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What is depression?

Depression is among the most common of all mental health conditions, and impacts many Australians every day. While we all get sad, feel low or lacking in energy at times, people with depression experience these feelings more intensely and for longer. They can find it difficult to carry on with regular daily tasks during periods of depression.

Depression is common — it affects 1 in 16 Australians each year. If you or someone you care about is experiencing an episode of intensely low mood remember that depression can be treated and support is available. It’s important to seek help.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Symptoms of depression involve the way a person feels, thinks and behaves. There are also physical signs of depression. People with depression may feel:

  • sad or teary

  • overwhelmed

  • guilty

  • restless or angry

  • lacking in confidence

  • hopeless or disappointed

People with depression may have recurring negative thoughts, such as:

  • 'I’m no good.'

  • 'It’s all my fault.'

  • 'Life’s not worth living.'

  • 'People would be better off without me.'


People with depression may also have altered behaviours, such as:

  • not taking part in activities and hobbies they used to enjoy

  • staying in, rather than going out socially

  • being less productive at school or work

  • drinking more alcohol

  • losing interest in sex


People with depression may experience these physical symptoms:

  • sleep problems: difficulty sleeping and/or feeling tired during the day

  • changed appetite: with or without weight loss or gain

  • feeling run down or sick

  • headaches

  • muscle pain

  • churning stomach


While anyone with depression can experience any symptom, men and women tend to experience and report symptoms differently. Men are more likely to talk about the physical symptoms of depression such as feeling tired, irritable or angry, rather than saying they feel low.

If you or someone you care about has been experiencing these signs and symptoms for 2 weeks or more, it’s time to get some help from a health professional, such as your GP.

How is depression diagnosed?


If you are concerned about your mental health, or the mental health of someone you care about, it’s important you speak with a health professional, such as a GP. A mental health assessment usually involves a discussion or answering a questionnaire, as well as a physical examination. This will help your doctor differentiate between mental and physical health problems.

Your doctor will want to understand how you feel and think, and check for any symptoms of depression, such as in your energy levels, appetite, sleep and whether you are feeling restless, hopeless or sad. If you have a family history of mental illness — either depression or some other condition — tell your GP since this can help with your diagnosis. Your answers will help your GP determine whether a specialist such as a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist might be helpful.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, its best to seek help early and your GP is a good place to start. There's no need to struggle on your own. Seek help:

  • if you are feeling sad, teary or overwhelmed most of the time

  • if these feelings have been with you for 2 weeks or more

  • if your low mood affects how you cope at home, work or school.


Your GP can suggest effective treatment options, and the sooner your symptoms are addressed, the better the outcome will likely be.

Some people with depression feel that life is too difficult, not worth living or even that they themselves are worthless. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, don’t wait — seek help now.

Suicide and crisis support

If you or someone close to you is in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm, call triple zero (000).

To talk to someone now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

How is depression treated?

Depression is a serious health issue and should be managed by a qualified health practitioner. Your GP can assess your mood and your overall health, and will suggest treatment approaches based on several factors, including what type of depression you have, how severe your symptoms are and whether you are experiencing a first or recurrent episode.

There are 3 main approaches to treating depression: lifestyle changes (including reducing substance use, improving sleep, exercise); psychological treatments (‘talking therapies’ such as CBTmindfulness and online therapies); and physical therapies (including medicines and ECT). Often these treatments are used in combination.

A wide range of medicines are used in treating depression, and your doctor will work with you to find the one that is right for you. It can take several weeks for an antidepressant medicine to work fully, and often your doctor may need to adjust your dose.

It is important that you receive full support during this time and Beyond Blue has a free telephone counselling support line with trained mental health professionals.

By working with your doctor, and drawing on the support available, there is a good chance your depression will improve


Can depression be prevented?

Even if you are more vulnerable to depression, there is plenty you can do to keep symptoms away.

Some proven strategies to help you stay well include:

  • exercising

  • avoiding harmful levels of alcohol and other substance use

  • improving your sleep

  • reducing anxiety, such as through relaxation techniques

  • staying active

  • staying sociable, so you avoid becoming isolated


What are the complications of depression?


When depression becomes very severe, dark thoughts can emerge and these can even lead to suicide. If you are having thoughts of suicide, talking to someone you trust can help.

If someone you care about has severe depression, learn the warning signs, since they may be feeling so bad that they can’t see their way out alone.

Resources and support

If you or someone near you is in immediate danger of suicide:

  • call triple zero (000); or

  • go to the nearest hospital emergency department


If you are having negative thoughts and need someone to talk to:

  • call Lifeline on 13 11 14

  • call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636

  • talk to:

    • a GP, counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist

    • family or friends

    • a teacher or coach

    • a work colleague

    • a religious leader


Beyond Blue have a factsheet on how to support someone with depression.


Beyond Blue (What is depression?), Beyond Blue (Depression), Beyond Blue (Depression signs and symptoms), Beyond Blue (Depression in men), Black Dog Institute (Depression), Black Dog Institute (Treatments for depression), Black Dog Institute (Causes of depression), Black Dog Institute (Depression during pregnancy), Heads up (Taking care of yourself and staying well), Better Health Channel (Assessments and evaluations for mental illness treatment), Heads Up (Lifestyle), Department of Health and Human Services Victoria (Preventing and managing depression) 

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