We all feel ‘down’ or sad from time to time – it’s part of being human. ‘Sadness’ is a reaction to something in particular, like a relationship break-up. ‘Depression’ means that feelings of sadness last longer than normal, affect most parts of your life, and stop you enjoying the things that you used to.
There are a several different types of depression. Major depression usually happens in episodes, when depressed feelings build up slowly over a few weeks. Young people often have mood swings (feeling ‘up’ sometimes as well as ‘down’) and may be more irritable and sensitive than usual. This means major depression is sometimes hard to diagnose, being mistaken for normal adolescent moods.
Typical symptoms of depression include:
Feelings of unhappiness, moodiness and irritability, and sometimes emptiness or numbness
Losing interest and pleasure in activities that you once enjoyed
Loss of appetite and weight (but sometimes people ‘comfort eat’ and put on weight)
Either trouble sleeping, or over-sleeping and staying in bed most of the day
Tiredness, lack of energy and motivation
Feeling worried or tense
Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
Feeling bad, worthless or guilty
Being self-critical and self-blaming
Having dark and gloomy thoughts, including thoughts of death or suicide
Dysthymia is a milder type of depression but it is often continuous and can last for months or years. People with dysthymia might still be able to perform their day-to-day tasks, but with less interest, confidence and enjoyment. Dysthymia also interferes with sleep, appetite, energy and concentration.
Depression can also occur as part of bipolar disorder.
People with depression might have other mental or physical health problems as well, such as anxiety or excessive use of cigarettes, alcohol or illegal drugs.
Depression and suicide
Anyone who is depressed may be at risk of suicide, and if they are, they need urgent help. If someone seems to be thinking about suicide, try to arrange some support from close, trusted friends or family, remove things that can be used to commit suicide and try to encourage them to see a health professional.
You can call your local hospital or mental health service for support. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Mental health teams can see people who are suicidal at any time of the day, wherever they are. In Australia call:
Getting help for depression
It’s important to talk about your problems. Ask for help and speak to someone you trust, whether a parent, teacher, school counsellor, family member or friend. A general practitioner (doctor) is a good place to start when seeking help and information.
Most people are able to recover from depression when they receive professional treatment. Treatments are usually based on psychological (‘talking’) therapy, adding medications when they are needed. Depending on the type of treatment, most people start to feel better or notice an improvement, after about two to six weeks.
Healthy eating and exercise can help improve your mood. Try relaxation techniques, writing down your feelings, reducing stress and avoiding alcohol and other drugs, but remember that some days will be better than others.
Overcoming depression can take time, especially if it has been around for a while and has become a ‘way of life.
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By Jim Villamor