Signs of Depression
Article Updated July 24, 2017
Have you ever felt disconnected from things and people around you? Maybe you’ve felt irritable, sad or lonely for no apparent reason? We all have feelings like these at times but they usually don’t last long. There is quite a difference though, between ‘feeling’ depressed and being diagnosed with depression.
Those with depression often feel negative emotions more intensely and over a longer period than ‘usual’. Their low moods can last days, months or longer. It is a serious condition that impacts on self-esteem, behaviour and many aspects of daily life.
There is no known cause of depression. Researchers believe there are several factors that influence its development – major life events, genetics and body chemistry – but exactly how these affect each other is still not clear. Examples include:
- Divorce / separation
- Job loss
- Prolonged stress
- Chronic illness - from the condition itself, medications and from the stress of dealing with it all
- Hormonal fluctuations, especially during puberty, pregnancy and menopause
- Brain trauma
- Substance abuse
There is a proven link between depression and an imbalance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) within the brain but this alone doesn’t trigger depression. Other factors also play a part.
While depression occurs more often in some families than others, it certainly does not mean that people in those families will automatically develop it. They simply have a greater risk of it when other factors (like those above) are also involved.
Often, there’s no way of knowing what the initial trigger was. Instead it is far more helpful to focus on recognising and dealing with the symptoms.
What does it feel like to be depressed?
People experience depression in different ways and the symptoms of depression can change frequently. Many sufferers say they feel empty, angry, out of control, despondent, trapped, worthless, scared, irrational or lost. They describe a sense of a black cloud hanging over them or suffocating them. Over time they may lose self-confidence or describe themselves as failures.
If these feelings are not resolved they can build up until the person reaches breaking point and become at risk of doing self-harm.
Are there different types of depression?
- There are many forms of depression which can vary from mild to severe. Some of the more common types include:
- Mild Depression – Symptoms are noticeable but they may be less severe or not last as long as other forms.
- Major (Clinical) Depression – This is sometimes known as Unipolar Depression or Depressive Disorder. It usually has a dramatic impact on the person’s ability to function normally in their daily life. Subcategories include Melancholic Depression and Psychotic Depression.
- Perinatal Depression – For some women, the experience of being pregnant and giving birth can trigger depression. This is not the same as having the ‘baby blues’ which generally pass after a few weeks. Perinatal Depression can last months or sometimes years. It affects the mother’s bond with her child and her relationships with others.
- Bipolar Disorder – This condition used to be called Manic Depression. Sufferers experience dramatic mood swings sometimes with no warning. During the ‘mania’ periods they feel on top of the world and buzz with energy. Everything is done at hyperspeed including thinking and talking. When the manic period stops, everything stops. Suffers have no energy or motivation and they sink into a deep depressive state.
What symptoms should I look out for?
The symptoms of depression often appear to be relatively normal when considered in isolation. However, if you feel your symptoms are becoming stronger or you have more of them, there is a chance you may be developing depression.
Depression can affect us mentally, physically and socially. Common symptoms include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Being regularly worried, anxious or tearful
- Having regular headaches and body pains
- Not sleeping well
- Feeling detached from family, friends and social situations
- Struggling to concentrate or stay motivated
- Having unexplained feelings like fear, guilt or irritation
- Smoking, drinking or gambling more and more
- Feeling constantly drained
- Regularly feeling unwell
- Having suicidal thoughts
What can I do about it?
If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, it’s a good idea to talk to others and share your concerns. Family and friends can be very supportive but it’s important to not feel ashamed or fearful of being judged. There is much less stigma surrounding mental health issues these days but it can be daunting to start a conversation with anyone.
Remember that you are not alone. Depression affects over 1 million Australians each year from all different backgrounds. A good place to start is with your GP. Tell them what has been happening and how you’ve been affected. Sometimes, just telling someone is such a relief that you already start to feel a bit more in control. Depending on your circumstances, they may offer to work with you directly or they may suggest other forms of treatment such as:
- Mindfulness, yoga or other relaxation therapies
- Professional counselling
Learning how to calm the body and focus on the present can help with many mental health issues including anxiety and depression. These approaches can also help improve self-image and put your concerns into perspective.
Medications (including anti-depressants) help to correct chemical imbalances in the brain; such as hormone imbalances that affect mood. In most cases, if you have depression, you won’t automatically be put on medication. It is simply one option that you can weigh up with your doctors.
For more severe cases where depression is linked to other issues such as addiction or paranoia, sufferers may need to be assessed by a crisis team or be given medication in a hospital setting.
Having counselling sessions with a psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health practitioner is one of the most effective ways to deal with your depression. You can see them in a private and supportive environment and trust that they will listen to you without judgement. They can help you identify any unhelpful thought patterns or behaviours that might be preventing you from moving forward. Your counsellor will then work with you to find new, more constructive ways to manage your situation.
The True Counsellor website has a directory you can browse to help you find a practitioner near you. You’ll also find a lot of other useful information on mental health there.
In crisis situations call:
Lifeline Tel. 13 11 14
Kids Helpline Tel. 1800 55 1800
SuicideLine Tel. 1300 651 251