Everyone feels ‘depressed’ from time to time. Hearing some bad news on the television or in the newspaper, having a bad personal experience such as a death in the family, a robbery or even seeing one’s football team being beaten are all things that can make us feel temporarily depressed.
This feeling of unhappiness usually disappears quickly as other more pleasant aspects of our lives take over our thoughts. It is not the same as the very real, and often serious, mental illness that is called depression.
Depression is one of the most common diseases. As many as one in 5 Australians will have this illness at some stage in their life.
This illness is present when the depressed mood is inappropriate. It may last longer than usual after a bad event, such as a death in the family, or it may be present for no obvious reason. Sometimes the usual signs of depression, such as tearfulness and a feeling of unhappiness, may not be obvious and the sufferer may experience physical symptoms such as headaches and indigestion.
Depression is not just about feeling sad. It affects thinking (including having negative thoughts), the body as a whole (causing symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and body aches and pains) and behaviour (social withdrawal, reducing a range of activities), as well causing you to feel sad, bleak, hopeless or guilty.
As with many illnesses, we don’t really understand why depression affects some people and not others. It tends to run in families and can often follow a serious illness, an operation or childbirth. It may come after a loss such as the death of a spouse, loss of a job or a broken marriage.
People with depression nearly always have some of the following symptoms.
Because of the wide range of symptoms, the diagnosis of depression may not be immediately obvious to the doctor or the patient. Other illnesses such as anaemia, an underactive thyroid gland or diabetic complications may be suspected and tests done to exclude them.
It has been shown that people with depression have some abnormalities in the chemicals present in the brain. Treatment, usually with medicines known as antidepressants, can reverse these abnormalities. There are several different types of antidepressants. In recent times, new medicines have been developed that are just as effective as older ones and have fewer side effects.
These medicines are not addictive, but usually have to be taken for at least a year to have their best results.
Other forms of treatment include psychotherapy, where the patient can talk with an experienced person about their problems, and electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). ECT, which involves passing an electrical current through the brain, is normally reserved for very serious cases, often with a high risk of suicide, who are resistant to medicines.
The treatment of depression has a good success rate and for most people it will be a temporary illness in their lives, although it can recur. But if ignored, depression can have a profoundly bad effect on the affected person and their friends and family.
|If you or someone you know is depressed and/or having suicidal thoughts, see your doctor, or phone one of these helplines.|
|Lifeline (24 hours)||13 11 14|
|Kids Helpline (under 18 years of age)||1800 55 1800|
|Just Ask - rural mental health information||1300 13 11 14|
|Mensline Australia (24 hours)||1300 78 99 78|
|SANE Helpline - mental illness information, support and referral||1800 18 SANE (7263)|
Last Reviewed: 26 January 2010