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What is depression?

People often use the word depression when they're talking about moments or periods of time where they feel sad or down. When life gets full on and deals you things like stress, disappointments or grief, it's really common and normal to feel down about it. However, if you continue to feel lower than usual for a really long time, or if you're not really sure why you're feeling that way in the first place, there might be something more serious going on.

The official use of the word depression, which is often diagnosed as 'major depressive disorder', is used if these feelings persist for longer than two weeks and start to get in the way of your everyday life. Keep in mind that depression is a condition that can only be diagnosed by a health professional.

Depression ranges from mild to severe, and while there are many possible causes, it's hard to know if it happens as the result of life events (such as traumatic events or losing someone close to you), biological factors (like an imbalance in certain chemicals in the brain), both, or something else entirely. Everyone who suffers from depression will experience it differently, but there are some common signs and symptoms.

Signs and symptoms

If you have depression, some of the possible effects on your mental health could be that you:

  • Experience a lower than average mood for longer than two weeks
  • Lose interest in activities that you used to really love
  • Don’t get as much pleasure out of things
  • Can’t concentrate
  • Have a negative image of yourself
  • Feel like you don’t have any energy
  • Have feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Have thoughts of self-harm or suicide or thoughts of death
  • Have feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Have trouble with your memory
  • Many people don’t realise that depression doesn’t just affect someone’s mind and mood – it also affects their body. Some of the physical signs of depression may be that you:
  • Sleep or feel sleepy all the time, or you can’t fall asleep and wake up at normal hours
  • Eat much more or much less than you usually would and experience weight loss or gain as a result
  • Get headaches
  • Have a sore or uncomfortable stomach

Most people experience some of these feelings and behaviours at different times. The difference with depression is that the symptoms are more severe, happen more often, and they don't go away over time.

What to do about it

The symptoms of depression can sometimes go away if the stress that caused them is fixed or removed, but this isn’t always the case. If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s worth visiting your GP or a mental health professional to get a check-up. The good news is, if you are diagnosed with depression, it’s able to be treated. Your doctors can work with you to create a treatment plan which suits your personal circumstances and experience. This could include things like:

  • Psychological treatments such as counselling
  • Medication (usually antidepressants)
  • Lifestyle stuff, such as getting into a regular exercise, eating and sleeping routines

Have a look at the websites below for treatments for depression, as well as self-care strategies for more info on what you can do to manage depression. Keep in mind that everyone responds to treatments differently, and so finding the right treatment will be much easier if you have professional support. To find out more about this, you can make an appointment with the Student Health, Mental Health and Well-Being Team by calling 0800 479 821.



Youthline 0800 376 633, FREE TXT 234
Suicide Crisis Line 0508 TAUTOKO, (0800 828 865)
Dunedin Hospital Tel 64 3 474 0999 and ask to speak to a nurse from Emergency Psychiatric Services if you are feeling unsafe