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Depression

Making the decision to get help is often the first and most important step towards healing.

People often talk about ‘being depressed’ if they are having a bad day, or are experiencing problems at work or home. While these kinds of challenges and difficulties are a normal part of life, and can make us temporarily stressed or sad, these feelings should eventually pass on their own, without treatment. If you have these feelings and they do not pass, there is effective help available. It is important to get the right help early – the sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can learn to manage your feelings better and reconnect with your life.

What is depression?

Depression is a condition that can exist in varying severities, from mild to moderate to severe. For someone to be diagnosed with depression, they need to show a range of symptoms over a period of time. Depression impacts on the way you feel, think and behave. Often people describe feeling helpless, hopeless and worthless. Thoughts become extremely negative and pessimistic, and this leads to withdrawal from other people and everyday activities. This pattern is often referred to as the ‘downward spiral of depression’ and helps to explain why it is so hard to lift yourself out of depression.

Some women who are depressed blame themselves for their low moods, lethargy and lack of motivation. They describe feeling guilty, and wish they could ‘just snap out of it’. If you are depressed, it’s important to know that it is not your fault and that there is nothing wrong with seeking professional support to help lift you out of depression.

If you have had thoughts about harming yourself you should seek immediate professional help. See the ‘Where do I go for help?’ section at the end of this fact sheet. Even if you think you may be experiencing a milder form of depression, do not downplay or ignore it. There are now effective treatments that can help you manage or recover from your depression and stay well.

What are some of the signs of depression?

Symptoms can vary from one person to another, and from one day to the next, and are not always easily recognisable. As a rule of thumb, if you have experienced five or more of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, it is worth seeking a professional opinion about whether it may be depression.

  • feeling extremely unhappy or tearful for an extended period
  • loss of interest and pleasure in normal activities
  • feeling tired all the time and lacking energy
  • sleeping difficulties – either sleeping too much or being unable to sleep
  • trouble concentrating and making decisions
  • feeling worthless
  • feeling guilty
  • losing interest in food, or eating too much
  • feeling suicidal – like there’s no point in going on

You can also do a confidential online depression check at Beyond Blue.

It’s common for women who experience depression to also experience anxiety. For more information, see WIRE’s Anxiety information sheet.

What factors contribute to depression?

There are many factors that can create a sense of powerlessness and anxiety. They can affect our ability to cope with life events, or even just our daily routines. Some examples of factors that increase the likelihood of experiencing depression include:

  • Experiencing, living with, or witnessing violence (for more information see Family Violence: What you can do for yourself and your family; Young people who use violence in the home; Stalking; and Sexual assault)
  • Life events such as the death of a parent, the birth of a child, the end of a relationship, job stress, menopause, chronic illness or dealing with family problems
  • Social factors like money worries, unemployment, poor quality housing, loneliness, racism, social isolation and language barriers
  • There is some evidence that the tendency to develop depression runs in families – if close family members have experienced depression, you may be more prone to depression at particularly stressful or distressing times in your life
  • If you have experienced depression in the past, you are at greater risk of depression

Sometimes it may seem to you that there is nothing obvious that has triggered your depression and this brings its own sense of guilt. You may ask yourself, “I have the perfect life – a great home, husband, kids, a job – how can I be depressed?” If this is the case, you may find that counselling can help you identify underlying factors that may be affecting you.

What can I do to help myself if I’m depressed?

Making the decision to get help is often the first and most important step towards healing. This could include talking to your GP, seeing a counsellor or psychologist, or enrolling in self-help classes or a support group.

Self-help

The ‘right way’ to care for yourself is whatever works for you. Here are a few simple and practical things you can do to help yourself:

  • Talk to someone you trust and tell them how you feel. You may be surprised by how supportive and non-judgmental their response is. There is no need to suffer in silence.
  • Take good care of yourself. Stick to a daily routine, eat well and avoid alcohol, mood altering drugs and drugs that have not been prescribed for you.
  • Exercise has been shown to have an especially positive effect on reducing the symptoms of depression. Find an activity that you enjoy.
  • Set yourself small, achievable goals for each day.
  • Push yourself to seek out company, even if you don’t feel like it.
  • If you cannot find the motivation to try or maintain any of these strategies, it may be time to seek the help of a professional.

Therapy or counselling

As difficult or daunting as it may seem at first, talking to a counsellor or other mental health professional can be very helpful in attempting to understand the complex factors that contribute to your depression. A therapist will teach you new skills that will help you to change negative patterns of thought and behaviour. Knowing more about the way you react to certain situations and people, and learning how to sort out problems and conflicts, can be an important part of getting better.

Good therapy is very effective in relieving and preventing further bouts of depression. You can claim up to 10 individual or group therapy sessions for your depression per year through Medicare if your GP refers you. See WIRE’s Counselling fact sheet for tips on how to look for a therapist and an approach that is right for you.

Medication

Your GP or psychiatrist may recommend that you take anti-depressants to help lift your depressed mood. These drugs can take several weeks to take effect and require careful monitoring to ensure that the type and dosage suits you. Like all medications, there can be side-effects with antidepressants – these should be discussed with your doctor. If you are advised by a professional to take medication, take some time to make your decision.

Do some research for yourself – the more you know about the medication and its effects, the less anxious you will feel. There are many reputable web sites and organisations that can give you information to help you make this decision.

Generally speaking, medication is not an answer by itself, and it usually works best in combination with other therapies. You may find medication can give you the relief from symptoms, and give you the ‘head space’ you need to really get the most out of your counselling. For more information see the Beyond Blue fact sheet Types of treatment available for depression.

Support groups

Talking to people who have felt the same way, to offer and receive support, share your ways of coping, and to know you are not alone with your problem can be of great benefit. If you have access to the internet, you can also talk to others on forum groups like dNet.

Why do women have higher rates of depression?

According to figures extrapolated from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing by Beyond Blue, one in six women and one in eight men will experience depression at some point in their adult lives. More often than not, women still shoulder the burden of raising children and running a house – not to mention the hours spent in paid and voluntary work. As the main carers and nurturers in our society, women often put others’ needs first, and neglect their own emotional and psychological wellbeing. Many women may not learn to be assertive and state their needs, which can also lead to feelings of helplessness, worthlessness and depression.

Pregnancy, the birth of a child, menopause, or just dealing with normal hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle also affect the way a woman feels and behaves, and can make her more vulnerable to depression at these times. Some of the many conflicting pressures that women face each day that combine to create higher rates of emotional distress include:

  • feeling powerless, unappreciated and misunderstood
  • the stress of juggling work and family responsibilities
  • discrimination in the workplace
  • sexual and physical abuse
  • family violence
  • feeling responsible for managing relationship problems
  • negative body image

Post-natal depression

Postnatal depression (PND) affects 16% of new mothers in Australia. These women find it increasingly difficult to cope after the birth of their baby and experience intense feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness and regret – some have panic attacks and are unable to leave the house or look after their baby. As with depression experienced at other times, it is important to get the right help early – the sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can recover. In the first instance, you could speak with your maternal and child health nurse or GP. For more information see Beyond Blue or PANDA.

Treatment

  • Family doctor (GP)
  • Community health centres
  • Self-help and mutual support groups
  • Maternal and child health nurse

Where do I go for help?

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