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The word ‘depression’ gets thrown around a lot, but there’s actually a lot more to this condition than many people realise. Get some information on what depression is, including the signs and symptoms to look out for and what you can do about it.

This can help if:

  • you’ve been feeling down
  • you’re wondering what the signs of depression are
  • you’re worried about a friend’s low mood.
Boy with hand on face thinking

What is depression?

People often use the word ‘depressed’ when they're talking about moments or periods of time when they’re feeling sad or down. It’s normal to feel down when you’re going through a stressful or difficult time. However, if you continue to feel that your mood is low on more days than not for a few weeks, or if you really aren’t sure why you feel so bad, there might be something more serious going on.

‘Depression’, which is often diagnosed as 'major depressive disorder', refers to feelings of sadness or a low mood that last longer than two weeks, and start to get in the way of your everyday life. Keep in mind that depression is a condition that can only be properly diagnosed by a health professional.

What causes depression?

There is no one, single cause of depression and it likely develops due to a combination of factors, such as life events (such as trauma or losing someone close to you) and biological factors (genetics, hormones or an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain). People affected by depression often experience negative thinking patterns and may stop doing their normal activities, which can make their symptoms worse. In other words, depression becomes a ‘vicious cycle’: your mood is so down, you don’t feel like doing anything, so you stop doing the things you enjoy or that you need to do (such as schoolwork or daily tasks), which makes you feel even worse.

What are some signs and symptoms of depression?

Everyone who suffers from depression will experience it differently, but there are some common signs and symptoms. Depression can range from mild to severe. If you have depression, some symptoms you might experience include:

  • feeling down or ‘numb’ for longer than two weeks
  • losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy
  • feeling like you don’t get much pleasure out of things
  • difficulty concentrating
  • negative self-talk
  • lack of energy, or feeling fatigued
  • having feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • having thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • difficulty remembering things.

Many people don’t realise that depression doesn’t just affect someone’s mood – it also affects their body. Some of the physical signs of depression may be:

  • difficulty sleeping, sleeping more or less than usual, waking up in the early hours of the morning and not being able to get back to sleep
  • eating more or less than usual, or having no appetite
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • headaches
  • upset stomach.

Most people experience some of these feelings and behaviours at different times. The difference with depression is that the symptoms are more severe, happen more often, and don't go away over time.

What to do if you think you’re experiencing depression

If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, visit your GP or a mental health professional. The good news is, if you’re diagnosed with depression, there are treatments available. Your doctors can work with you to create a treatment plan that suits your personal circumstances and experience. This could include things like:

Have a look at our fact sheets on treatments for depression and self-care strategies for more information on what you can do to manage depression. Keep in mind that everyone responds to treatments differently, so finding the right treatment and the right mental health professional could take time. Keep trying until you find something that works for you.

What can I do now?