What is depression?


Depression is when someone’s mood is so low, it persists over an extended period of time, and often impacts their ability to do normal daily activities.

It will generally affect their relationships, their ability to work or socialise, and result in a loss of motivation – even perhaps to do small things like preparing a meal or showering.

When doctors diagnose depression, they look at things like: mood, irritability, weight or appetite change, sleep patterns, energy levels, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, concentration, and thoughts of suicide. If someone has experienced significant change in five or more of these and related areas over at least a two week period, they may be depressed.

Why do people get depressed?

Traditionally, health professionals described two types of depression: reactive depression and endogenous depression. Reactive depression is where someone’s life or circumstances lead them to become depressed, for example grief, a relationship break down, or losing your job. Grief and sadness are a normal reaction to loss or upheaval, but over time if people can’t get over that natural reaction, they may enter a depressed state.

Endogenous depression is related to what’s thought to be an imbalance of hormones or chemicals in your brain, which for some people is probably genetic. This type of depression may be harder to treat with therapy because there may be nothing discernible causing the depression, but it may be easier to treat with medication.

The distinction between reactive and endogenous depression may be useful but, in truth, it’s often a combination of factors that can contribute to developing depression. Really, the key thing is to recognise the signs and symptoms  so people may get support when it’s needed.

Getting help

If you are feeling alone or a sense of hopelessness, ask yourself, ‘Who do I trust that I can discuss this with? Always remember that it is ok to say, ‘I’m not OK’; it’s OK to ask for help; and it’s OK to say honestly, ‘I’ve lost hope for the time being’.

Emotional problems are common and for one in five of us, they can be severe enough to justify seeking professional advice. It’s important to reach out for help. There are a number of health professionals and services available.

Don’t let misconceptions about mental health stop you from seeking help. If you had a physical health concern you would talk to a doctor, and mental health support is just as important. Your GP is a good place to start – they can provide you with a range of options for treating and managing mental health issues.

I’m feeling mentally unwell now

If you’re feeling suicidal, please seek immediate help.

Firstly, if you feel you can’t hold on, you need to tell someone you trust, and ask them to stay with you until you’re in safe hands.

Then there are a number of options available. If you are in Australia, you can ring Lifeline on 13 11 14 for specialised 24-hour help, support and advice. You can call or go to the emergency department at your local hospital. Or, you can dial triple zero (000) for emergency medical assistance.