Blue’s Clues: Recognising Depression
Everyone has days when they feel a little blue. Feelings of sadness or grief when tough times hit is a normal part of being human, and most people pick themselves back up soon enough. But for some people, the negative feelings persist, past the point of a healthy emotional experience. These feelings may start to affect quality of work, enjoyment of hobbies and fulfillment of social and family roles.
Major depressive disorder affects 4.1% Australian adults in any 12-month period. Women are twice as likely to experience a depressive episode compared to men, and unsurprisingly, depression is more likely to impact those going through stressful situations, such as the unemployed, widowed and divorced. If left untreated, a depressive episode can last anywhere between 4 and 9 months – which is a long time to be feeling miserable. So when is sadness normal, and when should you start looking for help?
Clinical depression manifests itself in many ways, and differs from person to person. Major red flags to look out for are:
- A depressed or irritable mood, nearly every day for more than two weeks.
- Impaired social, occupational or educational activity or performance. Depression often comes with decreased motivation and energy, making it difficult to leave the house and meet friends, or fulfill work obligations.
- Decreased interest and pleasure in activities you once enjoyed.
- Overeating or appetite loss, leading to a significant change in weight of more than 5%.
- Change in sleep patterns, which may present as either insomnia, which is difficulty falling sleep, or hypersomnia, which is difficulty staying awake.
- Suicidal ideas. These can be passive (‘I don’t care if I die’), or active (‘maybe I should swerve into oncoming traffic), both of which are equally dangerous and should be taken very seriously.
If you recognise several of these symptoms in yourself or in others, especially if they have persisted for more than two weeks, it is important to seek help. Depression is a clinical disorder – it won’t simply disappear, and you can’t ‘just cheer up’ – but it can be effectively treated with therapy and medication. If you think you need help, or have concerns for a loved one, speak to a healthcare professional. It may seem tough, but with the right support, it does get better.
Up to 80% of people who experience a depressive episode will relapse. Some people are more sensitive to stressful situations, while others seem to bounce right back. However, there are ways to reduce your risk of depression:
Take care of your physical health.
A healthy diet, adequate sleep and regular exercise are antidotes to stress, which protects against developing depression. Exercise in particular is an excellent antidepressant, as it releases endorphins that boost your mood and reduce pain. Research has shown that aerobic exercise may be even better than antidepressant drugs at improving a low mood.
Build your relationships.
It’s the quality of your relationships that count, not how many you have. A strong social network will provide the support you need to recover from a tough situation. Engage regularly with your family, peers, colleagues, or join a community or sporting group. Good friends that will stick with you through life’s ups and downs have proven invaluable in warding off the loneliness that comes with depression.
Live in the now.
Mindfulness is the practice of living in the present moment, observing your thoughts and emotions as they come without judging or dwelling on them. After a stressful experience, you may be dealing with several negative thoughts, beliefs and feelings about yourself. Mindfulness exercises will help you to recognise these thoughts and respond to them compassionately, instead of destructively.
Parramatta Psychology Clinic: Psychological counseling for all common disorders.
ReachOut Australia: Supporting others with depression
Black Dog Institute: Get the facts on depression
TED Talk: The Mindful Way Through Depression by Zindel Segal