How to recognise depression

Photo by  Chetan Menaria  on  Unsplash

Written by Ellie Hughes, Provisional Psychologist

It is normal for people to experience sadness, low mood and reduced energy from time to time, particularly in response to life events, though it can also appear to be out of the blue. For those with Depression (Major Depressive Disorder), these feelings can persist with increased intensity and for longer periods of time, where it may begin to impact other areas of functioning.

Depression is a relatively common though serious mental health disorder, where around 1 in 7 Australians experience a form of depressive disorder in their lifetime. People who experience Depression may present with other symptoms that do not typically accompany general sadness and low mood, these include; diminished interest in pleasurable activities or hobbies, a change in weight or appetite, persistent fatigue and loss of energy, slowing of thoughts and physical movement, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, changes in sleeping patterns (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, early waking, sleeping longer than usual), difficulty with concentrating and decision making, thoughts of suicide or self harm, and physical symptoms like headaches, aches and pains, and digestive problems. People may also describe feeling numb, flat, empty, irritable, angry, hopeless, helpless, unmotivated, have low self-esteem and be frequently teary. 

Those who experience Depression will typically encounter a combination of these symptoms nearly everyday for at least two weeks or longer. Over time, the symptoms can begin to cause the individual distress and/or lead to impact on relationships with others, social obligations, and work and study commitments.

There are some factors that can increase the likelihood of depression occurring and these can be useful to identify to help understand the potential cause or trigger for onset of depressive symptoms. Factors that influence Depression include genetics or family history of mental health concerns, biochemical factors or ‘brain chemistry’ (e.g. chemicals in the brain that help regulate mood may be disrupted), short-term or chronic illness, personality types, age, current life stressors (work stress, relationships stress, bullying, parenting, financial stress), adjustment to lifestyle changes, and traumatic experiences either past or present.

For some people, depressive symptoms subside without intervention, and for others, they may need a helping hand to improve their symptoms. The good news is that due to its commonality, Depression is well-researched and there are many evidenced-based treatment options. Depression is usually treated by psychological and medical interventions, for example psychological therapy and/or antidepressant medication, and may also include recommended lifestyle changes. If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of Depression, it may be useful to speak with your treating doctor for opinion and referral.

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