Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world. It affects approximately 280 million people, and it is one of the leading causes of disability globally.

Research indicates that there is a strong relationship between depression and physical health, and it can have a profound and long-lasting effect on a person’s ability to function and live a rewarding life. It affects all types of people worldwide across different ages, genders, and social statuses.

In Australia, among five million people, one in five Australians, have a mental health condition such as anxiety and depression. However, unlike a broken arm or open wound, it can be difficult to tell if a person is living with depression. Sometimes the signs can be subtle, which makes it difficult for many of us to help a friend or family member who is dealing with it if they don’t seek help themselves.

In this article, we will explore what depression really looks like, the possible causes and the signs. In our next article, we will provide some helpful and practical information about how to help someone with depression.

!! If you or someone you care for is having suicidal thoughts, please call triple zero (000) or go to your nearest emergency department immediately.


What is depression?

It is natural to feel low, moody, or even sad every now and then, especially when you experience a significant change in your daily life. However, if a person experiences these negative feelings intensely for a long period of time (and/or for no apparent reason), this could indicate that the person may be displaying signs and symptoms of depression.

Over an extended period, depression can significantly negatively affect how people feel and think about themselves, and as a result, it can also cause actual physical health conditions. People with depression can find it difficult to carry on their daily activities and aren’t able to just “snap out of it” with their own willpower.

It is even more worrisome that suicide is the leading cause of death in Australia for people aged 25-44 and the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24. So, it is crucial that we look after the mental health of our own and the people we care about.


What are the possible causes of depression?

The causes of depression can result from a complex interplay between internal and external factors, such as social, biological, psychological, environmental, and economic factors. Every person with depression is different and has a unique set of circumstances. Knowing their circumstances will give you a better chance to understand how to help.

External factors

Life events such as long-term unemployment or loneliness, living in an uncaring or abusive relationship, and constant work or study stress are associated with depression. Significant life events such as losing a job, an accident, or the loss of a loved one can trigger depression, particularly if the person is already at risk. Recent reports show that there has been a spike in the number of people feeling high or very high levels of psychological distress in Australia because of the Covid-19 pandemic and natural disasters such as bushfires and flooding.

Internal factors

Some personal factors, such as family history, personality, illness, and substance use, may contribute to the cause of depression.

  • Family history. People with a family history of depression may have an increased genetic risk. However, it doesn’t mean the person will develop this condition themselves.
  • Personality. People may be more at risk of depression if they tend to be perfectionists or self-critical, have low self-esteem, sensitive to personal criticism, and worry a lot.
  • Serious medical illness. A serious health condition can have a direct link to depression, especially when it involves long-term management of the illness. This might also affect the person financially, which further worsens their mental state.
  • Substance use. Alcohol and drug use can be both the cause and a consequence of depression. It is important to consult a professional if you or someone you care for needs helps to reduce alcohol and/or drug consumption.


Signs of depression

Although depression is a mental condition that is difficult to spot at first glance, there are many physical symptoms and visible signs that can help us identify if a person is at risk.

People with depression may feel overwhelmed, unhappy, miserable, and sad. They often see themselves as a failure, worthless, or burdens to other people. They may lack energy, experience sleep disorders and find it hard to concentrate. In some instances, they may even get sick, experiencing flu-like symptoms such as headaches, muscle pain and fatigue. These conditions in turn have a great impact on how the person behaves and interacts with other people. They are very likely to lose interest or pleasure in activities they normally enjoy, and it can dramatically affect their performance at school, at work and in relationships with family and friends.

According to Beyond Blue, a person may have depression if they have experienced several signs and symptoms across at least three of the following categories for over two weeks:


  • not engaging in usually enjoyable activities
  • withdrawing from close family and friends
  • not being able to concentrate
  • not getting things done at work or school
  • not going out anymore
  • relying on alcohol and drugs including prescription sleeping pills and painkillers


  • constantly tired
  • sleep problems
  • loss or change of appetite
  • churning stomach
  • headaches, muscle, and back pains
  • significant weight loss or gain
  • sick and run down


  • unhappy
  • frustrated
  • overwhelmed
  • irritable
  • guilty
  • indecisive
  • disappointed
  • miserable
  • sad
  • lacking in confidence


  • ‘I’m worthless.’
  • ‘I’m a failure.’
  • ‘Nothing good ever happens to me.’
  • ‘It’s my fault.’
  • ‘People would be better off without me.’
  • ‘Life’s not worth living.’

It is worth noting that not every person with depression will experience all these symptoms, and a person who is experiencing some of these symptoms is not necessarily depressed.


What’s next?

Depression is a mental health condition that we must always remain aware of. It is a silent, invisible and often debilitating condition, which highlights the importance of looking out for ourselves and our loved ones. If you feel yourself, a friend or a family member are exhibiting symptoms of depression, it is important to seek professional guidance and treatment if needed. Your local GP is always a good starting point, and there are many online and offline resources available, such as Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute, Head to Health, and MindSpot to name just a few.

In our next article, we will discuss how to approach and help someone living with depression and provide more details about what help is available.

Olivia Dawson
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