Finding the light

Depression does not always hit your life like an electrical storm; sometimes it’s more like an overcast day that goes on and on with no promise of sunshine.

Stop right now and check in with how you are feeling. Now put the spotlight on how you felt yesterday. And last week. And last month. And last year. What does your emotional audit tell you? Are you in a good place much of the time? Do you have moments where you enjoy life, connect with others, experience pleasure and meaning and fulfilment and feel good about yourself and positive about life? Or have you been mostly flatlining?

If you can’t remember the last time you had a good belly laugh or climbed out of bed feeling happy to face the day, you could be at risk of depression. Or you could be en route to depression or already experiencing this serious mental health condition.

Depression is the leading cause of ill-health and disability worldwide, says the World Health Organization. It’s a global health crisis with more than 300 million people living with the condition — an increase of more than 18 per cent between 2005 and 2015 — and that figure is constantly rising. This is startling given that research shows that chronic depression carries risks that are equal to the impacts of smoking or not exercising.

In Australia, one in 11 people report having depression or feelings of depression, according to the last 2014–2015 National Health Survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Women (10.4 per cent) experience more feelings of depression than men (7.4 per cent). This may be due to hormonal shifts during the menstrual cycle and life changes like pregnancy and motherhood.

Recognising depression

Though it’s normal to suffer low moods that pass, chronic gloom, teariness and exhaustion that interfere with day-to-day life should never be ignored.

Depression is more than just feeling a little down. It dominates mind, body and soul, changing the way you think and behave. It can impact on everything from hormones and brain chemistry to thought patterns and physical responses to stress.

One key point of difference is that depression lasts more than several weeks and the feelings become chronic and start to impact on your quality of life, relationships, work or study performance and health. Common symptoms of depression include:

• Feeling sad, teary, empty, hopeless, worthless, overwhelmed and that life is not worth living

• Withdrawing from close friends and family

• Recurring thoughts of guilt, self-blame or feelings that you are a failure

• Significant changes in sleep patterns, appetite and/or weight

• Constant fatigue and difficulty getting out of bed

• Increased irritability, frustration or moodiness that’s out of character

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