Confronting depression

By Ryan Oliver

Imagine you are in a cafe or a pub with five of your friends. Statistically, one of your group will be clinically depressed at some time in their lives, if he or she is not currently.

The depression that affects one in five people in Australia is not the temporary “low” we all feel on occasion. It is the real thing; the most common form of mental illness in the western world.

In the same way that influenza is a whole different ball game from what’s commonly known as “the ‘flu”, clinical depression is far more serious than a transient case of “the blues”.

Society is slow to learn what true depression involves. More than 60 per cent of sufferers don’t seek help; and, of the 40 per cent that do seek help, 45 per cent are incorrectly diagnosed. Much of the reason for this is ignorance on the part of both patients and carers.

If you suspect that you or someone close to you might be suffering from depression, it is useful at first to appreciate what depression ISN’T.

Depression is not the wholly normal feeling of sadness or melancholy that may grip you for a day or so. It is not just disappointment or loss of confidence. It is not grief – although grieving can be allied to it. It is not just something that you can “snap out of”.

Depression is a relentless, pervasive sense of despair; a paralysing condition characterised by a lack of interest in life and feelings of utter uselessness. If depression just meant “the blues” it wouldn’t have an official definition listed by the World Health Organisation.

Depression is not a transient state. It is a long-term malaise that often receives scant sympathy from the general public.

If it was just a case of depressed people “pulling themselves together” and getting on with life, doctors would not be inundated, as they are, with hordes of people who are unable to cope with life.

Mental illness is a source of great fear in the general public.

We might have come a long way since the grim days of Bedlam but try telling a mentally ill person not to feel stigmatised and he or she will tell you that you’re the crazy one.

Depression is the most common form of mental illness in Australia but its widespread occurence has not educated the wider public.

People suffering depression are battling an illness. It is not their fault that they have an illness. They have not failed. They are not lesser people and should not be seen as such.

However, due to the very nature of depressive conditions, that is precisely the way they will see themselves.


  • Two weeks of abnormal depressed mood.
  • Loss of interest and decreased energy.
  • Loss of confidence.
  • Excessive guilt.

  • Recurrent thoughts of death.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Agitation or retardation.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Change in appetite.

Mild” depression includes first two symptoms and at least one other.

Severe” depression includes the first two symptoms and at least five others.

If you feel you are depressed, the first step is to visit your GP.

There are other illnesses that may produce similar symptoms to depression, so your doctor’s is the best place to go if you have any concerns about your health.

Obviously, GPs are jacks-of-all-trades in many ways and may not have ultra-specialised knowledge of depression, its causes and its treatments, but visiting the doctor’s is the crucial first step. Ask your doctor about the possibility of seeing a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist, especially if you have been dwelling on death or suicide.

It is important to realise that depression is a treatable condition. Doctors have a number of options available and often any one can do the trick or a combination of them may be used.

Firstly, there is “talking therapy” or counselling. Secondly, depression is often treated with anti-depressant drugs. Thirdly, there are various self-help therapies, such as taking regular exercise and balancing your diet.

You would not think twice about seeking expert help for any physical medical condition. The same rules must apply for depression or any other mental health problem.

There is a wealth of information available about depression on the Internet and it is quickly made obvious to anyone suffering from depression that they are clearly not alone and that a lot of help is on hand.

A brilliant starting point for Australians should be dNet, which is a comprehensive site that deals with just about every aspect of the condition and offers advice and information on all treatments.

Apart from defining the condition and answering FAQs, the site tells you where to find help in your area, how to find support for those living with a depressed person, and even gives you a list of famous people who have succeeded despite battles with depression.

dNet gives plenty of practical self-help suggestions and, crucially, is totally non-judgmental or preachy.