Feeling depressed or anxious? You're not alone. One in five Australians will suffer an episode of clinical depression in their lifetime, and one in four will contract an anxiety-related condition.
The good news is that health professionals are learning more and more about depression and anxiety, so it's becoming relatively easier to get help. In the past, mental health issues were treated as a taboo subject, but in recent years there has been a major shift in the public's understanding and acceptance of mental health problems.
What is depression?
Although everyone experiences days when the world seems bleak, clinical depression is a more prolonged problem. Generally, people who feel continuously depressed for more than two weeks often without reason are considered to be suffering from clinical depression.
Common signs and symptoms of clinical depression include:
- moodiness that is out of character,
- increased irritability and frustration,
- spending less time with friends and family,
- loss of interest in food, sex or exercise,
- increased alcohol and drug use,
- staying home from work or school,
- increased physical health complaints, such as fatigue or pain.
What about anxiety?
Anxiety is a growing mental health concern and is often, but not always, closely linked to depression. Types of anxiety disorders include panic disorder, post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias.
Dr Nicole Highet, deputy CEO of the depression initiative Beyond Blue, says: "Up to 50 percent of people with depression will have co-existing anxiety."
Often people confuse anxiety disorders with stress. Stress is a normal reaction to a situation where a person feels under pressure. For example, it's common for people to feel stressed or uptight when meeting work deadlines, sitting exams or speaking in front of a group of people. However, for some people these feelings are ongoing, happen for no apparent reason or continue after the stressful event has passed.
Although the stigma surrounding mental illness has reduced over the past two decades, many misconceptions still exist. First and foremost is the belief that depression and anxiety are signs of a "weak" or deficient personality.
"In the past, depression was seen as a personal weakness," says Dr Highet. "But you're not considered a weak person if you're an asthmatic or a diabetic. Mental health conditions are no different."
Another misconception is there are no effective treatment options for mental health problems.
"One of the motivations for starting Beyond Blue was a major mental health survey that was conducted in the late '90s," says Dr Highet. "It found that 62 percent of people who committed suicide had never received treatment for depression or other mental health problems."
Although depression and anxiety can seem overwhelming, it's important to remember that there are
things you can do to feel better.
How to help yourself
Talk to your GP
A general practitioner is your best first-stop for mental health concerns and queries. They will be able to offer a range of advice relating to the treatment of depression and anxiety, from simple changes to your daily routine (including exercise and diet) to medication options and referrals to specialists. Their knowledge of your general medical history can also be helpful in diagnosing and treating mental health issues.
Visit the Beyond Blue website
Beyond Blue is a great resource for finding out about different types of depression and anxiety, and what you can do to treat them. The site includes surveys and checklists that can help you work out if you have a mental health condition, as well as a range of articles on topical issues.
Visit a mental health professional
Different types of mental health professionals counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists offer different forms of treatment for mental health issues. Some focus on understanding past events in your life, others provide medication in conjunction with therapy, and some use cognitive behavioural therapy (changing the way you think about yourself and your emotions). Visit Beyond Blue to find out more about different types of treatment, or talk to your GP.
Talk to friends and family
The simple act of articulating your fears and feelings is an important step towards gaining control of your depression or anxiety. Trusted loved ones will be able to offer emotional support that you may not receive from a doctor, and family members may be able to shed light on any hereditary mental health issues present in your family.
If you feel like you're losing control, or you don't want to speak to a doctor, friend or relative, call Lifeline for an anonymous conversation with someone who cares. Lifeline is a free, anonymous phone service that operates 24/7. It can provide you with support and advice when you need it most. Lifeline's number is 13 11 14.