We all feel really down when life doesn’t turn out the way we hoped: we fail at something important; someone disappoints us; or we lose something precious. These normal feelings of unhappiness are our response to stress.
Some of us, however, will be so sensitive to stress that if we experience too much of it, we will develop depressive illness. The good news is that depression is highly treatable, and the earlier you get help, the better your recovery.
Unhappiness is different to depression
When you are depressed, you’re not your ‘normal self’. Nothing feels good, not even being with your best friends. Feeling unhappy is very different – it comes and goes, and usually dissolves when something good happens to you. With depression, nothing brings you joy.
Depression is like a Trojan – malicious software that takes over your mind, telling you that everything is too hard, too sad and meaningless. Your thinking is totally distorted, but to you it seems right.
Depressive illness is not madness. It’s a temporary disturbance in your brain chemistry – your neurotransmitters – that affects your thinking, motivation, appetite and sleep and makes it incredibly hard to carry out our normal activities.
Do any of these apply to you?
- I can’t concentrate
- I can’t sleep (or I sleep all the time but still feel tired)
- I have no appetite (or I overeat)
- I feel like crying all the time
- I feel constantly overwhelmed
- I feel exhausted and have no energy
- I get angry and irritated easily
- I feel anxious all the time
- I feel hopeless, worthless or think about death a lot
What can you do?
• The first thing to do is to tell someone about how you’re feeling. Talk to a close friend, your parents or call or chat online to a counsellor at eheadspace, Lifeline, Kids Helpline or Youth Beyondblue.
• Keep a mood diary, where you write down how you’re feeling, or do drawings if that’s easier.
• Be kind to yourself. Avoid alcohol, drugs and crap food as they really mess with your mood.
• Do things that relax you: watch a favourite movie, go for a swim, take your dog for a walk.
• You might need to see a doctor, too, who can organise medication (if that’s what you need) and refer you to a psychologist.