Most of us have low moods occasionally. We might feel sad or a bit detached from things however it is usually a passing thing. People with depression feel these emotions far more intensely and over an extended period from weeks to years. There isn’t always an obvious reason or trigger and the effects are different for everyone. It is a real and serious condition which impacts on how people feel about themselves and their place in the world.
Depression affects people on both a mental and physical basis. Not only will sufferers often feel isolated or detached but it may also affect their daily routines and personal relationships. This means it can have an unintentional effect and impact on the people around them.
Although there are many proven ways to treat depression, many people will delay seeking help due to denial, fear or embarrassment.
Many symptoms of depression may appear to be aspects of ‘normal’ behaviour. Most of us will experience them at different points in our lives but won’t necessarily be depressed. Also not every sufferer will experience all symptoms or even be aware that they are depressed as some symptoms, such as weight loss, may simply appear to be physical health problems.
Symptoms that are common to many sufferers are persistent sadness, hopelessness and disconnection. The combination and intensity of all the symptoms will change periodically as will the length and frequency of the episodes. As the number and strength of symptoms increase, the more chance a person has of developing depression.
There are different types of depression and each can range from moderate to severe.
Those with mild depression generally experience low moods and some of the less severe psychological symptoms however these often only have limited impact on daily life.
This form of depression is more intense and can have a dramatic effect on daily life including many of the physical symptoms listed above. It is also known as clinical depression, unipolar depression or depressive disorder. In severe cases it can lead to suicidal tendencies or hospitalisation.
It can be broken down into melancholic depression – where symptoms such as slow movement and low moods are more prominent - and psychotic depression – where the person may experience more extreme symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions or paranoia.
Formerly known as Manic Depression, this disorder causes sufferers to swing between periods of ‘mania’ and depression with normal moods in between.
The symptoms of mania can vary in intensity and duration. They could include talking fast, being extremely energetic or agitated, needing little sleep or having difficulty concentrating. Occasionally they could also include episodes of psychosis.
Diagnosis can be difficult as many symptoms match other conditions and the pattern of highs and lows may not be apparent for years.
Women can be at risk of depression during (prenatal) and after pregnancy (postnatal) due to hormonal fluctuations. It is a serious condition that can last for year or more in some cases.
This is a mood disorder thought to be connected to changes in light exposure throughout the year. It often starts in winter and improves in spring but it may take years for the pattern to be confirmed as SAD.
Sufferers experience symptoms such as low energy, oversleeping and craving carbohydrates. It is uncommon in Australia and more prevalent in countries of the far Northern Hemisphere during the dark winter months.
In Australia, over 1 million people of all ages are affected each year including 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men. It is generally not dependant on age, race or class although it can be more prevalent in some sub-groups.
There is no known cause of depression however several factors are thought to be key to its development; life events, body chemistry and genetics. It has been proven that imbalances within the neurotransmitters in the brain have been linked to depression, however more scientific research still needs to be done before we know whether the imbalance causes depression or vice versa.
Chemical imbalances do not trigger depression on their own; otherwise we could treat it by simply addressing the imbalance. Other factors also need to come into play, but how this occurs is still the subject of much debate and research. Possible triggers could include:
Some people may have a genetic pre-disposition towards depression as it has been known to run in families; however this does not automatically mean that all members of the family will experience it. It just means that they may be more prone to depression when they encounter factors such as those listed above.
In many cases, the initial cause of depression may never be known. Instead of trying to identify a cause, it is unusually better to focus on recognising the symptoms and finding a way to overcome them.
It is a big step to decide to seek professional help. Sometimes it takes someone around you to voice their concern or you may reach the point when you can no longer cope.
Consider how your moods affect you and those around you. Have you experienced symptoms for long periods each day over several weeks? Are these impacting on your daily activities, relationships or interests? Have you contemplated any form of self-harm?
As soon as you are aware that you may have a problem with depression or anxiety, rather than try and deal with it on your own, it is a good idea to talk to your GP and tell them what has been going on. Sometimes this might be all you need but often, to treat your depression effectively and to help you get back on track, your GP will work with you or refer you to an appropriate mental health care professional.
Counselling techniques can help you identify your emotions or circumstances in a supportive and non-judgmental way. You will gain a fresh perspective on your situation and can learn many coping strategies. Many counsellors also run or can recommend peer support groups where you can chat to others who understand and can relate to your issues.
There are a number of treatment options you can choose from depending on your needs and preferences. The aim of all these treatments is to provide you with support and to give you the tools and resources to manage or overcome your symptoms and to get on with your life. The main forms of treatment are:
Professional counselling is a highly effective way to treat both depression and anxiety. Understanding the source of your condition is the starting point as you may not be aware of it yourself. Your counsellor will work with you to explore all the likely triggers and see how they affect your thoughts and actions. While this can be confronting at first, by discussing the issues in a calm and safe environment you will be shown ways to overcome your issues at your own pace.
Through this process you will learn to look at your life from a fresh perspective. Once you have addressed the initial trigger you will soon begin to see how it has affected other areas of your life such as your relationships. Sometimes those with anxiety issues may go on to experience depression. You may be taught techniques such as guided relaxation to help you gain control and break the anxiety cycle.
CBT is often used in combination with other forms of counselling. It is a structured technique that allows the sufferer to deal with their issues in stages. This treatment enables sufferers to see the how what they think and how they behave can impact how they feel.
You might discover unhealthy thought patterns or subconscious behaviours. CBT then helps you to explore them by breaking them down into tangible chunks and to develop a rational, problem-solving approach to overcoming them.
IPT is another structured form of therapy also used alongside other treatments. It deals with personal relationships and the social skills needed to handle them effectively. Relationship issues can be a major cause of anxiety and depression as well as being a symptom of these conditions.
Counsellors will help by looking for negative patterns in communication and behaviour within the affected relationships. Once the patterns and triggers are identified, it becomes possible to seek new, more effective ways to cope with them.
Mindfulness techniques have been increasingly used in counselling sessions and also in dedicated classes. It is a form of meditation that helps you learn to observe everything around you in an appreciative and non-judgemental way. This improved mental clarity will help you to acknowledge your anxiety and depression triggers and manage them appropriately.
Antidepressants affect the neurotransmitters that relay messages within the brain. They promote the growth of the nerve cells that control our moods. Your GP or other qualified mental health care practitioner will assess your situation with you and discuss the pros and cons of this type of therapy.
There are a wide variety of people who offer mental health services. The generic term ‘Counsellor’ is used to describe various professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers or occupational counsellors. Counsellors generally discuss your particular issues and work with you to find ways to address and overcome them. Most have undertaken years of study or additional professional development in their chosen fields however anybody can call themselves a ‘counsellor’. Also, some highly qualified counsellors may not necessarily have training in specific mental health conditions such as depression.
You may want to ask your counsellor about their type and level of qualifications or see if they are registered in Australia with a professional society or state body. Only certain kinds of practitioners can be registered with Medicare and process Medicare rebates, however most private health insurance companies in Australia have some provision for mental health care cover as part of their ‘extras’ packages.
Our directory lists hundreds of psychotherapists, psychologists, counsellors and other therapists from around Australia. These mental health experts offer counselling over the phone and online in addition to one-on-one consultations. Many also offer workshops and seminars.
Enter your postcode or suburb into our search box to see a comprehensive list of the health care professionals near you.