It’s completely normal for our moods to shift and change as we respond and adapt to life’s many challenges. Feeling sad, moody or low is common, but some of us are unable to regulate our moods, or may feel intensely sad or low for a prolonged period of time. This can severely affect how we cope and live our day-to-day lives.
What defines depression?
One in 16 Australians experience depression every year. When we feel depressed, life can feel hopeless, as if there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. When we once found pleasure in life, we now feel disinterested in the activities we enjoyed. We may feel a lack of motivation and productivity, and doing small things like getting out of bed feels like a burdening chore. Depression is so much more than just being sad and crying. It’s made up of many elements, including a persistent feeling of lowness, worthlessness, numbness, or guilt.
Some people with depression may look like they can still function well and manage misleading smiles. However, these people often hide behind a mask of persistent lowness and fatigue. If suffering from depression, we may also experience fluctuations in appetite or weight. Unfortunately some turn to alcohol or substances to cope and other with more severe levels of depression may also experience suicidal thoughts/tendencies.
You may be familiar with Bipolar disorder as well. Bipolar differs from depression in that its sufferers can experience extreme mood fluctuations – between feelings of euphoria and ultimate lows. Bipolar affects our ability to function in daily life, can make it difficult to cope, and generally requires long-term treatment. With treatment and support, you can manage symptoms and maintain a good quality of life.
Types of mood disorders
We can help you overcome a variety of mood disorders and forms of depression.
Major depression is sometimes called major depressive disorder, clinical depression, unipolar depression or simply ‘depression’. It involves low mood and/or loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities, as well as other symptoms. Symptoms are experienced most days and last for at least two weeks. Symptoms of depression interfere with all areas of a person’s life, including work and social relationships. It can be described as mild, moderate or severe; melancholic or psychotic.
The symptoms of dysthymia are similar to those of major depression but are less severe. However, in the case of dysthymia, symptoms last longer. A person has to have this milder depression for more than two years to be diagnosed with dysthymia.
This used to be known as ‘manic depression’ because the person experiences periods of depression and periods of mania, with periods of normal mood in between.
Mania is the opposite of depression and can vary in intensity – symptoms include feeling great, having lots of energy, having racing thoughts and little need for sleep, talking quickly, having difficulty focusing on tasks, and feeling frustrated and irritable. This is not just a fleeting experience. Sometimes one loses touch with reality and has episodes of psychosis.
Bipolar disorder seems to be most closely linked to family history. Stress and conflict can trigger episodes for people with this condition and it’s not uncommon for bipolar disorder to be misdiagnosed as depression, alcohol or drug abuse, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or schizophrenia.
Diagnosis depends on the person having had an episode of mania and, unless observed, this can be hard to pick. It is not uncommon for people to go for years before receiving an accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder. If you’re experiencing highs and lows, it’s helpful to make this clear to your doctor or treating health professional. Bipolar disorder affects approximately 2% of the population.
Perinatal and postnatal depression
Women are at an increased risk of depression during pregnancy (known as the antenatal or prenatal period) and in the year following childbirth (known as the postnatal period). ‘Perinatal’ describes the period covered by pregnancy and the first year after the baby’s birth. Almost 10% of women will experience depression during pregnancy. This increases to 16% in the first three months after having a baby.
What can be the cause of perinatal depression? The ‘baby blues’, or general stress adjusting to pregnancy and a new baby are common experiences, but are different from depression. Depression is longer lasting and can affect not only the mother, but her relationship with her baby, the child’s development, the mother’s relationship with her partner and with other members of the family.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
SAD is a mood disorder that has a seasonal pattern. The cause of the disorder is unclear, but it’s thought to be related to the variation in light exposure in different seasons. It’s characterised by mood disturbances (either periods of depression or mania) that begin and end in a particular season, with depression starting in winter and subsiding afterwards being the most common. It’s usually diagnosed after the person has had the same symptoms for a few years.
People with SAD depression are more likely to experience a lack of energy, sleep too much, overeat, gain weight and crave for carbohydrates. SAD is very rare in Australia and more likely to be found in countries with shorter days and longer periods of darkness, such as in the cold climate areas of the Northern Hemisphere.
Think you may be dealing with depression? Find out here.