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We all go through periods of feeling sad or low, but a person with depression feels intensely unhappy or numb for longer than two weeks, often without any apparent reason. Depression is more than just feeling a bit sad – it's a serious condition that can affect both physical and mental health. While there is still much to discover about the causes of depression, it generally reacts well to treatment and can be managed effectively.

There are a number of types of depression.

The most common type is major depression, where symptoms of intense sadness and lack of interest in regular activities (as well as other symptoms) persist for more than two weeks. Melancholia is depression typified by the slowing down of physical movements, feeling empty or guilty and difficulty in sleeping. Psychotic depression is when a person loses touch with reality as part of their depressive disorder, experiencing hallucinations or delusions. Perinatal depression develops in some women during pregnancy or following the birth of a child.

Symptoms of depression can affect many aspects of a person's life. Some of these areas are a person's feelings, behaviour or physical health. Some examples of symptoms are:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, guilty, irritable, frustrated, lacking in confidence, unhappy, indecisive, disappointed, miserable or sad
  • not going out anymore
  • not getting things done at work/school
  • withdrawing from close family and friends
  • relying on alcohol and sedatives
  • not doing usual enjoyable activities
  • being unable to concentrate
  • being tired all the time
  • feeling sick and run down
  • headaches and muscle pains
  • churning gut
  • sleep problems
  • loss or change of appetite
  • significant weight loss or gain.

Symptoms by beyondblue

In some cases, a person with depression may be at risk of self harm or suicide. If you or someone you know is in danger, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
  • 3 million Australians are living with depression or anxiety

  • About 45 per cent of us will experience mental illness

  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide

Causes and treatment

The cause of depression probably involves a few factors, and is different for every person. Current life events or stressors can cause depression, especially long-term problems, like unemployment or relationship issues. A family history of mental illness also makes a person more likely to experience depression, as well as certain personality traits such as low self esteem or perfectionism. Depression can also be caused by changes in the brain, due to chemical and genetic factors. This is a complex area of research and we are still unsure at this stage exactly what kind of changes in the brain cause depression.

A number of treatments exist for depression, and often a combination of a few treatment options are most effective. It can be hard for people with depression to feel motivated to access treatment, and a person may also feel some stigma around accessing mental health support. As a result many people remain untreated. Treatment often starts with talk therapy or counselling, and can also involve the prescription of medication such as anti-depressants and making lifestyle changes like increasing exercise and avoiding alcohol.

How the Florey is making a difference

The Florey’s research work is centred on:

  • Biomarkers for early detection of suicide risk before symptoms appear, allowing for earlier intervention.
  • A better understanding of the way stress during brain development can influence brain systems implicated in depression (and other disorders).
  • Research that has shown that large increases in the levels of a protein can cause inflammation in the brain of people with depression.
  • The role of sex hormones (oestrogen and testosterone) in depression and other disorders and examining the way drug therapies work to improve their effectiveness and reduce their side effects.

Support and information

While The Florey researches depression, we do not offer crisis support. If you require immediate help please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. For more information or support contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or The Black Dog Institute. If your life is in immediate danger call 000.

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