Increasing our Understanding of Depression

In recent years we have seen more people sharing their struggles with mental illness. However, a number of people are still struggling in silence. One in five New Zealanders will experience mild depression at some time in their lives. When you think of your family, friends or colleagues, the chances of someone having had depression is extremely high. Understanding mental illness is a huge part of encouraging conversations about mental health, improving our wellbeing and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. This piece therefore aims to increase our understanding of depression.

Signs of depression

Depression often develops over time and it can be difficult to understand what has led to a person’s depression. Stressors (significant events or situations that a person experiences) are often linked to depression but these are not always present. Each person’s experience is different and putting mental illnesses into categories can give an incomplete picture. In saying that, it is useful to understand some of the symptoms commonly associated with depression to help identify the signs in ourselves or those around us. Depression is characterized by a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure. This is usually experienced over a long period of weeks or months. Common symptoms associated with depression are:

  • Weight loss or weight gain

  • Increase or decrease in appetite

  • Not sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping too much (hypersomnia)

  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt

  • Lack of energy

  • Low self-esteem

  • Feeling sad or crying for no obvious reason

  • Emotional numbness

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Thoughts of death

  • Feeling anxious or irritable

These symptoms often lead to distress or impairment in other areas of a person’s life. Depression can cause a strain on social relationships, including with friends, family and colleagues. It can also impact on a person’s education or employment.

How to manage your depression

One thing that is important when experiencing depression is to celebrate the little wins. The median occurrence of a major depressive episode, even with treatment, is six months. It is also important not to compare your own situation to others and give yourself unrealistic expectations of your recovery. Each person’s experience is different. Recurrence/repeated episodes of depression are common. It is useful to have a long-term treatment plan in place. Try not to feel defeated if your depression recurs. Know that you have beaten it once and can do so again – each time you are learning more about yourself and how to get through the battle.

There are a number of things people can do to help manage their depression. Although some examples are given below, you should try to understand how you think and what works for you. Some things that can help with managing depression are:

  • Regular exercise: This can be as simple as a short walk on your lunch break. If you know this is something you struggle with (especially as the days get colder) try to find an exercise buddy who will hold you accountable.

  • Regular quality sleep: When you have depression, it can be difficult to maintain a good sleep pattern. Try to get into a routine and create a plan that will help you. Little changes like keeping your phone out of reach from your bed at night can really help.

  • Understanding what triggers depression for you: This could be certain situations, stress or lack of sleep. Understanding your triggers will help you to avoid them and better manage when they arise. A journal can be useful for this: reflect on what things are helping or hindering you.

  • Talking to someone: This could be a friend, family member, support group, counsellor or helpline. Some people prefer talking to someone they know about their depression, while for others it can be easier talking to a stranger. Find what works for you.

  • Reducing stress: In addition to stressors being something that can lead to depression, stress can also aggravate a person’s symptoms. If you have depression, you should try to reduce your stress and find things that help you relax. Some things to try are meditation, going for a walk, drawing or reading a book.

It’s important to try things out and find what works for you. If the first thing you try doesn’t work, try something else! If the first person you tell doesn’t hear you, please tell someone else! As someone who has experienced depression in silence, the best advice I can give is to reach out. A problem shared, truly is a problem halved.

Another important thing to remember is that you are not your depression. Your depression does not define you. Sometimes you can forget who you were before your depression or feel you will never escape it. Remembering that there is a “you” to fight for is so important.

Helping someone who has depression

It can be really difficult for people experiencing depression to speak out. They can feel isolated and depression can put a strain on relationships. It is important to check up on each other and let our friends and family know we are there for them, especially if we think they have depression. Uncomfortable conversations are often the most important ones!

Knowing how to react when someone tells you they are depressed is crucial. A common response is to ask people why they are depressed. Not only can this make people feel like they need an explanation for their depression to be valid, it also fails to understand the nature of depression. There is not always a simple explanation for depression and it is not something people can control.

Where to get help for depression

Depression can be so isolating, but you are never alone. If you need professional help for your depression, book an appointment with your doctor or a counsellor. They can help you work out what support you need. There are also a number of helplines available in New Zealand for people wanting to talk:

  • Need to talk? 1737 Free call or text 24/7

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 - Provides 24-hour telephone counselling

  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 - Provides 24-hour telephone counselling.

  • Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 - 12 pm to 11 pm on the phone and 3pm + 10pm on online chat

  • Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm - 6pm weekdays)

  • The Low Down: Free text 5626 or email

  • SPARX: Online e-therapy tool.

  • or 0800111757

  • Depression Helpline- 0800 111 757 or free text 4202

  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234 - Provides 24-hour telephone and text counselling services for young people

  • Tautoko: 0508 828 865 - provides support, information and resources to people at risk of suicide, and their family, whanau and friends.

  • Healthline – 0800611116