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Depression affects many young Australians and can have a serious impact on personal development and wellbeing. It is therefore important that young people are able to recognise some of the signs and symptoms of depression, both in themselves and friends, and feel comfortable seeking further support when required.

Signs this might be a problem:

  • unexplained feelings of sadness, hopeless and/or helplessness
  • altered sleeping patterns, either oversleeping or having difficulty getting to or staying asleep
  • loss of interest in activities previously found enjoyable, such as spending time with friends or playing sports
  • feeling anxious a lot of the time
  • having no energy or motivation
  • crying more than usual, or for no apparent reason.
Young man in sweater looking off into the distance

What is depression?

Depression refers to several conditions characterised by constant feelings of sadness guilt, irritability and worthlessness. Depression is classified as such when this state persists for a period of at least two weeks and interferes in daily functioning (such as work, school or sport commitments). Depression often results in impaired sleeping patterns and appetite, a diminished interest in daily activities and general fatigue. Although sometimes triggered by life events, such as bullying or the breakup of a relationship, depression can often occur without any obvious reason or trigger. Severe depression may result in suicidal thoughts.

Non-melancholic depression, also known as major or clinical depression, is the most common form of depression and is estimated to affect 6.3% of Australians aged 16-24 years. One in four females and one in six males will be affected by clinical depression over their lifetime. Clinical depression often occurs in response to psychological factors, such as experiencing a series of stressful events, but may not resolve once these issues have been resolved. As non-melancholic depression does not have any defining symptoms (such as psychotic features or impaired mental functioning) it may be difficult to diagnose.

Other forms of depression include melancholic depression, which is typically more severe than non-melancholic depression, and psychotic depression. Melancholic depression is thought to be caused by biological factors, affecting around 1-2% of the general population. Psychotic depression, which presents with psychotic features, is relatively uncommon.

Depression can often co-occur with other anxiety and substance abuse disorders.

Signs and symptoms of depression

Depression has a range of symptoms, and people may not experience all of these symptoms. However, some common ones are:

  • feeling sad or depressed most of the time
  • sleep disturbances
  • irritability
  • general lack of interest and enjoyment in activities previously engaging
  • crying often
  • feeling anxious
  • unintentional changes in weight, either weight gain or loss, and changes in appetite
  • feeling restless or unable to concentrate
  • fatigue
  • feeling worthless or guilty
  • lack of self-esteem
  • loss of libido
  • suicidal or self-harming thoughts.

What young people can do about depression

Learning how to manage stressful situations and recognising when to seek help, either personally or for friend or relative, are important tools enabling young people to manage and possibly prevent depression. Stress management and coping techniques such as meditation and increased physical activity can be valuable ways to minimise the risk of developing depression.

If a person is experiencing many, or even a few of the symptoms associated with depression, it may be important to seek medical advice. Visiting a local GP is often advisable, who can then work out the best course of treatment. This may involve counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or in some circumstances medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclics (TCAs) or irreversible Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) may be recommended. resources on depression

The following fact sheets and resources from the youth site may assist a young person who might be experiencing depression:

Recommended professional resources

How to help

  • Treatment of depression should be carried out by a mental health professional.
  • Encourage them to use to learn more about depression and their symptoms.
  • Refer the young person to a GP for assessment.
  • Encourage them to contact eheadspace or visit a headspace centre.