Young man in sweater looking off into the distance

Depression affects many young Australians and can have a serious impact on personal development and wellbeing. It is important that students 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.

What is depression?

Feelings of sadness, guilt, irritability or even worthlessness are something most people experience at some point. However, when these feelings are present for most of the day, every day for at least two weeks and interfere in daily functioning (such as work, school or sport commitments), then this is considered clinical depression. Depression often results in impaired sleeping patterns and appetite, 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 depressions. 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 a non-melancholic depression, and psychotic depression. Melancholic depression is thought to be more strongly influenced by biological factors than non-melancholic depression, 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.

Helping students with depression

Learning how to manage stressful situations and recognising when to seek help, either personally or for friend or relative, are important tools enabling students 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. These techniques are a starting point for helping reduce the impact of depression in high school students.

If a student 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 therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or in some circumstances medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclics (TCAs) or irreversible Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) or others 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:

What can I do now?

  • Encourage students to use to learn more about depression and its symptoms.

  • Teach students about mental health with ReachOut Schools classroom activities.

  • Refer the young person to a GP for assessment.

  • Encourage students to contact eheadspace or visit a headspace centre.