Are you depressed? Here is how to tell (and what to do about it)

There is no doubt that life can be an uphill battle at times.

Our lives are busier than ever, with many of us juggling multiple roles at once (partner, carer, employee) in a bid to keep all of the balls in the air.

For others, the problem is too much time in the day, with many people also feeling lonely and isolated from their community and suffering from a lack of connection to others.

October marks Mental Health Awareness month, which is a good chance for us all to stop, breathe, and check in with how we are feeling.

As Mental Health and Wellbeing Specialist at BUPA, Emily Meates, points out, depression has become a common global condition and, according to the World Health Organisation, it is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

“In Australia, it’s believed around 1.5 million people will have experienced depression in the previous 12 months, while only 35 per cent of Australians with a mental health condition will access treatment or support services,” Ms Meates notes.

“Awareness campaigns help to reduce the stigma associated with mental health conditions and provide people with an opportunity to have open and caring conversations.”

But how do you tell if what you’re feeling is a consequence of everyday life stresses that will eventually pass or a sign of something more significant, such as a mental health condition?

According to Ms Meates, a key sign of depression is often noticeable behavioural and lifestyle changes*.

“It is commonly characterised by a combination of changes in behaviours, feelings, thoughts and physical functioning,” she says.

These signs may include:

  • Behavioural changes, such as withdrawing from family, friends, school and work, as well as no longer finding enjoyment in activities that you usually enjoyed. An increased reliance on alcohol may also be a sign of depression.
  • Changes in our emotions may include feeling more overwhelmed or irritable than usual, a lack of confidence or feelings of lower self-esteem. You may also feel sad, miserable or upset.
  • Changes in thoughts may include a sense of worthlessness, or thinking that life’s not worth living. You may even think you are disproportionately at fault or to blame, or that people would be better off without you.
  • You may experience physical symptoms, too, such as feeling very tired and lethargic for no clear reason, experiencing more digestive issues than usual, as well as a change in appetite or significant weight gain or loss. There may also be difficulty sleeping.

“Recognising changes in yourself is important,” Ms Meates says.

“However, it is also important to listen to those close to you if they have noticed changes as well, as sometimes we’re not able to identify these changes ourselves.”

What to do?

If you are concerned you may be experiencing depression, then the first step is reaching out to someone who can help you. The good news is there are many different ways to do this, so choose the path that is most comfortable for you.

Ms Meates suggests talking to your GP, who can connect you with a psychologist or support service.

Or you could call a support helpline, such as Beyondblue  (1300 224 636); National Youth Mental Health Foundation, headspace (1800 650 890); or Lifeline (13 11 14) for immediate support.

Perhaps your workplace offers an Employee Assistance Program, which provides employees with access to free and confidential counselling support?

“Remember to reach out to close family and friends for support, speaking to those we trust can help us to feel connected,” Ms Meates says.

Practical tips

There are a few behaviours you can adopt on a day-to-day basis to ensure you don’t exacerbate any feelings of depression.

Stay away from drugs and alcohol, for example, and try to engage in activities that boost physical and mental health.

“This involves making sure we get regular exercise, eat a healthy balanced diet, keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water and putting in place a good sleep routine,” Ms Meates says.

“Also try to participate in activities that bring happiness and enjoyment and most importantly, reach out for support.

“Professional advice and support is essential to a successful recovery.”

For immediate help, call Lifeline on 13 11 44.

 * It’s important to understand that while there are several symptoms that may indicate someone is depressed, depression is experienced differently by everyone.

This story was written by Johanna Leggatt. Johanna is an Australian journalist with more than 15 years’ experience in both print and online. She has worked across a wide range of subject areas, including health, property, finance, interiors, and arts.

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