What is depression?

Depression is a word with more than one meaning. The common meaning is “I’m sad” or “I’m having a bad day”. But the word depression has another meaning. It’s a form of illness or disorder which:

  • Tends to be long lasting
  • Is not something you can “snap out of”
  • Is helped by treatment
  • Most people recover from.

There are several types of depression with different levels of severity and duration.

What causes depression?

The following factors play a part in many cases of depression:

  • Inherited characteristics - being proneness to depression can run in families down the generations.
  • Life events - major life changes and difficulties or exposure to a traumatic event.
  • Illness - having a major illness particularly if it is life threatening or requires major changes in our way of life.
  • Personality factors - some people are prone to a worried negative outlook on life.

How common is it?

Depression has been called the “common cold” of mental illness. It is estimated that almost one in five people at some stage in life become clinically depressed.

Depression can happen from childhood through to old age. Although both men and women suffer from depression, it is more common among women.

Famous, gifted and highly successful people have suffered from this illness. Well known Australians who have suffered depression are state premiers Geoff Gallop and Jeff Kennet the actors Gary McDonald and Rachel Griffiths.

What does it feel like to be depressed?

Some common feelings are:

  • Intense sadness
  • Everything seems black
  • Painful brooding on things
  • A sense of worthlessness
  • Feeling hopeless about the future
  • Guilt
  • Lack of energy or restlessness
  • Acute mental pain
  • Sometimes anxiety, fears and panic attacks accompany depression
  • Things that used to give meaning to life turn to ashes.

What are the common signs of depression?

Depression affects our thinking which becomes very pessimistic, we tend to lose interest in things. We may feel a need to withdraw or hide away, sleeping and eating patterns will probably be disturbed, we may be teary and it may be difficult or even impossible to work.

Are you depressed?

If you have a number of these signs and symptoms for more than a few days then it would be a good idea to see someone. Phone your AVA Telephone Counselling Service counsellor or ring your family doctor for an appointment.


A certain percentage (but not all) of people who suffer an episode of depression become suicidal - that is, they seriously consider suicide as the way out of mental pain, or the best option, or as the only honourable thing to do. Of these, some attempt suicide and some do kill themselves.

If ever you or anyone you know is actively suicidal take immediate action. Do not hesitate, do not delay.

How is depression treated?

The good news is that effective treatments are readily available. The two most used treatments are:

  • Medication
  • Specialist counselling.

Antidepressant medication is effective for many people in treating their depression. Two important points about antidepressants:

  • They are not an instant fix. Because antidepressants build slowly in the system they need a couple of weeks to begin to make a difference.
  • They need to be taken even after the symptoms have gone. The doctor is the person to talk to about when it is safe to cut back or to cease medication.

The style of counselling which is known to be effective in treating depression is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT enables people to gain control of their thoughts and feelings. CBT helps to short circuit depression by empowering people to regain control of their thinking.

For many people the best treatment for depression is a combination of medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.


Depression is an illness, not laziness or a sign of weakness. A great deal is known about depression and how to treat it. Help is readily available. For more about the symptoms of depression:

Source: Converge International, provider of the AVA Telephone Counselling Service

In need of emergency help?

Help is available at any time, day or night on Lifeline 13 11 14 and the AVA Counselling Service 1300 687 327.