Depression is the one of the most common mental health conditions in Australia. It is estimated that 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, and in any one year, around one million Australian adults have depression, and two million have anxiety.

Whilst depression and anxiety are separate illnesses, it is very common for them to occur at the same time with more than half of those diagnosed with also experiencing anxiety symptoms; therefore both conditions can go hand-in-hand.

What Is Depression?

Depression is an illness which can have a significant effect on the way a person feels physically and mentally. Overall, depression can interfere with the way a person is able to function in their day-to-day lives, making life more difficult to manage and/or cope with.

What Are The Symptoms?

Depression has a variety of symptoms which can affect people in different ways, however some may not experience all of the below symptoms:

  • Feelings of overwhelming sadness, guilt or worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in social activities and events
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Increased anxiety
  • Significant loss or gain of appetite and body weight
  • Trouble with concentration and thinking
  • Feeling physically tired and run down
  • Loss of sex drive

What Are The Causes?

Depression can have a number of possible causes, with some people more prone to having a genetic predisposition to its symptoms, followed by a trigger derived from stressful events. Depression can also:

  • Be a part of another mental illness such as bipolar or borderline personality disorder where the person may experience extreme mood swings without any reason, whether they are high and excitable, or low and depressive
  • Be a reaction to a highly stressful situation such as loss or stress. Some women can experience depression following the birth of a child, which is referred to as post-natal depression
  • Sometimes occur without any visible stress to create a trigger. In some cases the person can be deeply affected that they can experience psychosis and cannot identify what is real.

Treating Depression

There are various health professionals and mental health support services available to help with the treatment and support of depression along with various tools and techniques to allow patients to learn how to manage their condition.

Treatment is extremely effective in reducing and even eliminating the symptoms of depression, and can include a combination of medication, support, and psychological therapy.

Psychological Treatments

Symptoms of depression which are moderate to severe generally require psychological and/or medical treatments. Psychological treatments are the most effective in treating depression as they can help change thinking patterns and improve coping skills in order to help deal with any stress or conflict in day-to-day life. Psychological therapy can also help maintain your mental health by recognising and making changes to any negative thoughts and behaviour.

There are various types of treatments which help patients learn new skills to manage their symptoms including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). Psychological therapies are undertaken face-to-face with a trained professional, and there are also many growing online resources providing online course modules via the internet.

Medical Treatments

There are various types of anti-depressant medication tailored to help patients manage both anxiety and depression, as both conditions generally occur together. As depression can be either short or long term, anti-depressants are considered to be an ideal treatment for both short and long periods of time.

Medical research shows that there are specific changes that occur in the brains organic chemical balance; serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. These are compounds which act as a neurotransmitter. Anti-depressants correct the chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters (or simply known as neurons) in the brain which are probable to cause changes in our mood and behavior.

The prescription of anti-depressant medication should be made in consultation with your doctor, and are generally not recommended for patients under the age of 18 years old.

How To Manage Depression

  • Stick to your treatment plan; visit your health practitioner on a regular basis to ensure you are on track with your recovery
  • Learn how to relax; meditate daily in the morning and/or evening to assist with mood elevation, mindfulness and muscle relaxation
  • Track your thoughts; keep a diary to track any mood changes and to express your feelings
  • Talk to your close family and friends about your current diagnosis and how they can support you; your psychologist can help you in addressing this
  • Develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle; regular exercise such as a simple 30 minute brisk walk or yoga routine each day along with a diet containing good nutrients can aid in managing symptoms whilst providing distractions from negative thoughts
  • Reduce alcohol, drugs and other stimulants; particularly caffeine (coffee and tea), excess added sugars and party drugs (cocaine, speed, ecstacy and ice)
  • Learn something new; setting small, achievable goals and developing skills can boost your mood and overall self esteem
  • Take time out; feeling low and depressed can make it hard to feel motivated. Make a commitment to doing at least one thing you enjoy every day
  • Join a support group; talking to people who have gone through similar experiences can be very helpful in managing depression. There are many support groups offered through local mental health services, and online through social media forums such as Facebook.

How To Get Help

Your General Practitioner (GP) will be your best first point of contact in order to gain an official diagnosis. This will help assess which treatment plan will be suitable for you. This may include;

  • Medication
  • Referral to a mental health practitioner ie: clinical psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor

Your Mental Health Treatment Plan will also be arranged in order to receive a Medicare rebate for any necessary treatment with your new psychologist.

Definitions & References

Psychologists are trained and qualified mental health professionals who provide psychological therapies such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) at both an emotional and psychological level. Sessions can be conducted with either an individual or a group, and can provide various methods on how to manage existing symptoms.

Psychiatrists are doctors who are also extensively trained in mental health in order to make both medical and psychiatric diagnoses. Psychiatrists will generally administer medication deemed suitable to treat a patients condition, in a private practice and/or psychiatric hospitals

Counsellors are trained to give guidance on personal problems. Common personal problems include difficulties with relationships and life circumstances, grief, anxiety and depression.

Statistical Data Reference: Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007/2008).
National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007 (4326.0 & 1301.0).
Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.