What is depression and could I have it?

Health Agenda
Mental Health

The signs of depression

While emotional ups and downs are normal, there’s a big difference between feeling sad and suffering with depression.

Juggling work, relationships, financial burdens and more, can result in many of us having a bad day.

Feeling stressed, or sad or overwhelmed at different times is just as natural as feeling content, excited or happy.

But with a growing awareness and acceptance of conversations around mental health, people may start to fear their “bad day” is something more.

While depression is common in Australia, with 1 in 16 of us currently experiencing clinical depression, it’s important not to self-diagnose (hello Dr Google) and to seek the proper help and advice if you need it.

By understanding the signs and symptoms of depression you could gain better insight into your own thoughts and feelings.

“It took a long time to get really, really well, but it took a short time to have a really huge breakthrough,” says Nic Newling, who had his first psychotic episodes at the age of 12 and was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder years later.

“When I got that diagnosis and it was right, I was given the right treatment for the right condition and within a few months, I was feeling so much better,” he says.

What is depression?

The World Health Organization describes depression as: ‘a common mental disorder affecting more than 264 million people worldwide. It is characterised by persistent sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities.’

Causes of depression include (but are not limited to): 

  • biology - genetics, age, gender, brain function, physical illness and personality type

  • life circumstances - abusive relationships, prolonged work stress, discrimination or poverty

  • major life events - losing a loved one, heartbreak, immigration or becoming a parent.

You can find more information on a range of depression disorders, including postnatal depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at Beyond Blue.

Depression is not one thing or condition to all people, it affects people in vastly different ways, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

Am I depressed?

Melbourne-based clinical psychologist Nasalifya Namwinga says the 2 major signs of depression you need to look out for are:

1. Changes in the way you feel

‘If you’ve been feeling abnormally irritable, miserable, sad, frustrated or overwhelmed for more than 2 weeks, you may be depressed.

“Another red flag is inappropriate guilt,” says Nasalifya. “Feeling responsible for things that are not your fault. That tends to happen quite a lot when people are clinically depressed.”

Depression can also have physical symptoms, like fatigue, sleep problems, changes in appetite and sex drive, inability to concentrate, and overreliance on alcohol and drugs.

2. Changes in behaviour

Significant shifts in how you’re looking after yourself (that are unusual in your current situation) may also be a warning sign.

“Things like showering, eating and sleeping more or less. Whether it’s more or less doesn’t matter so much. It’s whether there’s been a significant shift in the behaviour,” Nasalifya says.

Lack of pleasure and loss of interest in things you usually like doing is another sign.

“Are you eating to feel good or to feel numb? Are you drinking a glass of wine after work to relax, or are you drinking to the point where you don’t even enjoy it?” asks Nasalifya.

I think I’m depressed. What now?

Depression and the conditions that the term covers - everything from postnatal depression to bipolar mood disorder - is treatable, and treatment can be very effective.

Just like when you’re feeling physically unwell and you go to the doctor, it’s just as important to seek professional help for depression.

While online resources (like this self-test on the Black Dog Institute website) are good places to start, it’s important to seek help from your GP or mental health professional, who’ll point you towards the right treatment.

Practicing self-help and self-care

Hesitating to seek treatment for depression is understandable. Some people may hold back out of a reluctance to be labelled.

Historically there has been a stigma attached to mental illness. Unlike the 40% of women with a mental-health problem who’ll seek help, only 27% of affected men will look for support. 

‘With mental illness, we tend to keep things to ourselves for fear of being judged,’ says Nic, ‘so that created a stigma in me, where I felt it wasn’t appropriate to speak about it.’

Nasalifya says it’s important for everyone to reach out to services that make them feel comfortable – whether that’s your GP, a specific practice or a therapist who understands your circumstances.

“Self-care is important. Sometimes people think it’s having a bath, but that’s not really what self-care is,” says Nasalifya.

“Self-care is having enough compassion for yourself to know that you’re deserving of time and energy, to know when you’re not okay, and that you can get help. Talk to yourself like you’re talking to someone you love.”

Getting help for 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 psychologists, psychiatrists and other allied health professionals.

Reset drinking habits with the Daybreak app⁺, Hello Sunday Morning’s online behaviour change program giving you access to 24/7 digital support. The program connects you anonymously with a like-minded online community trying to change their relationship with alcohol.

The Daybreak app is fully subsidised by the Australian Department of Health, which means all Australians get free access.

HCF members may also have access to additional mental health support.

Download the Daybreak app on the App Store or Google Play.

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

Where to find more mental health help:

Words by Mariella Attard
Updated June 2021

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