Clinical depression is one of the most common, serious mental health disorders. In Australia about one in five people will experience, at some time in their life, a persistent, disabling depression with intense emotions of anxiety, hopelessness, negativity, self absorption and helplessness that does not let go easily, even when circumstances and relationships improve. It does not respond to simple reassurance or a change of attitude.
Depressive illness can vary from just interfering with usual activities and relationships to being very debilitating. Severe depression can make it hard or even impossible for sufferers to relate to and communicate with others, or to manage simple day to day tasks.
Types of depression
Major depression is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two weeks.
Psychotic depression is a depressed mood that involves seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations), feeling everyone is against you (paranoia) and having delusions.
Dysthymia is a less severe depressed mood that lasts for several years.
Bipolar disorder (or manic depressive illness) involves periods of feeling low (depressed) and high (manic).
- Mixed depression and anxiety is a combination of symptoms of depression and anxiety.
There are a number of causes of depression. It can be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain (endogenous depression); it can be part of an illness such as bipolar disorder; or a reaction to an event such as the death of a spouse or loss of a job (reactive depression).
Often people do not seek help for their depression. They may feel embarrassed, or see it as a sign of weakness or be fearful of stigma. Getting help is important and there is substantial evidence to show that most people who seek help will recover fully, especially if they take action early.
Treatment can do much to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of depression, and usually includes a combination of the following:
- learning new coping strategies;
- lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise and physical fitness;
- not using alcohol and other drugs;
- taking medication; and
- individual therapy (psychological therapy), support and sometimes electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
Treatment can be as an inpatient, outpatient or day program. People's recovery journeys are different and treatment takes time to work effectively.