Depression can happen to anyone. One in 20 Australians are affected by depression each year. Understanding the signs and symptoms of depression, how they appear in different people, and where to go to get help are important. Depression is a common medical condition. It can cause a low mood that doesn’t go away and makes us feel very sad or withdrawn. It interferes with the way we go about our everyday lives and can make it hard to cope. Some people describe it as being in a really dark place that’s difficult to come back from. Others describe it as a numb feeling. It’s important to get help to manage depression. There are lots of ways to treat it, and you can feel better.
Am I just feeling down or could it just be depression? We can all feel ‘down’ and being sad sometimes is a normal response to life events. It’s part of what makes us human. Sometimes we just feel ‘blue’ for no apparent reason.
People often incorrectly use the term ‘depression’ to describe these passing feelings after loss and during hard times.
Our sadness and depressed feelings usually resolve with time. However, people with clinical depression may become irritable, lose interest in things, and find it hard to cope.
Clinical depression is more than the occasional low mood
If you find yourself having intense, sad or depressed feelings for longer than two weeks, and they start to affect the way you’re living life, it’s important to find help.
There are many effective treatments for depression, and you can feel better.
How can I tell if someone I know has depression? It’s not always easy to know whether someone else is experiencing depression.
Sometimes changes in mood and behaviour happen slowly, and it’s easy to miss. People don’t always tell us about their thoughts and how they are feeling, especially if they are depressed and worried.
If you think someone you know might be depressed and they don’t want to talk about it:
• explain your concerns and encourage them to see their doctor
• check in regularly with them and make sure they are getting support.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression: Signs and symptoms of depression can be physical or emotional. You may recognise some of these symptoms of depression in yourself, or in someone you know. Having one or two of these symptoms may not necessarily indicate depression, but it’s a good idea to check with your GP.
You might be feeling:
• sad, teary, anxious or irritable
• hopeless and bad about yourself
• alone and isolated
You may be thinking:
• ‘my problems are too difficult to solve’
• ‘life is too hard’
• ‘everything’s going to go wrong’
• ‘I’m no good’
• ‘it’s all my fault’.
Perhaps you’re having changes in:
• ability to find enjoyment and pleasure in things
• quality of sleep (sleeping a lot, waking up a lot, or insomnia)
• appetite or weight
• interest in sex
• concentration and remembering things
• drinking or use of drugs.
If you’ve been feeling these signs and symptoms for more than two weeks, make sure you get some help from a health professional such as your GP.
There are several different types of depression. Some can go away by themselves but others need treatment.
There are many effective ways to help depression, such as exercise, counselling, and medication.
Remember, you can feel better.
Depression In Children:
Depression in very young children is not common. However, it can happen in some situations such as with neglect and abuse; or to a lesser extent, with overprotective parenting.
Depression in children who are going through puberty is more common.
Depression in children can also be associated with family problems or big changes to a child’s life, such as the birth of a sibling or a school move.
If you’re worried about your child, it’s always best to seek professional help.
Common signs of depression in children in the years before puberty include:
• prolonged sad mood
• loss of interest in normal activities such as playing and games
• withdrawal at home and school
• new behaviours such as stealing or bullying
• sleep disturbances and tiredness
• bed wetting.
Where can I get help for a child who might have depression?
Visit your GP
It’s a good idea to see your doctor first. Your family doctor can give you lots more information about childhood depression and mental health. They can also check on the general health of your child and rule out any other health problems.
Your doctor might refer your child to an accredited child and adolescent psychiatrist. These professionals are trained to assist young people.
Mental health services
Your doctor might also connect you with a specialist child or adolescent mental health service provided through the public health system.
Other child and adolescent specialists
Your doctor can advise you about other specialists who provide help for children all the time. These are professionals like paediatricians and child psychologists.
Community health centres
You can also check out mental health programs at your local community health centre.
You could talk to the counsellor at your child’s school. School counsellors are trained to help kids and have access to many sources of help.You can find out more about helping a child here.
Further information and support
You can find further information from youth mental health websites and phone counselling services.
Depression In teens and young adults:
Being a teenager and getting older includes lots of change and challenges. Often we’re studying at school or starting uni. We’re getting jobs, going out with friends, playing sport, and dating. There are lots of new social situations, and we might be around drugs and alcohol. Our bodies are changing fast and there are lots of different pressures on us. Life can be really awkward and hard sometimes.
Something’s not right about the way I’m feeling
It can be hard to tell the difference between the ups and downs of being a teenager and being depressed.
We all have those days when we just feel ‘down’. We usually ‘bounce back’ with time. Sometimes though, young adults and teenagers with clinical depression are not able to pick themselves up from being really down.
Some people describe it as being in a really dark hole that you can’t dig yourself out of. These sad or depressed feelings can start to take over our thoughts and enjoyment of life.
My ‘down’ mood has been around a while and isn’t getting better
If being sad and depressed is taking over, and stopping you from being able to go out and do the things you normally enjoy, it’s important to talk to someone. The sooner you get some help, the better it is for you.
It’s important you take our mental health seriously
Lots of us have challenges with mental health at this time of our lives. In fact, one in every four young people experiences mental health problems. GPs and other health professionals help people with depression and mental illness all the time.
Having a couple of these symptoms may not mean you are depressed. It’s a good idea to check them out with your doctor anyway.
Signs and symptoms of depression in teenagers and young adults
You might be feeling:
• really sad or teary
• worthless – low self esteem
• irritated and angry
• confused and distracted
You might be thinking:
• ‘life sucks’
• ‘life’s too hard’
• ‘I can’t stop thinking about my problems’
• ‘I can’t be bothered’
• ‘I don’t want to go out’.
You might be having changes in:
• sleep patterns – sleeping lots or waking lots
• appetite – eating more or not wanting to eat much
• emotions that are hard to control
• concentration and remembering things
• health – such as a churning tummy and headaches.
When you’re depressed, you may not show obvious signs of depression.
You might start to behave out of character in ways like:
• not wanting to be social and see friends
• having falling school grades
• not wanting to turn up to work or school
• doing risky things – like driving fast, having inappropriate sex, abusing drugs and alcohol.
Where can I get help for myself or for someone I know?
Seek immediate help if you are having thoughts of suicide or are feeling that life is no longer worth living. Emergency help
See your doctor
If you think you are depressed, or that someone you are close to might be depressed, it’s important to see your GP.
Your GP will talk to you about your feelings and if required, they’ll make you a treatment plan. They might refer you to a mental health worker or child and adolescent psychiatrist.
Community health centres
You can also check out mental health programs at your local community health centre.
School counsellors are trained to help young people and have access to many sources of help.
Talk to a close family member or someone you can trust
Get more information
Seek further information from ReachOut.com and other youth mental health websites and phone counselling services. There are many effective ways to help depression, such as exercise, counselling, and medication.
Remember, depression is a common health problem and there are lots of people who can help you get better.
Depression in Pregnancy and Post natal depression:
Around 50-80% of women experience a brief period of mood swings, tearfulness, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping in the first week after the birth of a baby.
This experience, known as the baby blues, is thought to be linked with the stresses associated with late pregnancy, labour and birth. Rapid hormonal changes that accompany the birth may also contribute.
Symptoms generally settle during the first week after birth and require no special treatment other than adequate rest and support.
When symptoms are severe, or do not clear spontaneously within the first two weeks, it’s important to seek medical help to find out if another condition is present.
Symptoms of postnatal depression (PND)
Symptoms of anxiety and depression that start during pregnancy or the postnatal period are similar to those that occur at any other time in a woman’s life. The focus of fears and depressive concerns can be the wellbeing of the baby, or feelings of inadequacy as a parent.
Symptoms of postnatal depression can vary. Some women with postnatal depression will experience changes to their mental skills (i.e. feeling more agitated) and their physical skills (i.e. moving or doing things more slowly) more than others.
Other symptoms of postnatal depression may include:
• loss of enjoyment in usual activities
• loss of self-esteem and confidence
• loss of appetite and weight
• broken sleep (irrespective of baby)
• sense of hopelessness and feelings of failure
• frank suicidal thoughts or ideas
• panic attacks
• loss of libido
• fears for the baby’s or partner’s safety or wellbeing.
If you are experiencing any distressing symptoms that are causing you concern, your doctor, midwife, or child and family health nurse can provide you with assistance or arrange for you to see a specialist.
There are several other types of depression that occur during and after pregnancy. These include antenatal depression and postnatal (puerperal) psychosis.
Antenatal depression actually starts during pregnancy. Around 10-15% of pregnant women have mood changes during pregnancy that last more than two weeks and interfere with daily functioning.
Postnatal (puerperal) psychosis
This type of depression is sudden and severe, usually starting within two or three weeks of childbirth. Puerperal psychosis is an uncommon depression that occurs in one or two women per thousand.
Symptoms can begin during pregnancy, especially if there has been a previous episode of psychosis or bipolar disorder.
Always seek urgent medical help if you, your partner, or your family suspect this.
You can read more about the symptoms of postnatal psychosis in our fact sheet, depression during pregnancy.
Getting help for antenatal and postnatal depression
If you’re concerned about how you’ve been feeling, there are many health professionals who can help with depression. Start with your GP. You can also talk to your obstetrician, psychiatrist, midwife, family health nurse, psychologist or counsellor.
Fathers and postnatal depression
Men also experience the pregnancy of their partners and the birth of a new baby as a stressful time. It’s a time filled with new challenges and adjusting to new routines and roles. This can lead to anxiety and depression in men, just as it can for some women.
Sources of help for men
Mensline Australia | 1300 78 99 78?
Mensline is a national 24-hour telephone helpline service for men who are dealing with family and relationship difficulties.
This US website provides a self-assessment for new dads to determine whether they might have depression, as well as an online forum and a great deal of information. Visit the Postpartum Men website
Real Men. Real Depression
The US National Institute of Mental Health website has information focused on men and depression, including stories and resources. Visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.
Pillars of Strength
This Australian organisation fills a gap in the men’s health and mental health sector by providing respite and support for men going through significant family trauma, including grieving through neonatal loss. Visit the Pillars of Strength website
Depression in people over the age of 65:
People over 65 are less likely than other age groups to report depression. They may not want to acknowledge being sad, down or depressed. This could be due to shame and lack of understanding, or a belief that you don’t talk about depression and not coping.
Depression in later years often goes undetected and may be wrongly attributed to age, dementia or poor health. Signs of depression in adults over 65 can include unexplained physical symptoms, memory loss, and various behavioural changes.
Causes of depression in old age vary according to when the depression was first experienced. If depression was first experienced earlier in life then genetic, personality, and life experiences will be likely causes. If the depression is first developed later in life then physical health problems may be the cause.
Depression in people over the age of 65 can:
• be associated with social isolation and loneliness
• have adverse affects if left untreated
• be treated using similar treatments for depression for other age groups
• be prevented by lifestyle changes made in mid life.
Your doctor is the best first port of call if you’re over 65 and experiencing depression.
Doctors treat depression all the time and they have good resources to help you. Age does not reduce the effectiveness of treatments for depression.
Depression in the physically ill:
Diagnosing depression in someone physically ill can be quite complicated
Having a physical illness is often associated with standard measures that are also used to figure out if you are experiencing depression, such as fatigue, loss of interest, and lack of energy. People with a physical illness can be falsely diagnosed as having ‘depression’.
If you are physically ill and think you are experiencing depression it is very important to seek professional help. Depression prolongs the recovery of the physical illness. Depression could also be an indicator of other physical issues that may warrant proper assessment and treatment.
Physical illness can trigger depression.
A significant percentage of people experiencing a physical illness are likely to experience a range of stress and distress symptoms. These include anxiety and depression, which reflect the impact of the physical illness.
Depression is more likely to occur at a later stage of the illness, particularly if you have experienced a loss of functioning or a decrease to your ongoing good health.
Physical illness can itself bring on depression or cause it to appear in the form of new physical symptoms or sensations.
Put simply, it is thought that stress and depression might lower a person’s tolerance threshold so that they begin to observe physical sensations and feelings they didn’t notice before.
The other explanation is that certain illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, cancers of the pancreas and the lung, and disordered thyroid function, significantly increase the chances of developing depression.
Depression increases risk of some physical illnesses
In recent years, we have become aware that depression may significantly increase the chances of developing certain physical conditions, and also influence their outcome. One example involves a link with heart attacks.
A number of longitudinal studies have followed adults over decades. They’ve established that those who had experienced a depressive episode are at higher risk of heart attack than those who haven’t had a clinical depressive episode.
The impact of medications
Many medications used to treat physical conditions may induce depression. For example some blood pressure tablets and hormone replacement therapy medications.
A further link between physical illness and depression is currently attracting increasing research interest and clinical attention. This involves the capacity of various antidepressant drugs to influence the disease process.
For example, a number of studies have shown that for those who have diabetes mellitus, some antidepressant drug classes may influence plasma insulin and glucose levels.
Potential for drug-drug interactions
Mixing medications may have consequences, including causing depression. If you are taking medications and think you may be depressed, you should see your doctor. Let your doctor know what medications you are taking so they can assess whether any of those medications may be causing depression or depressive symptoms.
Depression can hamper recovery
With certain physical conditions, such as a heart attack, being depressed around that time means that recovery can be hampered.
Having a depressive disorder at the same time as having a physical illness can mean that it is more difficult to recover properly, and that risk may persist for more than two years after the episode of the illness.