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Depression is a mental health condition. It’s associated with a persistent low mood and disinterest in life.
It’s not the same as feeling unhappy for a few days or overwhelmed after a big week at work. Instead, depression is a heavy feeling that sticks around – day and night. It can also make it difficult to take part in everyday activities.
Depression is both a symptom, as well as a condition itself.
This means you could be diagnosed with depression as your primary health concern. Yet, you may also show signs of depression if you’re dealing with chronic pain or another medical issue.
In Australia, psychologists refer to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses) when patients show depression symptoms. This manual helps with identifying, diagnosing and categorising depression. It also help with deciphering between the many depression causes.
The official criteria for depression is complex. It involves having 5 or more of the following symptoms during the same 2 week period. Plus, these symptoms cannot have previously existed in the same way.
Everyone’s depression symptoms are unique. Yet, they all relate to changes in the brain’s neurotransmitters. Dysfunction with dopamine, norepinephrine and/or serotonin levels can occur.
Some types of depression have a specific set of symptoms or onset. This helps with categorisation, which can include:
Also called clinical depression, depression, unipolar depression
Major depression is when you have a low mood, feel sad most of the time, and lose interest in things that used to give you joy. It can be mild, moderate or severe and lasts consistently for at least two weeks. Types of major depression include:
Lasts at least 2 years and manifests similarly to Major Depression, though it’s usually less severe.
A mood disorder triggered by seasonal changes. It usually occurs in Europe during winter, as the weather is colder and there’s less natural light available. Australians are less susceptible to SAD as we enjoy longer, brighter days all year round. SAD symptoms include low energy and motivation, sleeping a lot, carbohydrate cravings.
A combination of depression, mania and normal moods, but not all at the same time. Mania is when you have loads of energy, feel great and are prone to hyperactive thoughts. Hallucinations, delusions and paranoia may also occur. Cyclothymic Disorder is a less severe version of Bipolar Disorder. It usually lasts for at least 2 years.
Depression medication may be used to support all of these conditions.
In Australia, R U OK? Day promotes mental health awareness and is held each September. It encourages Aussies to start a conversation with friends and family who may be struggling with depression, or life in general.
Katy Perry, the award-winning singer, says antidepressant medication helped her through clinical depression. She called them a ‘crutch for her brain’ while she was recovering.
Actress Brooke Shields used depression medication to help her deal with postnatal depression. She took them to treat feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts, following the birth of her first child.
Depression symptoms and signs include:
Psychological: Feeling sad, empty, hopeless or worthless; frustration and irritability; loss of interest in everyday activities; anxiety; restlessness; obsessing about past failures; suicidal thoughts; poor concentration and difficult making decisions.
Physical: Sleeping more or less; fatigue; low appetite with food cravings; weight loss or weight gain; headaches/migraines and unexplained physical problems.
NB: Signs of depression can vary significantly from person to person. Please seek help from a health professional if you’re concerned about your mental health.
Depression medication is not the only treatment for depressive disorders. There are many recovery options available and here’s a selection of the most common:
Depression causes you to have a low mood, however there isn’t one blanket cause of depression. The most common contributing factors include:
Here are some natural, drug-free ways to minimise depression symptoms:
Exercise has an antidepressant effect that benefits all types of mental health disorders. It triggers the release of feel-good endorphins in the brain and can even reduce the need for depression medication.
A Healthy Diet that’s full of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant proteins supports mental wellbeing. It also helps minimise nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, oxidative stress and poor gut health. All these factors can exacerbate depression symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for depression. It involves working with a psychologist to identify and reprogram unproductive thoughts and behaviours.
Supplements can help reduce depression symptoms. The best choices support neurotransmitter health, cognitive function and energy . Popular supplements for depression include Vitamin B-Complex, Magnesium, St John’s Wort, Rhodiola.
Acupuncture stimulates the release of beneficial brain chemicals, which helps regulate neurotransmitters. This can improve physical pain, mood and energy.
Meditation can change how the brain processes stress and anxiety. This helps to lift mood and lower depressive tendencies.
The following health experts can help treat depression:
Here’s how to help someone who’s feeling low:
What are 5 signs of major depression?
What are 6 causes of depression?
Depression can be caused by:
What are 3 ways people deal with depression?