What is depression? An in-depth overview

Depression looks different for everyone

1 in 7 Australians, including young people, will experience depression at some point in their lifetime.

If you are living with depression, you aren't alone.

Depression, sometimes referred to as clinical depression, is a mood disorder that affects your emotions, thoughts, and behaviour, and impacts people all around the world, every day.

It is a complex mental illness that can range from mild to severe depression and can last for short or long periods of time.

In severe cases, people living with depression can also experience thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, there is help available. For support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or if you are in immediate danger, call 000.

While living with depression looks different for everyone, it's important to remember that with education, proper treatment, and effective coping strategies, you can get back to living a healthy and fulfilling life.

Types of depression

There are many different types of depression, each with slightly different symptoms, treatments and coping strategies.

Some of the different types include:

Major depressive disorder

Major depressive disorder is the most common type of depression to be diagnosed with and is characterised by persistent low moods, negative thoughts and feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness.

These feelings can interfere with your ability to complete everyday tasks, such as going to work or school, and can also lead to changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and concentration.

If you're living with major depressive disorder you may also experience physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, and digestive issues.

Persistent depressive disorder

You might be living with persistent depressive disorder if you have experienced a depressed mood for most of the day, on most days, for over two years.

This type of depression often develops in young people, which can lead adults with this condition to believe that they don't need to seek professional support because they've always felt this way.

Seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to changes in the seasons, usually beginning in autumn and continuing into the winter months.

SAD is thought to be linked to the changes in light exposure throughout different seasons.

This can present itself through symptoms like a lack of energy, sleeping a lot, overeating and craving carbohydrates.

Melancholic depression

Melancholic depression is a subtype of major depressive disorder that has both physical and emotional symptoms.

The physical symptoms of melancholic depression can include fatigue, changes in appetite, and changes in sleep patterns, as well as pacing, hand-wringing, or an inability to focus on a task.

Some people may also experience difficulty speaking or an inability to complete sentences.

In some cases, people may find themselves unable to complete even the simplest of tasks, such as brushing their teeth or making a cup of tea.

Psychotic depression

Psychotic depression is another subtype of major depressive disorder that includes hallucinations, delusions or paranoia.

When psychotic symptoms are present, your depression can be more severe and treatment may need to be adjusted accordingly.

Postpartum and perinatal depression

Many women experience depression during pregnancy (perinatal depression) and after giving birth (postpartum depression). It can range from mild to severe and can last up to a year or more.

Symptoms of postpartum and perinatal depression can include feeling overwhelmed, anxious, irritable, guilty, or disinterested in activities that were once enjoyable.

It is important to create a support system of family, friends, and healthcare professionals to help you manage your symptoms.

Ensuring you take time for yourself can help you feel more in control of your depression and help you feel more connected to your baby.

Working colleagues support each other while living with depression and other mental health conditions

Associated mental health conditions

While depression is a mental health condition of its own, it can also be linked with other mental health conditions, including:

  • Anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
  • Bipolar disorder, which is characterised by alternating periods of mania and depression.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, which is triggered by a traumatic event.
  • Schizophrenia, which is characterised by hallucinations, delusions, and disorganised thinking.
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, which occurs in children and is characterised by severe irritability and bad temper.

As with any mental health condition, there is always support available - never hesitate to reach out to one of the many helplines that exist to support your mental health.

Depression risk factors

While the cause of depression is unknown, there are several risk factors that make it more likely that you may develop depression.

Some of these risk factors include:

Biological factors

  • Genetics and family history
  • Brain chemistry and chemical imbalances
  • Hormonal imbalances

Environmental factors

  • Adverse life events such as trauma, loss, and abuse
  • Chronic stress
  • Substance abuse
  • Medical conditions

Psychological factors

  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative thinking patterns
  • Anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder

Two friends supporting each other through depression with a warm mug of coffee

Treatment options if you're living with depression

Depression is a treatable condition, no matter what type you have, with many different options available for managing your symptoms.

Please note that it’s always recommended that you speaking with a professional mental healthcare provider before starting treatment on your own.

While finding the right treatment that works for you can be a process, persisting until you find the best options for you will be worth it.

Some of the common depression treatment options include:


Antidepressant medication is often used to help manage symptoms of depression, and can be prescribed by your GP.

These medications work by balancing chemicals in the brain that affect your mood.

It is important to note that antidepressant medications do not cure depression, but rather help you manage its symptoms.

It is also important to note that these medications take several weeks to start working, and you'll need to be patient while you wait for them to take effect.

It is important to pay attention to any side effects that may occur while taking medication, and speak to your doctor if any arise.

It is also important to keep up with regular check-ups and to discuss any changes in symptoms with a doctor.

Keep in mind that antidepressants are only part of a comprehensive treatment plan for depression, and other treatments such as therapy and lifestyle changes may also be necessary.


Therapy provides a safe, non-judgmental space for you to explore your feelings and develop a better understanding of yourself and your emotions, with the support of a professional psychologist.

During therapy sessions, your psychologist can suggest different strategies to help you manage your depression in a way that suits your situation.

There are a variety of different types of therapy that can be effective in treating depression, including talk therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which can help you identify negative thought patterns and develop effective coping strategies.

As with any type of treatment, finding the right therapist for you can take time.

We encourage you to be patient throughout the process and keep trying until you find someone who you feel comfortable with.

Lifestyle changes

Making lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, connecting regularly with friends and family and getting enough sleep, can also help manage your symptoms.

It is important to find activities that you enjoy and to make time for them.

This could be anything from going for a walk, to playing a sport or painting.

Doing something you enjoy can help to boost your mood.

Some people may also benefit from trying alternative treatments, such as light therapy or brain stimulation therapies like electroconvulsive therapy.

Coping strategies

There are also effective coping strategies that you can implement in your everyday life that can help to manage your symptoms, including relaxation techniques, keeping a gratitude journal and creating an achievable routine.

To learn more about how these strategies could work for you, head to our blog: APM's advice for living with depression.

While you’re undergoing treatment, remember to be kind to yourself.

Try to be understanding of your feelings and recognise that it can take time to make progress.

Every small step you take will add up to greater overall progress.

Men mentoring each other on how to cope with depression

Seek help from a mental healthcare professional

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, it's critical that you reach out to a mental health professional for support.

Remember that depression is not a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of, it is a serious medical condition that requires the help and support of a healthcare professional.

If this step feels too overwhelming for you, there is also a range of free mental health helplines that you can call at any time, who have trained mental health professionals on the other end of the phone for you to talk to.

When should I seek help?

If symptoms of depression persist for more than two weeks and interfere with your daily life, it is recommended to reach out to a mental health professional.

How to seek help

To access professional healthcare support, simply visit your GP and speak to them about your symptoms.

From there they can assess your situation, and recommend treatment options that will be right for you.

Your doctor may direct you to a psychologist, prescribe you medication, suggest personal coping strategies, or a combination of all of these things.

If you are in crisis, you can access emergency services, such as calling a crisis hotline or going to a hospital emergency department.

They are available 24/7 and can provide immediate help and support.

It is important to remember that you are not alone and there are people and services available to help you.

Seeking help is the first step to taking care of yourself and your mental health, and paving the way towards a more fulfilling life.

Living with depression can be challenging, but the most important thing to remember is that there are plenty of ways to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

To learn more about the intricacies that can come with living with depression, explore our article: Living with depression: symptoms, coping strategies, employment and supports.