Health Agenda

Mental Health

Common symptoms of depression

Jenni lived with depression for decades before she finally found a way to ask for help.

“I’ve been living on what feels like a rollercoaster for most of my life,” says Jenni, now in her 50s and a grandmother. “I always knew I needed some kind of support, but mental health wasn’t spoken about, and I didn’t know how to get the care I needed. [But] I realised it’s not just about me. It’s about being well enough to care for my family, my children and my grandchildren.”

Depression affects people in different ways and can cause emotional, mental and physical symptoms.

When you feel unwell, you can go to the GP and list your symptoms. Runny nose. Sore throat. Headache. As well as helping the health professional suggest possible treatments, these symptoms also indicate that your body is rundown and not working at its best.

When it comes to depression, the signs and symptoms can be both harder to spot and harder to describe.

Simply put, depression is an ongoing feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed. There are various types of depression, ranging from mild to more severe, and it can affect people in vastly different ways.

Some facts about depression:

  • Depression impacts about 1 million Australians every year.
  • Better Health Victoria estimate that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 8 men will experience depression over the course of their life.
  • Studies by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) show depression can affect very young and even preschool children.
  • Depression can have both emotional and physical symptoms.

Knowing what some common symptoms of depression are, and their potential impact, can help us recognise when we may need some extra support.

What does depression feel like?

“The first time I noticed myself having any experience with mental illness was in the beginning of high school,” says Nic Newling, who began his harrowing mental health journey at the age of 12. “And what I noticed was real anxiety and panic.”

Emotional symptoms of depression can be tough to recognise. While some people find it hard to mask their feelings, and you can tell just by looking at them how sad or happy they are, others may deliberately hide their feelings.

“It took me a number of years to get the help I needed, having different treatments, trying different medication, it was just really debilitating,” Nic says. “I was hospitalised a couple of times. I think part of it was me not knowing how to talk about myself and my own experience.”

Symptoms of depression can be hard to recognise in ourselves. We all have moments of sadness, and times when we may feel helpless or unmotivated. While for short periods these symptoms don’t add up to depression, if these feelings remain constant for more than 2 weeks, they can be something more serious.

Here’s a list of emotional depression symptoms:

  • Low interest or motivation.
  • Feeling sad or unhappy.
  • Feelings of panic, loss of control or power.
  • Irritability or unable to concentrate or make a decision.
  • Feelings of hopelessness, and that a situation can’t ever change or improve.

What does depression look like?

People often forget that mental illness doesn’t just impact how we feel, but also how we look and behave.

Physical symptoms of depression can be just as debilitating as emotional ones, and may be a clear sign that a person is struggling.

Common physical symptoms of depression include:

  • an inability to fall or stay asleep, or unsettled sleep
  • sudden weight loss or gain
  • difficulty sitting still or concentrating for long periods
  • fatigue or very low energy
  • lower tolerance to pain
  • stomach or digestive issues
  • head or body aches and pains.

These symptoms can also be an indicator of other health issues, so ask for advice from your GP.

How symptoms of depression can impact your health

Experiencing any of the symptoms of depression described above, especially over a long period, can have a big impact on your daily life.

It could affect your ability to engage at work, the quality of your relationships with family and friends, or you may find tasks or activities that were once enjoyable become too hard.

Some facts:

  • Mental illness can increase the chance of divorce by up to 80%.
  • A study by Beyond Blue showed 1 in 5 Australians report that they have taken time off work in the previous 12 months because they felt stressed, anxious, depressed or mentally unhealthy.

Why we need help for depression

Despite a growing acceptance in society that depression and other mental-health challenges are common and should be treated like any other health condition or illness, the historic stigma around these conditions can prevent people from seeking help. This may lead to their symptoms of depression getting much worse.

Research published in Psychotherapy Research journal shows the sooner someone seeks help and treatment for any illness, the better the outcome. If you or a loved one is experiencing ongoing symptoms of depression, you can reach out for help in a number of ways.

After seeking help, Jenni admits that life is better than it’s ever been. “Over the past 18 months I’ve been in hospital for a total of 18 weeks, receiving excellent treatment for my mental health. I have benefitted so much. I don’t know what my life would look like without the care and support. I have hope, a brighter future and a solid recovery plan.”

Getting help with depression

We’re trying to make it as easy and fast as possible for you to access the mental wellbeing support you need. PSYCH2U mental wellbeing and navigation services are unique to HCF, giving eligible HCF members* access to video consultations with psychologist, psychiatrist and other allied health professionals.

All HCF members have access to online GP consultations through GP2U for free^ for a limited time. See for offer end date. If you’re worried about your mental wellbeing and have a mental healthcare plan, GP2U is a great place to start. You may also be able to access bulk-billed online GP services with your current provider. GP2U has a unique partnership with HCF, no other private health fund offers these resources to members.

Where to find more mental health help:

If you're struggling with depression or anxiety, and need to speak to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

Words by Kerry McCarthy
June 2021

related articles

How to deal with depression

Don’t deal with depression alone. There are many ways to lessen symptoms to live a healthier life.

How to cope with anxieties

When anxiety hits it can be paralysing. Here are some ways to cope and feel more in control.

Signs of childhood depression

Depression in children can look and feel very different to what an adult might experience.

How to help a child with depression

Here's how families can help a child who’s struggling with depression.


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*Must have HCF gold level hospital cover for at least 2 months. Other eligibility criteria apply.

^Some members may be eligible for Medicare benefits for a telehealth consultation with GP2U, in which case GP2U will bulk-bill those members. For mental health services, you will need a mental healthcare plan from your GP to access support. For all other services, HCF will pay the GP2U consultation fee for a limited time. See