|Topic||This guide provides information and advice about depression.|
|Publisher||The Royal Australian & NZ College of Psychiatrists|
Depression is an illness that can affect how you feel and behave for weeks or months at a time. When you are depressed, your low mood lasts, affecting your sleep, relationships, job and appetite.
Depression is linked with many conditions and stages of life, all with similar symptoms, but with different causes and treatment choices. You may have seen depression referred to in relation to:
Depression is a sign of a weak character.
NOT TRUE The fact is that depression can strike anyone. While some particular personality types are more likely to develop depression, the vast majority of people who develop the condition have been previously healthy and led normal lives.
People with depression can just 'snap out of it' or just choose to 'pull their socks up'
NOT TRUE One of the most disabling symptoms of depression is the fact that it saps the will and makes doing anything an enormous effort. Depression is an extremely unpleasant experience, and most people with this condition would (and do) do anything to get well.
Depression can start at any age – from childhood through to old age. Most often it starts in the mid-20s, and it is more common in the 25 to 45-year-old age group. People with depression often have other problems such as anxiety disorders, substance use disorders and personality disorders, and may engage in deliberate self-harm. Very severe depression can result in symptoms of psychosis (loss of contact with reality).
The risk of suicide in people with depression is significant. It is important that if you are having any suicidal thoughts you seek help immediately.
Depression can be effectively treated, and people will usually recover from it. The earlier effective treatment is started, the better the chance of recovery.
If you think you or someone you know is depressed, look for the signs and talk to them. Your support is important.
Depression is linked to changes in how the brain works. Many things can be considered as factors that make you vulnerable to depression.
Symptoms of depression usually develop over days or weeks, though you may have a period of anxiety or mild depression which lasts for weeks or months beforehand. Not everyone with depression will complain of sadness or a persistent low mood. They may have other signs of depression such as sleep problems. Others will complain of vague physical symptoms.
Signs to look for in yourself or a loved one include:
These are very common as part of depression, but as the depression is treated these symptoms usually stop. Anxiety symptoms include:
If you are concerned you may be depressed, a number of NZ websites have useful self-tests you can do. These are listed on the right hand side of this page.
There is a paper and pencil test to diagnose depression which is used by psychologists. Usually a diagnosis is made by your doctor based on whether you have some or all of the typical symptoms. For this reason it’s important that your doctor spends time with you to get a full understanding of the difficulties you have had, both from you and your family/ whānau's perspective.
While depression could be responsible for the symptoms listed above, the same picture can be seen with the depressed phase of bipolar affective disorder (manic depression) and in some medical conditions. This is why it's important your doctor may do tests necessary to exclude these conditions.
Remember, depression is a serious illness and you do need to see your doctor if you suspect you may be suffering from it.
Treatment of depression can involve a number of aspects, each of which can be tailored to your individual need. For most, a combination of medication and talking therapies such as counselling can be effective.
Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants. Finding the right medication can be a matter of trial and error – there is no way to predict which medication will be effective and tolerated (have fewer troublesome side effects) by any one person.
If you are prescribed medication you are entitled to know:
If you are breast feeding no medication is entirely safe. Before making any decisions about taking medication at this time you should talk with your doctor about the potential benefits and problems.
It is important to see your doctor before stopping medication. A sudden stop can cause worse feelings.
Supportive counselling is a treatment for milder forms of depression, where it is as effective as antidepressant medication. More specific therapies e.g. cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can be effective for more significant depression. Your doctor will explain what is available locally and which type of talking treatment is most suitable for you.
Education about depression can be extremely important to help you, your family/ whānau and supporters. Your doctor will give you information about depression, suggests different ways to handle it, and discusses any complications which could occur.
The term complementary therapy is generally used to indicate therapies and treatments that differ from conventional western medicine and that may be used to complement and support it.
Certain complementary therapies may enhance your life and help you to maintain wellbeing. In general, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, exercise, relaxation, massage, mirimiri and aromatherapy have all been shown to have some effect in alleviating mental distress.
When considering taking any supplement, herbal or medicinal preparation you should consult your doctor to make sure it is safe and will not harm your health, for example, by interacting with any other medications you are taking.
It's also really important to look after your physical wellbeing. Make sure you get an annual check up with your doctor. Being in good physical health will also help your mental health.
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