Clinical psychologist Dr Kellie Marshall explains...
Depression can be deadly and it affects as many as one in five Australians. It's a persistent sense of sadness, hopelessness and helplessness that goes beyond the kinds of downs that are part of everyday life.
Sometimes it's related to external factors, like relationship breakdowns, illness, grief or financial pressures.
But depression can also appear when there are no external triggers.
Clinical psychologist and Illawarra Division of General Practice deputy CEO, Dr Kellie Marshall, says there's a "strong correlation" between depression and thoughts of taking one's own life. But not all people that attempt or carry out suicide are depressed or have a mental health concerns, she says.
Dr Marshall says there are tell-tale signs of depression, which are consistent across all demographics.
- A low mood, which is often out-of-character
- Social withdrawal
- Losing interest in pleasurable activities (including sex and social activities)
- Loss of sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Increased drug and alcohol use
- Staying home from school or work
"There's not one thing that stands out to say 'this is a problem'," Dr Marshall says.
"But a combination of those things suggests that someone might want to talk to a health professional about what's going on – particularly a GP."
Ideally, people trying to cope with depression should seek assistance as soon as possible – before things reach crisis point.
And the family doctor is the person to talk to. There is an increased awareness about mental health in the community and GPs are at the frontlines.
"What their GP will do is help navigate the next step for them," Dr Marshall says.
"It's not always medication.
"The GP may help them access the appropriate health professional – whether it's counseling or a psychologist."
If you're suffering from depression, the main message from the experts is simple - talk to someone.
Rob, a Lifeline counsellor and trainer, says it can really help to talk to someone about how you're feeling.
"They do get some relief, even if they have a jolly good cry," he says.
Rob says problems can build up, when they're left inside the four walls of your head.
"They just rattle around in a big empty space and the echoes get louder and louder," he says.
"That's what Lifeline is there for - we can be a fantastic circuit-breaker. People can get things off their chest."
When people call Lifeline, they can expect the phone to be answered by somebody trained in counselling, who's going to be non-judgmental, and who's going to be willing to listen and help them work through their issues.
Helping a family member or friend
There are persistent beliefs in society that people who talk about suicide aren't really serious about it, or that they're just trying to 'get attention'. Many also think that someone who's tried to take their own life but survived, won't try again.
These are myths.
If someone talks about it - take it seriously.
It's also important to understand that people considering suicide won't necessarily discuss it. There's no hard and fast rule.
If you see the signs of depression in someone close to you, Dr Marshall says it is important to open up a dialogue with the person about how they're feeling, and encourage them to see their family doctor.
"Talking raises the issue for them, and lets them know it's okay to talk about it," she says.
"We know – particularly with a lot of men – that they struggle to talk about the issue, and if someone else is initiating it, it can often make it easier for them.
"Really listening to what the other person has to say is important."HELP LINES
Lifeline – 24-hour counseling: 13 11 14
beyondblue info line: 1300 22 4636
Mensline Australia 24-hour assistance number: 1300 78 99 78
Kids Help Line (5-25 year-olds): 1800 55 1800ONLINE RESOURCES
Illawarra Division of General Practice: www.idgp.org.au
headspace (for young people aged 12-24 and their families): www.headspace.org.au
Click here for beyondblue's Depression Checklist.
Click here to read beyondblue's advice for helping someone close to you with depression.Find a Doctor: click here to search beyondblue's Directory of Medical and Allied Health Practitioners in Mental Health.