Living with depression: symptoms, coping strategies, employment and supports

Woman who has lived with depression with her dog and laptop

Living with depression is a reality that 1 in 7 people in Australia face in their lifetime.

If you’re living with depression, you aren’t alone.

Whether you’re experiencing mild symptoms or severe depression, there is a way for you to learn to manage your condition in a way that is right for you, and get back to living a fulfilling life.

What is depression?

Depression, often referred to as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a mental illness characterised by a persistent feeling of sadness or a lack of interest in external stimuli.

This mood disorder is more than just feeling down, it's a constant battle that affects all areas of everyday life.

There are several different types of depression, including:

  • Major depression or major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Melancholic depression
  • Psychotic depression
  • Perinatal depression
  • Postnatal depression
  • Postpartum depression

To better understand the different types of depression, read our blog: What is depression? An in-depth overview.

Depression symptoms

Depression manifests in various ways, with both emotional and physical symptoms.

Common signs, varying from very mild to extremely severe symptoms, include:

  • Persistent low mood or sadness – this is a hallmark of depression, where individuals often feel engulfed by a cloud of melancholy that doesn't lift easily.
  • Lack of interest in daily activities – Activities and hobbies once enjoyed become burdensome. Even routine tasks or social engagements can seem like a mountain to climb.
  • Fatigue and tiredness – People can experience debilitating exhaustion, making day-to-day tasks feel incredibly challenging.
  • Changes in appetite – Depression can drastically influence eating habits. Some might overeat as a coping mechanism, while others might lose their appetite altogether.
  • Sleep disturbances – Whether it's battling insomnia or feeling the need to oversleep, disrupted sleep patterns can further magnify feelings of fatigue.
  • Negative thoughts – A constant stream of pessimistic thoughts can occupy the mind for a long time, which can sometimes escalate to suicidal thoughts in severe cases. These can be about oneself, the world, or the future, often devoid of hope or positivity. If you are experiencing negative or suicidal thoughts or behaviours, reach out to Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 000.
  • Physical symptoms – for some, depression doesn't just affect the mind. Many report unexplained aches, persistent pains, or a general feeling of physical malaise.

It's also common for those living with depression to experience episodes of major depression, where these symptoms become particularly intense, making daily functioning exceptionally hard.

If you’re unsure whether you are living with depression, you might find this article helpful: How to know if you have depression: signs and symptoms.

Coping strategies

While successfully managing and living with depression can seem impossible, with the right combination of medical and personal strategies, we know you can do it.

There are many different treatment options and coping strategies out there to help you live a fulfilling life.

Some of them include:

1. Learn about depression

Taking the time to understand more about depression, including your regularly occurring symptoms and how to manage them will help you look after yourself better.

2. Access professional support

Talking to a mental health professional such as your GP or a mental health helpline can help you determine what coping strategies work for you and can help you craft personalised plans.

They can also prescribe you antidepressant medication if they determine they will benefit you.

Alongside mental health professionals, there is also other professional support out there to help you live the life you desire, such as Disability Employment Services like APM, which can help you find and keep meaningful employment while living with depression.

Older man supporting a younger man living with depression

3. Stay connected

When living with depression, experiencing a diminished drive to interact in social situations can be common. However, pushing yourself to connect with others is crucial.

One of the best ways to start doing this is to regularly interact with people you feel comfortable with, such as your loved ones, or even join a community support group that understands and can relate to what you’re going through.

4. Reduce your stressors

Start paying attention to how stress impacts your depression symptoms - you’ll likely find that they are very closely related.

Think about what is causing stress in your life, and see if there is anything you can do to remove or reduce that stressor.

A perfect example of this is to consider what at your workplace causes unnecessary stress and speak to your boss about making some workplace modifications to change your situation.

If you’re struggling to have that conversation with your boss, our understanding team at APM would love to help.

Another great way to reduce stress in daily life is to try some relaxation techniques, such as breathing and meditation when you’re in a situation you find overwhelming.

5. Do things you usually enjoy

Making time to do things you enjoy every day can have a massive impact on lifting your mood.

When your mood is low and you don’t feel like doing one of those activities, try to give it a go anyway.

Then compare how you felt before the activity, to after you finish the activity.

6. Move more

Engaging in regular exercise directly benefits your mood, no matter how much or how little you do.

7. Eat a healthy diet

Consuming a balanced diet and avoiding processed foods can help keep your body and mind healthy.

It’s also a good idea to consume foods that are associated with improved mental well-being, such as Omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins.

To see a full list of recommended foods, explore our article on how to cope with depression.

8. Avoid drug and alcohol use

While it can be tempting to use these substances to lift your mood, they actually have the opposite effect – drugs and alcohol make depression symptoms worse.

If you’re struggling to regulate drug and alcohol use, support is available from your GP, or helplines such as Beyond Blue.

9. Create healthy sleeping habits

When you’re living with depression it can be hard to keep healthy sleeping habits.

To avoid under or over-sleeping, building healthy habits around sleeping such as not napping throughout the day and going to bed at the same time every night can be effective.

10. Challenge negative thinking

While this can be really hard, it’s important to put some effort into trying to challenge negative thinking, to counteract your low moods.

Some techniques you can try include writing a gratitude journal, using cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) techniques to replace negative thoughts with positive ones and asking yourself if your negative thoughts are realistic.

11. Establish a routine

Creating a regular routine that you stick to without having to think about it can help you carry on with daily life, even when you feel like you don’t have enough energy.

Your routine should start by including simple and realistic things you can do every day.

12. Set achievable goals

Living with depression can make simple tasks feel impossible. Instead of tackling each thing on your to-do list as one big hurdle, instead try breaking them down into smaller, more manageable steps.

Every time you achieve one of these small steps, take a moment to celebrate.

A great example of this is instead of setting a goal to wash all your dishes, first aim to wash all your dirty plates.

By implementing these coping strategies alongside professional guidance, living with depression can become more manageable, fostering a path toward improved mental well-being.

You can learn more about how to cope with depression here.

Treatment options for people living with depression

Treatment for depression can involve a blend of therapy and medication, depending on the severity of the symptoms you experience and your situation.

If you think you might be living with depression, seeing a healthcare professional is the best first step to regain control over your life.

When you visit a mental health care provider, they may suggest some of the following treatments, depending on your situation.

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – This therapy, a type of talk therapy, is one of the primary methods used by mental health providers to address depression. CBT focuses on recognising and addressing negative patterns of thought and behaviour, and working on strategies to balance them out.
  • Medication – Different antidepressants are available, and their effectiveness varies among individuals. A doctor or mental health care provider will consider factors like your family history, risk factors, and your specific symptoms of depression before prescribing medication. It's crucial to be aware of potential withdrawal symptoms and communicate any concerns with your doctor.
  • Brain stimulation therapy – For those suffering from treatment-resistant depression, brain stimulation therapies, like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), might be recommended. These treatments are administered under the guidance of specialised healthcare providers.

Working closely with a doctor or mental health provider to determine the most effective coping strategies, as well as understanding your family history.

Staying informed about your warning signs of depressive episodes are all essential steps in crafting a thorough treatment plan.

To access professional mental health providers, the best first step is to book an appointment with your GP and explain your situation to them.

If that seems too overwhelming, consider reaching out to one of the many mental health helplines.

Treatment by a qualified professional can be an option for people living with depression

Jobs for people living with depression

Finding a job that's accommodating to your specific needs is crucial, and can help improve your drive and motivation to go to work.

While there is no one-size-fits-all job that suits everyone living with depression, it can be helpful to consider the following qualities when assessing whether a job will be right for you:

  • How much social interaction would you ideally like to engage in every day? Consider the pros and cons of regular connection, and how this could impact your mood.
  • What type of environment do you find you are most comfortable and productive in? Do you thrive with plenty of background noise, or do you find peace and quiet more helpful?
  • Would flexible working hours help you manage your depression, or do you need solid structure and routine?
  • What type of work will give you a sense of purpose?

To discover more about what kind of work might suit you best, and to see a list of jobs you might like to consider, head to our blog: Rewarding jobs ideas for people living with depression.

Tips for working with depression

If you’re living with depression, navigating the professional world can feel complicated.

The pressures of deadlines, team interactions, and maintaining work quality can sometimes compound mental health challenges.

However, with certain adjustments and proactive strategies, coping with workplace responsibilities can become more manageable.

Keep open communication

It can be beneficial to inform your supervisor or human resources representative about your mental health condition.

Doing so can foster understanding and potentially open the door to adjustments that might help your work performance and mental well-being.

Take regular breaks

Taking short breaks throughout your workday can be crucial.

Even a few minutes of relaxation, such as stepping away from your desk, stretching, or deep breathing, can help mitigate stress and reset your mind.

This mental 'white space' can be restorative and increase productivity in the long run.

Prioritise tasks

Depression can be overwhelming, making complex tasks seem even more daunting.

A practical approach to managing your workload is to focus on the most critical tasks first, breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps.

Using organisational tools like task lists, planners, or digital apps can also assist in keeping track of tasks and deadlines.

Seek workplace support

Many employers offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) or other mental health resources.

These programs can provide access to counselling, stress management courses, or even work-life balance tips.

It's worth exploring what options your employer might offer, as these resources can be immensely helpful in managing workplace stress while dealing with depression.

If your workplace doesn’t offer this kind of support, or you feel like you need more specific assistance, it could be worth registering for APM's Disability Employment Services.

Not only are our team dedicated to helping you find meaningful work, but we can also help you talk to your current employer and organise required workplace modifications, to help you thrive in your role.

Set realistic goals

Recognise your limitations and set realistic daily, weekly, or monthly goals.

Having attainable targets can help reduce feelings of overwhelm, provide a sense of structure, and instil a sense of accomplishment once they are achieved.

Self-care

Pay attention to your personal well-being in addition to your professional responsibilities.

This could include ensuring you're eating nutritious meals, getting regular exercise, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and setting boundaries to maintain a work-life balance.

We cover more tips about this in our blog: Working with depression: strategies that may help.

Man supporting someone living with depression though understanding, empathy and patience

How to support someone living with depression

Supporting someone living with depression requires understanding, empathy, and patience.

It's vital to acknowledge that depression is a serious mental health condition, not a personal weakness.

Here are some practical ways you can provide support to someone living with depression:

  • Being there for them by simply offering your presence and listening without judgment can be a powerful form of support. Avoid attempting to 'fix' their problems, but rather offer reassurance that they're not alone in their journey.
  • Educate yourself about depression to understand their experiences better.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help from healthcare providers. If they are hesitant, you could offer to accompany them to appointments or help them research potential therapists or psychiatrists.
  • Regularly check in with them to see how they're doing. Social support like that can be critical, whether it be through a phone call, a message, or a personal visit.
  • Remaining patient is critical to show your support. Progress in managing depression can be slow, and setbacks are common. Showing patience demonstrates your continued support, even when things are tough.
  • Ensure you’re taking care of your own mental health. Supporting someone with depression can take an emotional toll. Ensure you're taking time for self-care and seek support for yourself if needed.

Depression is a pervasive mental health condition affecting countless people, especially young adults, every day.

While it can seem impossible at times, managing depression every day is possible by recognising your symptoms, finding effective coping strategies, and seeking suitable professional help.

If you’re living with depression, with understanding, awareness, and support, you will be able to learn to manage your symptoms in a way that works for you, and get back to leading a fulfilling life.