“Depression – What is It?” A fact sheet produced by the Mental Health Information Service

Depression is a common mental health problem and is significantly different from mere unhappiness or sadness.

It is a long lasting, often recurring illness as real and debilitating as heart disease.

People who are depressed may experience feelings of oppressive sadness, fatigue and guilt.

They often feel lonely, isolated, helpless, worthless and lost.

About 800,000 Australians experience depression each year and one in five people are likely to experience depression or anxiety in their lifetime.

Further, almost 80% of those with a diagnosed depressive disorder also have an anxiety problem. (1997 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing of Adults, ABS).


The symptoms and severity of feelings of depression may be different for each person. A person experiencing a depressive episode may display physical and psychological symptoms including:

free health book on depression treatments

 Eating or sleeping too much or too little, including frequent waking during the night

 Loss of interest in daily activities, a lack of energy and/or loss of sex drive

 Excessive crying and/or thoughts of suicide

 Restlessness, agitation and irritability

 Headaches, digestive disorders or nausea

 Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety and hopelessness

 Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

 Feelings of guilt or worthlessness


There are many different terms people use to describe and categorise depression. Some common types are:

 Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood – depression is triggered by stressful situations requiring change e.g. loss of a job, relationship break-up or “positive” changes e.g. travel, marriage, new job, etc

 Major (Clinical) Depression – a severe form of depression believed to be associated with a chemical imbalance in the brain. Clinical depression can appear without apparent reason and usually lasts a minimum of 2 weeks. Feelings of despair may lead to suicide attempts or self-harm in some cases.

 Dysthymic Disorder – a person may experience at least 2 years of depressed mood more days than not, and display additional symptoms of depression. Dysthymic Disorder may begin early in life and be less severe than Major Depression but can be fairly continuous over the life span (unless treatment is sought).


Depression can be a result of an interaction of a number of factors including:

 Environmental factors – stress associated with certain milestone stages of your life, such as puberty, middle age or retirement, stress resulting from personal tragedies, family breakdown and unemployment, for example, can all contribute to your becoming depressed.

 Biological factors – an imbalance of the chemicals in the brain that regulate mood and activity can alter someone’s thoughts, emotions and behaviour, resulting in depression.  Genetic factors – people can inherit a predisposition to develop depression. If a relative has depression there is an increased chance that you may develop this illness.

 Personality – some personality types are more prone to depression. People who set very high standards for themselves and others may be easily depressed if they are let down.

 Past depressive episodes – once you have experienced an episode of Major Depression, you may be more likely to develop depression or another mental illness in the future.


We are often faced with situations that we manage ourselves quite well or with the help of our family or friends. However, at times, we are unable to manage the events that can lead to mental health problems and you may decide to explore other options. Some of the common treatments for symptoms of depression include:

 Behavioural and lifestyle changes

 Counselling and therapy

 Medication

 Alternative therapies

For more detailed information on what help is available call the Mental Health Association’s Information Service on 1800 674 200 or (02) 9816 5688.


If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be experiencing symptoms of depression:

 Find out as much as you can about depression by accessing the resources and information listed below

 See your local GP or have an assessment conducted by a mental health professional

 If treatment is required, discuss your options with your health professional and decide on a program that is right for you

 Know that depression is not your fault and for many people depressive feelings can be treated and managed very effectively

Don’t let misconceptions about mental illness or the discouragement of depression stop you from seeking help.

Regardless of whether you have ever experienced symptoms of depression, it is important to remember to always look after your mind as well as your body by adopting a healthier lifestyle including regular exercise, a healthy eating plan, learning to reduce your stress levels and relaxing. This is different for everybody. You may watch TV or read a book, go for a walk, see a movie or have a bath, others find slow breathing or remedial massage beneficial.

Please note, the use of alcohol, cannabis and other recreational drugs is discouraged for anyone suffering Depression. Rather than assisting with long term recovery, these substances can cause a temporary worsening of symptoms.


 Contact the Mental Health Association’s Information Service on 1800 674 200 or (02) 9816 5688 or visit www.mentalhealth.asn.au

 Visit other mental health related websites (you will find a number of links to reputable sites on the Mental Health Association website)

 Complete an online questionnaire and find out more about symptoms and treatments for depression at www.depressionet.com.au/nswscreen

 For mental health information and assistance in a language other than English contact the Transcultural Mental Health Centre on 1800 648 911 or (02) 9840 3800

 Speak to your local doctor, community health centre or mental health team.


The information provided is to be used for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional care in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Information may be reproduced with an acknowledgement to the Mental Health Association NSW. This, and other fact sheets are available for download from http://www.mentalhealth.asn.au

Phone: 02 9816 5688 or

1800 674 200 (outside Sydney metro)

Email: info@mentalhealth.asn.au

Web: www.mentalhealth.asn.au

Mental Health Information Service

Mental Health Association NSW Inc

60-62 Victoria Road

Gladesville NSW 2111