Depression is very common, with one in seven Australians experiencing it in their lifetime. Its severity can range from being mild to extremely debilitating, such that the World Health Organisation estimates that depression will be the number one health concern in both developed and developing nations by 2030. The positive aspects of this rise in depression are that effective treatments are continuing to be improved all the time, and that the stigma of mental illness has reduced dramatically. There are now ways to manage or overcome depression, and you don’t need to struggle alone without support.
This article will focus on clinical depression, or officially called Major Depressive Disorder, though there are other less common variants such as Bipolar Disorder.
The word depression itself conjures up images in our minds of someone crying ceaselessly. While it can look like tearfulness, it can also manifest in other ways. It is not uncommon for people to outwardly seem fine and hide their problems from even their closest friends and family. For a diagnosis of clinical depression, for at least two weeks the person will have experienced:
- Low mood or feelings of emptiness for most of the day on most days, and/or
- Loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities most of the day almost every day.
There will also be a number of other symptoms this person may be struggling with, such as insomnia, change in appetite/weight, feelings of hopelessness, social withdrawal, lack of motivation, or suicidal thoughts.
Sometimes depression comes without any specific trigger. Sometimes depression is very obviously triggered by something stressful. In either of these situations, there may be no difference in the severity of depression, or no correlation in how disruptive it is to that person’s life.
No one chooses to be depressed. Many people with severe depression commonly think to themselves “If I could just pull myself together”, or “I’m so weak”. Some people even have it said to them, which is doubly unhelpful. Depression isn’t a choice, much like how cancer isn’t a choice. There is a genetic factor, so if you have an immediate family member with depression, you’re around 15% more likely to have depression. Additionally, a difficult childhood or ongoing stressful life circumstance can make you more likely to develop depression. It can affect people of any age, race, gender, or any other demographic group.
What to do?
Mental health and physical health are closely linked, so it’s helpful to eat well, sleep well, and exercise regularly to give your brain the best setup to be healthy. Some studies show that exercise has a similarly positive effect on mood as taking anti-depressant medication. However, exercise can be especially hard when you’re depressed, so it’s important to not beat yourself up when you don’t go for that jog.
There is a lot of recent evidence that Mindfulness is effective in managing depression. It helps you to focus on the present and not be overwhelmed by your past or your future. Check out the Headspace website and app here to find out more.
Treatment by a psychologist is always an option, whether your depression is mild or severe. Therapy approaches such as cognitive behaviour therapy teaches strategies to counter negative self-talk or unhealthy behaviours. Research shows psychological therapy to be at least as effective as medication, plus its effects are lasting because you are learning strategies to manage depressive symptoms.
In severe depression, medication can help reduce symptoms so the person can utilise the strategies provided in psychological therapy. These medications will be prescribed by a GP or psychiatrist. There are also treatment options such as ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) or TMS (transmagnetic stimulation) which are administered by a psychiatrist. They are safe and can be very helpful for treating depression where therapy and medication have not been effective.
Where to go?
Despite what depression is trying to tell you, you’re not alone. The main thing is to reach out for help, whether that be with a trusted friend or family member, a GP, or a mental health professional such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist. With the right support, self-care techniques, and/or treatments, depression doesn’t have to rule your life.