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What is Depression?

Depression is a term used to describe a mental health condition characterised by pervasive low mood and other symptoms that are persistent, cause significant distress and  affect every day life and relationships. Depression is not the experience of sadness, grief, or unhappiness that everyone experiences throughout their life.

What causes Depression?

Depression has no one particular cause. For some, there may be an identifiable triggering event, such as job loss, however, there may also be no obvious cause.

Research has determined that there are some factors that can increase a person’s vulnerability toward depression. These include:

  • Family History: The risk of developing depression can be higher for individuals who have a close relative with the condition. However, even with a possible genetic risk for depression, it is not a foregone conclusion that an individual will go on to develop depression. Other factors can combine to increase or decrease risk of symptoms emerging.
  • Physiological Factors: Neurologically, depression has been linked to changes in neuro-chemicals called serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which all play a role in regulation of mood. Physical health conditions have also been associated with increased risk of depression, including diagnosis of a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer or chronic pain.
  • Psychological Factors: Risk of depression is increased for individuals who tend to rely on unhelpful thinking styles, including a tendency to focus more on negative aspects in their lives, to preoccupy themselves with worry and to consider the glass being ‘half empty’ more than ‘half full’. That is, a tendency to filter out the positive aspects of their lives and emphasise the negative aspects, or to focus on the negative outcomes that might potentially happen (catastrophise). These thinking styles can contribute to low self-esteem and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Alternatively, a thinking style that incorporates gratitude, realistic expectations and optimism can protect against risk of developing depression.
  • Social Factors: Social isolation and an absence of stable and secure relationships can increase the risk of developing depression. Social connectedness is therefore an important factor in both protecting against the risk of depression and reducing the effects of depression. Past experiences of trauma or adversity can also increase risk, including unemployment, childhood neglect or abuse, domestic violence, bullying or social exclusion, and exposure to violence or displacement (e.g. through war, homelessness).

Who is affected by Depression?

Depression affects people across the life span with approximately 20 per cent of adults affected by depression, either directly or indirectly, over the course of their lives. Women are diagnosed twice as often as men with the condition. Depression tends also to emerge in adolescence or early adulthood, with about 50 per cent of individuals who experience a depressive episode, developing symptoms before the age of 30 years.

What are the symptoms?

A depressive episode is characterised by one or both of the symptoms below:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness or irritability
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day nearly every day.

The above symptoms occur with several additional symptoms below and persist for at least two weeks:

  • Significant change in appetite or unintentional weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleep disturbance; under or over-sleeping
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Fatigue or loss of energy most days
  • Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness or excessive guilt
  • Reduced concentration or difficulty making decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

How is Depression treated?

A range of effective interventions exist to treat Depression. Treatment should be individualised with a range of factors considered, including the particular symptoms reported, the severity and course of the symptoms, and the presence of co-morbid conditions. Psychological treatments can be effective used alone, particularly as a first step in treatment, or in combination with other treatments, such as antidepressant medication. Unlike general supportive counselling, specific psychological interventions tend to be more effective as they target current concerns and symptoms experienced, and aim to reduce the potential for future episodes. Psychological interventions well supported by research evidence include: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) and Short-term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. Additional therapy techniques include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), mindfulness based CBT (mCBT), Narrative Therapy and Schema Therapy.

How do I find out more?

To find out more, you are welcome to contact Q-Psych to discuss your needs and arrange an appointment.

Links to sites that you may also find helpful are below:


  • Australian Bureau of Statistics. (1997). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing of Adults. Canberra: Author.
  • Australian Psychological Society.
  • Clarke, DM & Currie, KC (2009). Depression, anxiety and their relationship with chronic diseases: A review of the epidemiology, risk and treatment evidence. Medical Journal of Australia, 190(7): 54-60.
  • Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th edn. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.
  • Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602.
  • National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Depression in adults: The treatment and management of depression in adults.  NICE clinical guideline 90, 2009.

This blog was brought to you by Q-Psych psychologist, Gail Corrigan.

© Q-Psych 2016