What is depression?

Depression is a condition which affects the way someone thinks and feels about the world around them. When someone has depression, feelings like happiness or excitement can be overshadowed by sadness. If you’re experiencing depression, you’re not alone — around 1 in 4 Australians will experience depression in their lifetime. For young Australians, depression and anxiety are the most common mental health challenges.

We all feel sad from time to time. This is a completely normal part of life. Depression is different. It is a mental illness, which goes much further than the usual emotional ups and downs. Depression can last for a long time – weeks, months – or even longer. It can also have a real impact on people’s day to day life, affecting relationships and their ability to work or cope.

What causes depression?

No one chooses to be depressed. Like most mental health conditions, a combination of factors can lead to depression, and there is no single cause. There are both ‘external’ and ‘internal’ factors that can lead to depression. 

External factors are things or events that happen in your life. External factors leading to depression include:

  • grief or loss
  • trauma
  • abuse from family, friends, staff, or employers
  • a heavy workload at work or school  
  • big life changes like transitions between school, university and work 
  • addiction to drugs, gambling or alcohol 
  • unemployment or economic hardship 
  • Discrimination or social isolation
  • breaking up with a partner 

Internal factors are things that occur inside your body and brain. Internal factors leading to depression include: 

  • family history of mental illness
  • physical health issues
  • medications
What are some of the signs of depression?

Everyone with depression will display different signs and symptoms, but there are some common ones. These signs can range from mild to severe, and can be either noticeable or not so noticeable to others. 

Signs and symptoms include:

  • feeling sad, disappointed, and miserable for no apparent reason
  • feeling ‘numb’
  • feeling frustrated and having angry outbursts
  • withdrawing from friends and family
  • loss of interest in attending social events
  • struggling to cope with everyday situations
  • loss of interest in hobbies/favourite activities
  • inability to concentrate, struggling to keep up at school or work
  • memory issues, sudden loss of memory or being unable to recall recent events
  • negative self-talk or loss of self-confidence

For more signs and symptoms of depression to look out for, head to ReachOut

What are the different types of depression? 

There are various types of depression, including different forms of major depression and other conditions that fall under the broader umbrella term of ‘depression’.

  • Major depressive disorder: Symptoms of low mood and loss of interest in activities once considered pleasurable, which tend to interfere with daily life and lasts for more than 2 weeks. Subtypes of major depression include melancholic and psychotic depression. You can learn more about this condition in this video. 
  • Dysthymic disorder: Long-term depression which lasts at least 2 years. It has similar symptoms to major depression, but is less severe. 
  • Bipolar disorder: Characterised by extreme mood changes that disrupt daily life. Learn more about bipolar disorder here. 
  • Cyclothymic disorder: Similar to bipolar disorder but less severe. It’s a long-term condition lasting for at least 2 years. You can learn more about that here. 
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): A mood disorder related to seasonal changes, often due to long and cold winters. This disorder is rare in Australia. This condition is very treatable, learn how in this video. 
  • Perinatal or postpartum depression (PPD): Perinatal and postnatal depression occurs during pregnancy or after the birth of a baby, and is related to the challenges of parenthood as well as hormonal changes. It is fairly common, affecting 1 in 5 people who have given birth in Australia. Learn about what it’s like to live with PPD watch this video. 

Some of the different types of depression require particular treatment plans.  For more information on types of depression visit Beyond Blue.

Can depression be treated? 

Yes, depression is definitely treatable but it does take some time and effort. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, visit your GP or a mental health professional. They can help you find the support you need, which might involve making a mental health-care plan.

If you’re diagnosed with depression, your doctors can work with you to create a treatment plan that suits your personal circumstances and experience. There are various treatments available, including psychological treatments, medication, and making lifestyle changes. Learn more about treatments for depression here

Where to get help 
  • Help from school: Every school has staff who help students deal with issues like depression all the time. Sometimes they’re called Wellbeing Officer, Student Welfare Officer, Pastoral Care Teacher or the Student Counsellor. If you’re not sure who this teacher might be at your school, chat to the staff in the main office or ask a teacher you like and trust. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
  • Talk to your doctor: Doctors also help people with issues like depression and anxiety all the time. If you do not have a trusted adult to turn to, check out this post about going to the doctor on your own.
  • Get in touch with professionals: Youth Beyond Blue, Headspace and  Reach Out have trained counsellors available to talk you through your situation and help you work out strategies to deal with it. Kid’s helpline(1800 55 1800) is actually pretty awesome too – you can talk to a counsellor for free, at any time and it’s completely private. Lifeline is there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – they are free and completely confidential.
  • Be kind to yourself: talking to someone about how you feel, like a doctor or a counsellor, is very important. But things like exercise, mindfulness meditation, and changing your self-talk are also vital steps to helping you feel like yourself again.

Need someone to talk to? Free, confidential support is available.

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