How to know if you have depression: Signs and symptoms

Everyone feels low from time to time, but if you're experiencing a low mood that doesn't go away it's important to get help.

Around 1 in 7 people will experience depression in their lifetime. Knowing how to spot the signs of depression and where to get help are the first steps towards recovery.

In this guide, we talk about how to know if you have depression, what the signs and symptoms are and when to get support.

What is depression?

Depression is a mental health condition that affects the way you feel, think and behave. Feeling low and losing interest in things that used to bring you joy are common depression symptoms.

It can also affect your body, for example by changing your appetite, disturbing your sleep or causing you to feel tired a lot of the time.

Depression is more than feeling sad or down. With depression, the low mood doesn't go away and can have a big impact on your day-to-day life. It may be hard to carry on with work, keep up with your responsibilities at home or connect with other people when you have depression.

Types of depression

The most common types of depression include:

  • Major depression or major depressive disorder – depressive symptoms last a long time and interfere with daily life.
  • Melancholic depression – a subtype of major depressive disorder that has both physical and emotional symptoms.
  • Psychotic depression – another subtype of major depressive disorder that includes hallucinations, delusions or paranoia.
  • Perinatal and postnatal depression – many women experience depression during pregnancy or after giving birth.

How to know if you have depression

Depression is diagnosed by a mental health professional. Before the diagnosis, they may ask you about your symptoms and how they affect your day-to-day life. It can be helpful to record your symptoms in a journal so that you can speak to your doctor about them during your appointment.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Hopeless outlook – feeling like things won't get better.
  • Loss of interest – you might find that activities that used to make you feel good don't anymore.
  • Lack of energy – feeling tired a lot of the time or feeling like everything is too hard.
  • Sleep problems – having trouble sleeping at night or sleeping too much.
  • Appetite and weight problems – loss of appetite and weight loss, or overeating and weight gain.
  • Mood swings and uncontrollable emotions – intense feelings of sadness that don't go away.
  • Irritability – frequently feeling angry or frustrated.
  • Feelings of worthlessness – having a low self esteem and thinking about your failures and shortcomings. Having thoughts like, 'I can't do anything right' or 'everything goes wrong for me'.
  • Feeling guilty – blaming yourself, feeling ashamed or thinking that you're letting people down.
  • Difficulty concentrating – having trouble focusing, making decisions or remembering things.
  • Withdrawal – shutting yourself off from other people or avoiding connecting with others.
  • Physical symptoms – experiencing aches, pains, headaches, muscle tension, cramps or digestive problems.
  • Thinking about death – many people with depression experience suicidal thoughts. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviours. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Depression and other health conditions

Depression often occurs alongside other mental health conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorder
  • Personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder

When to see a doctor

Everyone feels down from time to time, but if you're experiencing depressive symptoms that don't go away, it's important to seek help.

When you have depression it may be hard to ask for help. It's important to remember that you're not alone – 1 in 16 people in Australia are currently experiencing depression. Depression is treatable, and getting help sooner can lead to better outcomes.

You should see your doctor when:

  • You're feeling sad, teary or low most of the time
  • You've been experiencing symptoms for more than 2 weeks
  • You're finding hard to cope at home, work or school
  • You're using alcohol or drugs to cope

How is depression diagnosed?

Depression is diagnosed by a mental health professional using a regulated set of criteria. During the diagnosis process, they may ask you about your symptoms and how they affect your day-to-day life. They may also ask questions about your family history of depression and other health conditions you're living with.

Depending on your situation, the type of depression and how severe it is, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms and recover.

Treatment may include:

  • Lifestyle changes – such as improving your diet, getting more physical activity, reducing substance use and improving sleep patterns.
  • Psychological therapies – talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness.
  • Medication – severe depression is sometimes treated with medication, usually in combination with lifestyle and psychological therapies.

Where to get support for depression

  • Talking with your GP is a good place to start. They may refer you to a mental health professional who can give you specialised support and tools to cope.
  • Staying connected with family and friends is important. If you don't feel comfortable talking to them about your symptoms, you could try calling a mental health helpline.
  • Support groups are a good way to meet others who are going through a similar experience to you.

If you're having trouble finding work or staying in your job because of depression, you can get support from APM. We specialise in finding jobs for people with an injury, illness or disability, including mental health conditions.

We can also help you with workplace accommodations, accessing mental health services and overcoming any barriers you might be facing finding work or holding down a job.

For more information about working and coping with depression, read our guide to finding a job with depression.