Everyone experiences feelings of sadness, disappointment, or ‘the blues’ from time to time. Depression however refers to a range of mood and other symptoms that are more intense, pervasive and long-lasting, are distressing to the person, and interfere with their day-to-day life and relationships.
The key symptoms of depression include one or both of the following:
These symptoms are experienced persistently for at least two weeks, along with several other symptoms over the same period. These vary from person to person, but can include:
There is no one cause for depression. In some individuals, stressful life events such as the loss of a job, long-term unemployment, physical health issues, family problems, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a close relationship might trigger depression. For other people, there is no obvious cause.
Some factors that might place a person at a higher risk of developing depression include:
There are many effective psychological treatments for depression. Certain specialised forms of psychological intervention tend to be more effective than general supportive counselling, as they address current issues and symptoms and also aim to reduce the likelihood of having future episodes of depression.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) focuses on unhelpful thoughts about the self, others, and the future which may contribute to depression. The goal of this type of therapy is to identify, examine, and modify these unhelpful thoughts and the behaviours that follow, and increase behaviours that might improve mood and quality of life. This includes ensuring a balance of enjoyable activities throughout each day, and a range of activities that give the individual a sense of achievement, Problem-solving, to help address possible causes of stress and lowered mood, is also an important component.
Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) involves addressing problems in the person’s relationships and expectations about others that might be contributing to the symptoms of depression. The aims of this type of therapy include helping the individual to find new ways to develop and nurture relationships, resolve conflicts with others, express emotions and communicate more effectively, adapt to life-role changes, and improve social support networks.
Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy (STPP) can help the person to become more aware and reflective of their own feelings, desires, motivations and thoughts. The goals of this therapy are to identify and change unhelpful defences which may be getting in the way of a healthy life, decrease vulnerability to depression, and build resilience.
The psychologist will ask some questions about the individual’s history, circumstances, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. They might also use questionnaires to gather more information. Together, the client and psychologist work towards an understanding of factors that might be contributing to the person’s difficulties. A treatment plan is then developed between the client and the psychologist. The psychologist might use CBT, IPT, STPP, or other psychological strategies such as mindfulness and relaxation to help in the client’s recovery.
A medical review with a GP is often recommended to help rule out whether a medical condition might account for the symptoms of depression. Where medication might be of benefit, a review with a GP or psychiatrist might be suggested.
Exercise and diet can be important in the treatment of depression, so a nutritionist, dietician or exercise physiologist might also be consulted.
When low mood persists for over two weeks and is affecting a person’s work, school, home life, or relationships, psychological assistance should be considered. To locate an APS psychologist, call 1800 333 497 or visit www.findapsychologist.org.au. A GP can also organise a referral to a registered psychologist through the Better Access to Mental Health Care items.
Australia’s largest professional association for psychologists
Provides information on anxiety, depression, and related disorders
An organisation specialising in mood disorder research and education
Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, providing assistance for individuals aged 12-25 years
A 24-hour counselling, suicide prevention and mental health support service
Telephone: 13 11 14