APM's advice for living with depression

1 in 7 people in Australia are affected by depression in their lifetime. Find out how to cope with depression and where to get help.

Depression is a serious medical condition that can leave you feeling low, drained, exhausted and unmotivated. It's important to get help if you're experiencing depression symptoms – the sooner the better.

Depression can make you feel like your situation won't get any better, but that's not true. There are many effective treatments, coping strategies and services that can help you manage your situation and recover.

Even small lifestyle changes can help. In this guide to coping with depression, we offer tips for managing your symptoms at home and in the workplace – and where to get support.

What is depression?

Everyone feels sad and low sometimes, but for some people these feelings can be severe, lasting for weeks, months or longer. Depression is a mental illness that's characterised by constant low mood and loss of interest.

Living with depression can make it difficult to keep up with normal day-to-day tasks or hold down a job.

Depression symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite and rapid change in weight
  • Low energy and motivation
  • Loss of sleep or sleeping too much
  • Feeling sad or low for weeks
  • Difficulty concentrating, making decisions or solving problems
  • Loss of pleasure or interest in things that used to bring you joy
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicidal thoughts

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, affecting 1 in 16 Australians every year. There are many different types of depression, including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, perinatal depression and postnatal depression.

How to cope with depression

There are many lifestyle changes and self-coping strategies that can help with depression and build your overall mental wellbeing. However, these should not be used as a substitute for professional help. The tips below for coping with depression are most effective when you're also getting support from a mental health professional.

1. Learn about depression

Understanding more about depression symptoms, risk factors and how the condition progresses can help you look after yourself better. You may even feel like you have more control over your depression when you understand more about it.

Learning about the different treatments and coping strategies can help you feel more positive about the future.

Even though depression is very common, it's still misunderstood by a lot of people. Clearing up the myths and stigma can be an important step in your recovery.

2. Speak with a mental health professional

A mental health professional can help you understand what you're experiencing, and give you useful tools and strategies to cope. They might recommend talking therapy, natural remedies, medication or a combination of different treatments.

Creating a treatment plan with your mental health professional can help you feel more confident moving forward. It can also help you know what to do if you're struggling to cope and where to reach out for help.

If you’re currently working or looking for work, there are government funded services such as Disability Employment Services which can help you cope better in the workplace and access support that’s right for you.

3. Stay connected

Depression can make it hard to get out of bed some days, let alone see your friends or spend time with family. You may even experience a loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy doing with your loved ones.

Loneliness and isolation make depression symptoms worse, but connecting with people in a safe and supportive way can help boost your mental wellbeing.

Here are some tips for staying connected while living with depression:

  • Schedule regular catch ups with your friends, family members or colleagues
  • Join a group, club or organisation that you find interesting
  • Volunteer in your local community
  • Spend time with your children or pets
  • Attend a peer support group in your area
  • Call Friendline for a chat

4. Reduce your stressors

Stress and depression have a strong connection. Long term stress can lead to depression and make depression symptoms worse. Depression can also cause stress and increase your stress levels, especially if you're finding it hard to manage your responsibilities, work life or relationships.

Think about what's causing stress in your life and how you can remove or reduce that stressor. Stress management tips like these may help:

  • Reduce your workload, work hours or responsibilities.
  • Speak to your boss about workplace accommodations – they may be willing to make changes at work to support you better.
  • Use organisation apps and schedulers to help you stay on top of your tasks.
  • Take time out every day to do something you enjoy and to switch your mind off your worries.
  • Use relaxation techniques such as mindful breathing, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation.

5. Do things you enjoy

Make time in your day to do activities that you enjoy – whether that's playing with your kids, doing something creative or spending time in nature.

Depression can make you lose interest and pleasure even in things that used to bring you joy. For these times, it can be helpful to make a wellness toolbox for yourself. Put in your box a list of things that you enjoy doing when you feel happy.

When your mood is low, try doing one of those activities, even if you don't feel like it. Compare how you felt before the activity and how you felt afterwards.

6. Move more

Exercise is a proven strategy for managing mood disorders including depression. As well as being good for your overall health and fitness, physical activity like walking, jogging and bike riding can boost your mood and have an antidepressant effect on your brain.

You don't have to do vigorous exercise for it to make a difference, even a gentle yoga flow or a walk around the block can be helpful.

If you find it hard to stay active, try combining your exercise with something fun like playing with your dog or dancing to your favourite song.

Exercising with friends can also be a mood booster, and a good way to stay connected. Consider joining a sports team, attending a weekly exercise class or walking with colleagues on your lunch break.

7. Eat a healthy diet

What you eat can have a significant impact on your mood and overall wellbeing. Try to eat a diet high in vegetables, whole grains and fruit. Avoid processed foods, alcohol, red meat and sugar. If you've lost your appetite, eat small portions of food that you like and drink plenty of water.

Some foods have been connected with improved mental wellbeing. Consider getting more of these in your diet:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (from foods like fish, nuts and avocados)
  • B vitamins (from whole grains, dark leafy greens and seeds)
  • Probiotics (from fermented foods like kimchi, yoghurt and tofu)
  • Before making major changes to your diet or taking supplements, speak with your doctor.

8. Avoid drug and alcohol use

If you're feeling low, it can be tempting to use alcohol and other drugs to cope. However, these substances can actually make depression symptoms worse and make it harder for you to recover. Alcohol and drugs can also interact in harmful ways with any medication you might be taking.

If you're struggling with drug and alcohol use, support is available. Start by speaking to your GP or contacting a helpline like Beyond Blue or DrugInfo.

9. Create healthy habits around sleep

Many people living with depression struggle with sleep. You might find it hard to fall asleep at night or find yourself oversleeping a lot of the time.

Creating healthy habits around sleep can help you get better sleep at night which in turn can improve your mood and increase your energy levels.

Here are some tips for better sleep hygiene:

  • Go to bed and get up at same time every day
  • Avoid napping during the day or limit your naps by using a timer
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the afternoon and evening
  • Do something relaxing before bed – but avoid using screens
  • Block out light and sound from your bedroom as much as possible

10. Challenge negative thinking

Negative thoughts can spiral out of control when you're living with depression. If you find yourself ruminating on your worries, over-generalising things or blaming yourself for things you have no control over, it's good to have some thinking tools to challenge the negative thought patterns.

Here are some tips for coping with negative thoughts:

  • Ask yourself if the thought is realistic – brainstorm alternative ways to think about the situation.
  • Write a gratitude journal – list nice things you saw or experienced each day.
  • Write down a list of your best qualities – and get your friends and family to help.
  • Use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to replace negative thoughts with more helpful ones.
  • Be a watcher of your thoughts – notice your negative thoughts, but don't beat yourself up about them.

11. Create a routine

A routine may help you carry on with your day-to-day life, even when you're lacking in motivation or energy.

Keep your routines simple and realistic, and avoid highly detailed schedules as they can end up creating more stress. Don't forget to leave time in your day for activities that you enjoy and down time.

If you're finding it hard to even get out of bed at the moment, start with one task that you repeat every day. For example, going for a walk after breakfast or doing a 5-minute breathing meditation in the evening. Pick something enjoyable and try to stick with it.

12. Set small, easy goals

Depression can make even simple tasks seem impossibly hard. Try breaking up your responsibilities into small, achievable goals. For example, instead of folding all the washing, make it your goal to fold just the shirts.

When you complete a goal, reward yourself. Setting and completing small goals can help you feel a sense of accomplishment and may help with managing your motivation levels.

When and where to get help coping with depression

If you're experiencing depression symptoms, it's important to reach out for support. There are many effective treatments, coping strategies and services to help you.

Some people with depression feel that things won't get better or that life is not worth living – if you're experiencing self harm or suicidal thoughts, don't wait to ask for help.

If you don't feel comfortable talking to a friend or family member, you can call a mental health helpline such as Lifeline or Beyond Blue.

Here are some places you can get help to cope with depression:

  • Your GP, a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Mental health helplines
  • Community support groups
  • Disability Employment Services – for support to find or keep a job

Read our other guides for working and coping with depression: