What is depression?

Depression is not just about feeling down now and then.

The word depression is commonly used to describe many feelings, such as being sad, ‘blue’, miserable or upset. However, a person can feel all these emotions without suffering from the mental disorder depression. The difference lies in the length and severity of the feelings. Clinical depression is a mental, emotional and physical state that is intense, long-lasting and seriously affects daily life. It is a pervasive despair, not just a mood that someone can snap out of readily.

Depression differs from grief
It is also important to distinguish depression from the sadness naturally experienced after loss. Although the grief associated with loss is often intense and long lasting, such emotions are healthy and functional. They allow people to mourn and then adjust to their new life after the loss. Depression, on the other hand, is not functional or healthy. Instead of providing people with new avenues for development and growth, depression often robs them of finding meaning in their lives and inhibits their personal growth.

Depression is not something to be ashamed of … and it is highly treatable
Depression is not something to be ashamed of or guilty about, nor is it a character flaw or a sign of weakness. Most importantly, depression is not permanent. The chances for complete recovery are excellent. A number of psychological and drug treatments are effective, affordable and readily available.

What are the signs to look for?

Depressed people can experience a couple or many of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling sad or empty
  • Sleeping problems
  • Worrying and negative thinking
  • Feeling helpless and hopeless
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Loss of interest and energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Change in appetite  
  • Loss of confidence
  • Feeling guilty and worthless
  • Suicidal thoughts

How is depression treated?

There are two major forms of treatment for depression that may be used individually or in combination, depending on the type and severity of depression.

Psychological treatments
Psychological therapy provides the opportunity to share and work through difficulties in a supportive environment. It offers skills and strategies to change thinking patterns and behaviours that contribute to depression.

Two of the most well-researched treatments are called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy. These approaches are structured, specialised and typically far more effective than general supportive counselling. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is particularly effective in helping to reduce and control thoughts associated with depression and to develop long-term coping skills to minimise future episodes.

Medication
One aspect of depression is a change in the balance of chemicals in the brain, which impact on mood and can contribute to feeling low, sad and fatigued. Antidepressant medications are drugs that help restore the chemical balance and to alleviate biological symptoms of depression.

Combination treatments
For some types of depression, particularly severe cases, a combination of medication and psychological treatment may be helpful in the initial stages of treatment. In the long term, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is found to be as effective as anti-depression medication. Read more about the effectiveness of psychological therapies.

Who can help?

It is important that people with depression get treatment as soon as possible, especially if they are having suicidal thoughts. The APS Psychologist Referral Service can help you find an APS Psychologist with experience in treating and managing depression.