Around one million Australians are currently suffering from depression, with statistics showing that depressive illness will affect one in seven people at some point in their livesi. While it is normal to feel down now and again, depression is an intense, long-lasting emotional, physical and cognitive state that can leave people feeling sad, hopeless and agitatedii. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help yourself and those you care about deal with depression in its early stages. Start by recognising and understanding the common causes and symptoms of the illness.
Causes of depression
The exact cause of depression is not known, however there are many factors that can contribute to its development. One of these factors is stress, whether brought about by a continued difficulty such as long-term unemployment, or a recent event such as losing a loved oneiii. Some people have an increased genetic risk of depression due to a family history of the illness. Others may find that depression is brought about by drug or alcohol abuseiv.
While the trigger for depression will be different for every individual, the signs and symptoms of depression are more common among sufferersiv.
Recognising the symptoms
People with depression think in a generally negative way about themselves and their lives. They begin to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, unhappy and hopeless, and their confidence decreases as these feelings continue to develop . This state of negativity can often lead to noticeable and drastic changes in the way they live: they might withdraw from participating in social activities, sleep too much or too little, eat less and abstain from sexual activity. These changes in behaviour can result in unhealthy impacts upon the body, such as sudden weight loss, headaches, muscle pains and fatigueii,v,vi.
If you notice yourself or someone else experiencing increasingly negative feelings or thoughts that lead to a change in behaviour, it may be a sign of depression. Sufferers of depression will often talk in a self-deprecating manner, blaming themselves for circumstances outside their control, or referring to themselves as a 'failure'v. Sometimes, people with depression will attempt to mask their feelings from friends and family, or attempt to hide them by withdrawing from social contact altogethervii.
Talking with your friends and family during difficult times in their lives can help you gauge whether they are coping, or whether they might be showing signs of depression. Keep in mind that symptoms of depression will vary from person to person, and not everyone with the illness will experience all the common symptoms.
Dealing with depression
Once the symptoms of depression have been identified, there are things you can do to manage them before they get any worse.
If you have a family member or friend who is suffering from depression, the best thing you can do is be there for them - offer your support, understanding and help. Many people who suffer from depression might reject offers for help and won't feel like being social, but spending time with them and reinforcing positive messages can help improve their outlook. Invite them out for a coffee or to watch a footy game with friends - although they might not want to, being surrounded by people who care is better for those with depression than dealing with things aloneviii.
If you believe you may have depression, increasing your level of physical activity can help you get back to a positive frame of mind. Even if you feel like staying in bed all day, put on your runners and head out the door. Exercising can instantly lift your mood, improve the quality of your sleep and boost your energy levels. Exercising is also the perfect distraction - increased levels of serotonin and endorphins in the brain during exercise can help push away worrying thoughtsviii.
Changing your diet can also help you improve your mood and lift your overall sense of wellbeing. Eat a nutritious diet that features plenty of vegetables, fruit, lean meat, fish and water. High protein foods such as fish and meat contain amino acids like tryptophan, which is used in the brain to produce serotonin. Drinking plenty of water can help you from becoming dehydrated and feeling moody, fatigued or irritable. If you drink alcohol, cut down your intake or stop drinking alltogether; alcohol consumption can make your symptoms worseix.
There is plenty of help available
Although these tips can help you manage symptoms in their early stages, a more severe case of depression requires professional helpiii.
Beyond Blue offer a range of support services for people with depression, including a 24/7 hotline and an online chat service. All calls made to the Beyond Blue service are confidential, one-on-one chats with a trained mental health professionalx .
You could also visit your GP or a mental health professional for a clinical diagnosis or to explore other options such as professional counselling. Beyond Blue also offer a search tool to help you find your nearest medical practitionerxi .
Depression is not an illness that you have to face alone. Don't be afraid to seek help from family, friends, support services or medical professionals; by seeking help and taking care of yourself, you'll be one step closer to feeling positive again.