The word “depression” has many different meanings for people. It’s very common to get a “touch of the blues” or feel a bit sad, down, or flat for a day or two. Clinically, the term depression is more than this, and involves a combination of persistently low (or flat) mood, changes in biological symptoms, and changes in thinking. The low mood also has to be interfering significantly with the person’s life.
The main symptoms of depression are:
- Feeling sad, low, or flat for much of the day. You may simply notice this as a difficulty ‘bouncing back’.
- Low energy levels. You might feel lethargic with heavy limbs.
- Poor motivation. You might find it hard to start activities or persist with tasks.
- Disturbed sleep. You might sleep a lot more, or a lot less than usual, or wake up early in the morning (like 4 or 5am) and find it hard to get back to sleep.
- Changes in appetite and eating patterns. You might lose your appetite, or eat a lot more than usual, and gain or lose weight.
- Social withdrawal. You might find yourself withdrawing from social activities with friends and family.
- Losing interest and enjoyment in your usual activities. Things that you once enjoyed or looked forward to might feel like an effort and you wish you didn’t have to do them.
- Poor concentration or memory. It can be hard to think clearly, make decisions or ‘keep your mind’ on tasks.
- Decreased libido and loss of interest in sex.
- Negative thought patterns. You might feel hopeless about the future (like nothing will ever change) or helpless (like there’s nothing you can do to change things). It’s common to feel more pessimistic than usual and dwell on negative things from the past or on morbid topics like death.
- Guilty feelings. It’s common to feel excessively guilty even when things aren’t your fault.
- Loss of confidence or self-worth. You may experience more negative thoughts about yourself and your abilities.
- Suicidal thoughts and self harm. Thoughts about hurting oneself or taking your own life can range from a fleeting thought (without any intention to hurt yourself) like “I just want to end it” or “Things would be easier if I wasn’t here” to specific plans and serious intent to hurt yourself.
Doesn’t everyone have these symptoms some times?
Everyone experiences some the symptoms above some of the time. However, to diagnose Depression, a majority of the above symptoms need to be experienced for most of each day and nearly every day of the week.
It’s important to note too, that not everyone with Depression experiences all of the above symptoms. However the above symptoms are perceived as unpleasant and do impact on a person’s day-to-day activities and general enjoyment of life. If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms and/or feel that they are affecting your life it’s important to talk to someone.
View a video here of our clinical psychologist, Dr Macy Chan, talking about depression.
What are the Causes of Depression?
Many people want to know why they have depression. There are several common causes:
1) Life Events
Depression can occur as a reaction to a specific event. For example, a relationship breakdown, death of a loved one, losing a job, financial stress, diagnosis of a medical illness or disability, failure, isolation and loneliness…just to name a few. Basically, any event that creates stress, and is difficult to cope with or change, can lead to this condition.
Research to date has not found a specific gene for depression. Instead it is currently thought that people inherit a general tendency toward emotionality. Accordingly, research studies have shown that people with depression are more likely than people without the condition to have a relative who also suffers from this condition or with anxiety.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are produced in our brains. There are several neurotransmitters that are involved in regulating mood (serotonin is one of these). If the amounts of these neurotransmitters fall too low, or if neurotransmitters become unbalanced, depression can occur.
Changes in our hormones can play a role in depression. For example, it is common for women to become depressed after giving birth or during menopause, because of changes in their hormone levels. Changes in men’s hormones can also result in depression.
It is often difficult to pin-point the exact cause of depression. Most often several of these risk factors combine to create depression.
What does Depression Treatment Involve?
Treatment will vary from person-to-person and often depends on the causes and severity of symptoms. Some people opt for medication. However, Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT) has been shown by research to be as effective as medication.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
Carefully controlled research studies have shown that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is as effective as medication in treating depression, and better than medication at preventing future relapse of depression. CBT focuses on the role of cognitions (i.e., thoughts, beliefs and interpretations) and behaviour in determining how people feel and their well-being. Typical CBT techniques include:
- Education about depression (information about the symptoms, possible causes, factors that are maintaining the depression, and what treatment will involve)
- Increasing enjoyable activities and physical activity in your day-to-day routine
- Identifying and changing unhelpful negative thinking patterns that are causing the depression
- Identifying and changing unhelpful behaviours (e.g., social withdrawal, self-destructive behaviours, avoidance).
- Increasing everyday coping skills (e.g., problem-solving skills, strategies to regulate mood, etc)
- Planning for the future and preventing relapse
To read more about CBT click here.
If you would like to find out more about our Cognitive-Behavioural Treatment (CBT) for Depression, or to book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists who provides treatment for this condition, please email or call the clinic on 02 9438 2511.
To view the profiles of our team members, click here.