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How To Know If You Have Depression

Depression is one of the most common health conditions with up to 1 in 5 people suffering at some point in their lives.

Depression is a major contributor to the worldwide burden of chronic illness affecting up to 1 in 20 people in the world at any one time, and the WHO estimates that globally 280 million people are currently suffering with depression. The 2007 Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing found that nearly half of Australians aged 16 to 85 had experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime with 6% having suffered depression at some point in the 12 months prior to the survey being completed. The annual economic cost of depression, together with anxiety and substance abuse in Australia, is $12.8 billion. In the UK depression alone costs the economy $14billion each year!

What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

Symptoms are effects that are experienced by the sufferer and signs are effects that may be noticed by others. The signs and symptoms of depression can be far reaching across all areas of life. Typically, a sufferer may experience a combination of any of the following:

  • Low mood. You might find yourself crying often and over things that wouldn’t have made you tearful in the past. Others might notice that you don’t laugh as much as you used to.
  • Sleep disturbance. You might find it very difficult to fall and stay asleep at night. Alternatively, people who suffer with depression may also find that they feel so tired all the time they end up sleeping too much. A common symptom of depression is automatically waking up in the early hours of the morning. 
  • Poor concentration. You may find yourself unable to read for long or concentrate on a movie until the end. Lack of concentration may even start causing problems at work with reduced productivity leading to increased feelings of stress at the thought of incomplete tasks.
  • Forgetfulness. You may find yourself being increasingly absent-minded, not remembering where you put your car keys, or forgetting to do jobs around the house or at work. Others may even others notice that you can’t remember things they have talked to you about or asked you to do.
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  • Appetite changes. People with depression may seek comfort from foods that cause temporary release of happy chemicals in the brain. They may overeat these highly palatable foods e.g. sweets, pastries, fried foods. On the other hand, some people with depression may lose their appetite especially if they have high levels of anxiety.  
  • Lethargy. Tiredness is a common symptom of depression. At the extreme end it can lead to extended sleep, staying in bed all day and avoiding physical activity. Others may observe that a person with depression has slowed right down.
  • Loss of motivation. A loss or lack of drive is often seen with depression. You may give up on your dreams. Others might notice projects that you have started get left unfinished. 
  • Loss of self-esteem. Feeling as though you are not enough is very common. This might be feelings of not being a good enough employee, not being a good enough parent, not being attractive enough, not being smart enough etc. This loss of self-esteem can be coupled with feelings of unworthiness too. This may manifest itself with thoughts like ‘I don’t deserve to be happy’ or ‘I don’t deserve that promotion’.
  • Loss of sex drive. When people are depressed they often lose their libido. This can cause added problems in a relationship if you just don’t want to have sex.
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  • Feelings of guilt. It’s not uncommon when a person is depressed to start applying self-blame.  
  • Increased anxiety and irritability. Short-temperedness can be an early sign of depression along with a feeling of nervousness or apprehension for no particular reason. 
  • Anhedonia. This is an inability to find pleasure or enjoyment in life, even with activities that used to bring joy. 
  • Self-isolation. Many of the symptoms of depression can lead to a person avoiding social interaction with others. Loss of self-confidence and motivation combined with anhedonia can contribute to self-isolation.
  • Difficulty making decisions. Depression can affect a person’s ability to have clarity and decisiveness. 
  • Menstrual disturbances. Stress hormone levels can rise with depression interfering with normal menstrual cycles. Women may experience changes from complete loss of periods to heavier bleeding than usual. 
  • Increased pain. Lack of sleep and reduced physical activity as a result of depression can lead to increased pain sensitivity and lowering of a person’s pain threshold.
  • Self-harm. Depression can lead to thoughts or actual self-harm such as cutting, hair pulling or even attempts at taking one’s life.
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Screening questions for depression

There are a number of tools that health professionals use to determine if a person may be suffering from depression. Below are some questions from the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ 9) that you can ask yourself to see if you may be suffering from depression. Each question refers to how often a person has experienced symptoms in the past 2 weeks. The questions are rated on a scale of 0 to 3 where 0 means never and 3 means all the time. The higher the final score, the more severe the depression.

  1. How often have you had little interest or pleasure in doing things, including things that you previously found enjoyable?
  2. How often have you felt down, depressed or hopeless?
  3. How often have you had trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping too much?
  4. How often have you felt tired or lacking in energy?
  5. How often have you experienced poor appetite or overeating?
  6. How often have you felt bad about yourself – that you are a failure or have let down others?
  7. How often have you had trouble concentrating, for example when watching tv or reading?
  8. How often have you been moving or speaking so slowly that others have noticed? Or so fidgety and restless that you can’t be still? 
  9. How often have you had thoughts that you would be better off dead, or thoughts of hurting yourself in some way?

If you think you might be suffering, talk to your healthcare professional about how they can help you. In Australia you can also visit Beyond Blue or in the UK, Mind.

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