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As humans, it’s completely normal for our moods to shift and change as we respond and adapt to life’s many challenges. Feelings of sadness, moodiness or feeling “low” are common experiences, however some of us are unable to regulate our moods, or may feel intensely sad or low for a prolonged period of time.

Depression is experienced by many of us – 1 in 16 Australians experience depression every year. It causes a low mood that doesn’t always fade with time and can severely affect how we cope and live our day-to-day lives.

For many people with depression, life can feel hopeless – like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. What was once a person who could find pleasure in life, is a person who now feels disinterested in the activities they used to enjoy. There is a lack of motivation and no urge to be productive, 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. People with depression may also experience fluctuations in appetite or weight. To cope with their depression, some may turn to alcohol or substances.  Unfortunately, people with more severe levels of depression may also experience suicidal thoughts/tendencies.

When learning about depression, you may have come across Bipolar disorder as well. Bipolar differs from depression in that its sufferers can experience extreme mood fluctuations – between feelings of euphoria and very low moods. 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, we can help you manage symptoms and maintain a good quality of life.

The types of mood disorders we can help you through include:

Major 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. The 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. Depression is described as mild, moderate or severe; melancholic or psychotic.

Dysthymic disorder

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.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder 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 the person 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.

Read more about Bipolar disorder here.

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.

The causes of depression at this time can be complex and are often the result of a combination of factors. The ‘baby blues’, or general stress adjusting to pregnancy and/or 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.

Almost 10% of women will experience depression during pregnancy. This increases to 16% in the first three months after having a baby.

Read more about perinatal mood disorders here.

Seasonal affective disorder

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. Depression which starts in winter and subsides when the season ends is the most common. It’s usually diagnosed after the person has had the same symptoms during winter for a couple of 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.

Does any of the above sound like you or someone you know? Book in with one of our psychologists today.

Read more: are you dealing with depression?

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