What is depression

Depression or Depressive Disorders are “a group of illnesses characterised by excessive or long-term depressed mood and loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable”.

Everyone feels low at some point in their lives. Normal life events – such as a death in the family, relationship breakdowns and work stress – can bring about low mood, anxiety and sadness. However, clinical depression is much more than this.

Depression is considered a disorder, or more than a normal part of life, when a person cannot get back to or resume their normal functioning or feelings that existed prior to the low mood. These feelings are ongoing, they last more than a couple of weeks, and the low mood interferes with the individual’s normal daily functioning.

Apart from mood symptoms, depression can affect an individual’s physical, occupational and social functioning.


Types of depression

Depression is categorised as a Mood Disorder, consisting of Depressive Disorders and Bipolar Disorders.  The classification of Depressive Disorder has changed over the years, and while the medical field uses categorisation to assist in identification and treatment of depression, it should be noted that a diagnosis is not set in stone. For example, some types of Depressive Disorders morph into other categories over time.

Also, those who suffer from a particular type of Depressive Disorder can experience very different symptoms to the next person. In many instances, individuals experience depression in very different ways.

Depressive Disorders can include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder (including major depressive episode) (MDD)
  • Persistent Depressive Disorders (also known as Dysthymia) (PDD)
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PDD)
  • Substance / Medication-induced Depressive Disorder
  • Depressive Disorder due to another medical condition
  • Specified and Unspecified Depressive Disorders

Causes of depression

There is no simple answer as to what causes depression. The reasons a person experiences depression can be complex and varied. And, the different types of depression can be caused by a diverse combination of reasons.

In fact, “depression is most likely due to a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors”. Individuals may also experience depression when there is no obvious reason or trigger.

The causes of depression can be categorised into the following:

  1. Genetic predisposition
  2. Biochemical disruption or depletion
  3. Ageing
  4. Illness
  5. Stress Events

Signs of depression

The signs of depression can be difficult to recognise for those experiencing it and for those around it (such as family and friends). While it is rare for individuals to have the exact same set of symptoms, there are a number of common signs that do indicate a person is experiencing depression.

In some instances, two people can experience a depressive disorder in very different ways. This makes it confusing for those who are living with depression or for family and friends. For example, one person with depression might not be able to sleep, wakes up early and has lost their appetite, while another might start sleeping excessively and will be continuously munching while awake

Every person’s experience of depression is different:

  • Intensity level – Some people who suffer from depression will experience severe symptoms, while others will only suffer with mild symptoms
  • Number – Some individuals will show a number of symptoms, others might only show a couple
  • Frequency – in many cases, depressive episodes are recurring throughout life. The rate at which these episodes recurs can differ vastly amongst individuals
  • Length – depressive disorders are partly defined by the duration of episodes, with each person experiencing this characteristic differently
  • Individual – depression is complex and the causes consist of a combination of factors. For this very reason, the individual’s experience and the signs of depression will be significantly different
  • Stage – the stage of the depressive illness will also, in part, determine the symptoms and signs.

Treatment for depression

Treatments for depressive episodes typically offer good outcomes and in many instances, sufferers are able to return to pre-episode functioning levels. However, in some instances, the  symptoms associated with depression will remain – despite treatment.

Generally, treatment objectives for depression include symptom relief, illness reduction, containment of the risk of self-harm and / or death. The ultimate goal of treatment is to recover and achieve the level of function prior to the episode.

The Steps: Treating Depression

The treatment for depression begins by slowly reducing and / or eliminating causal factors (such as sleeping patterns, lifestyle changes and addressing substance abuse). If this first step is not effective, treatment moves onto the next step. This includes:

1. Generic Psychosocial Interventions:

  • Psychoeducation
  • Low intensity interventions
  • Formal support groups
  • Employment, housing

2. Psychological Therapy:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
  • Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy

3. Pharmacotherapy

  • First Line: SSRIS, NaSSAs, NDRIs, SNRIs, NARIs, melatonin agonist, serotonin modulato
  • Second Line: Tricyclic antidepressants, MAOIs

Further resources about depression

For immediate counselling assistance, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you think that you or someone you know may be experiencing depression, you can, in the first instance, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 to reach their confidential telephone crisis support service available 24/7 from a landline, payphone or mobile.

For help with depression, contact the following:

  • SANE helpline - Talk to a mental health professional (weekdays 10am-10pm AEST) https://www.sane.org/get-help
  • The beyondblue Support Service provides advice and support via telephone 24/7 (just call 1300 22 4636), daily web chat (between 3pm–12am) and email (with a response provided within 24 hours).
  • Lifeline can also supply you with contacts, further information and help
  • You can get help from your local GP, Community Health Centre and Community Mental Health Centre
  • Community Help and Welfare Services and 24-hour emergency numbers in your local telephone directory

Organisations that can help:

Depression Self-Test:

Depression Fact Sheets / Booklets / Publications / Guides:

Helping Someone with Depression:

Online Courses - clinically proven to help:

Chat Rooms & Messageboard:

Messageboard and chat rooms for Australians living with depression and our family & friends to communicate and share with other people:

Tools & Apps:

Professionally-reviewed mobile apps and tools to help you look after your health and wellbeing – https://au.reachout.com/tools-and-apps