of depression. For more information, see Better Health Channel.