Depression doesn’t discriminate. A depressed mood is something most of us will experience at some point in our lives. We all feel low sometimes, often in response to different stressors. If you’ve been feeling a bit numb or disconnected, and a low mood has clouded your sense of self, purpose and joy in life, it’s important to find a different way forward. Despite how depression makes you feel, you’re not alone.
Over one million people in Australia are experiencing depression right now. One in seven Australians will have a depressive episode at least once in their lifetime. According to clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, up to 50% of people experiencing depression may also be managing symptoms of anxiety. Yet many people feel apprehensive talking about depression – especially if there’s no particular reason for them to be feeling depressed.
Causes of depression
Depression has been linked to many underlying factors, often in combination with one another. Depression sometimes runs in families (genetic predisposition), or may develop from a chemical imbalance of the brain’s neurotransmitters that regulate our mood. Personality traits such as worrying and perfectionism also increase the risk of depression. Situational depression is often linked to external events such as being diagnosed with an illness, a relationship breakup, or work stress. Perinatal depression occurs during pregnancy and after having a child, and seasonal affective disorder may set in during the colder months. Yet feeling depressed for no reason is just as common, and often harder to talk about.
Depression for no reason
Life might look fine on the surface – great job, relationships, family life – but depression can still cloud our view, and darken our mood. Many people experiencing this type of depression become harshly self-critical, incorrectly assuming they are flawed, abnormal or damaged in some way because everything should be fine, but something just doesn’t seem right. It can feel hard to share what you’re going through with others, as often the response is “What have you got to be depressed about?” This may lead to feelings of guilt, embarrassment or shame, and isolation, which only intensifies the depressive episode.
The impact of depression
A depressed mood can descend like a dark cloud, affecting the way you think, feel and behave. If it lasts a while, a depressive episode can also have invasive impacts on your personal and professional life. Depression can wreak havoc with your sense of self, your motivation, and your relationships with others.
Sometimes depression feels heavy and bleak – like life has lost its joy and meaning, even when there’s no particular reason for you to be feeling that way. If you’ve been feeling down, stressed, emotionally numb or overwhelmed for more than a couple of weeks, you may be experiencing depression.
Mental and emotional symptoms of depression:
- Feeling stressed and overwhelmed
- Loss of interest in everyday activities
- Difficulties with decision-making
- Impaired concentration and memory
- Feeling numb and disconnected
- Frequent, repetitive negative thoughts (rumination)
- Increased irritability
- Critical self-talk
- Sense of despair, hopelessness or worthlessness
- Intense sadness, crying
- Recurrent, intrusive thoughts of death, suicide or self-harm
Physical and behavioural symptoms of depression:
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
- Fatigue despite adequate sleep
- Changes in appetite and eating habits
- Increased use of alcohol, nicotine or other drugs
- Social withdrawal
- Reduced libido
Feelings of sadness and low mood are quite common throughout the lifespan, and usually resolve with time. Untreated depression is different – it doesn’t go away. A depressive episode can feel relentless and incredibly hard to live with. It may last for weeks or months, sometimes years, and have unwanted long-term impacts on your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Effective treatment for depression
Depression is common, and it is treatable. Symptoms may vary from person to person, but all types of depression – from mild to severe – can be effectively treated with mood management strategies. Depression is particularly responsive to counselling treatment. Research shows that counselling combined with physical exercise, healthy eating, and sleeping well can dramatically improve wellbeing and reduce the symptoms of depression.
Counselling targets the underlying causes of depression. You’ll learn strategies to help regulate your mood, and ways to manage stress effectively. An experienced therapist can help you to figure out how to get your mind to work for you, not against you.
Effective counselling is also the key to long-term recovery and the prevention of relapse. Decades of clinical research suggest that for relief from depression, counselling is a more effective treatment than taking medication. Those same studies also report that a course of therapy is just as effective as medication combined with counselling. Evidence-based interventions used to treat depression include Mindfulness-Based Therapy, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy.
Even if you feel unsure that what you’re experiencing is depression, speaking to a qualified counsellor about your concerns can clarify what’s happening, give you some effective tools to manage your mood, and help you to expand your sense of purpose, joy and connectedness to life again.
1. Karyotaki, E. (2016) Combining pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy or monotherapy for
major depression? A meta-analysis on the long-term effects. Journal of Affective Disorders.