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by Leanne Pethick
March 2001

In our 'What is depression' section we have listed the official definition of depression as given by the World Health Organisations' International Classification of Disease. However the official definition does not accurately convey the full range of potential impact of depression on our daily lives. So depressionet also gives a list of symptoms that may be more familiar to you. While the degree to which you experience any or all of these may vary greatly, most people with moderate to severe depression can relate to these.

  • sadness, lethargy, helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness,

  • difficulties with decisions, memory, concentration,

  • loss of interest, energy,

  • changes to sleep patterns - difficulty sleeping or staying awake,

  • changes in weight - either significant loss or gain in weight,

  • relationship problems with partners, friends, family, colleagues,

  • isolation, thoughts of death, suicide,

  • anxiousness, unusual fear or feeling panic.

For many people depression sneaks up on us gradually. We are going about our daily lives and it is only in looking back that we start to realise that our attitude to life has changed. Often it is our family, friends or work colleagues that notice these changes before us. We no longer have the same motivation levels either at work or in our personal lives. We are generally feeling low, continually down and disinterested in activities that we used to enjoy and lack energy. Sleeping difficulties have started creeping in – either difficulty sleeping, erratic sleeping patterns or difficulty staying awake.

If depression is correctly diagnosed early then it can be treated before it worsens. However if allowed to go untreated, then these symptoms start to become 'normal' for us and have an increasing negative impact on our ability to function in our daily lives. A downward spiral starts to form that makes it even harder for us to reach out and get the help and support we need.

Reading a list of symptoms can be very different from actually experiencing the affect of these in your daily life. We get many people asking if it is 'normal' to feel or behave in a certain way when you have depression.

They are aware of the basic symptoms of depression, but have not had an opportunity to discuss the effects of these symptoms on other areas of their lives. For example many people find that while they understand that depression can cause a lack of confidence, what they don't realise is that it can cause increased sensitivity often bordering on paranoia. It often takes a while for it to become obvious that we are over reacting to people, comments and situations, and usually we discover this only as a result of the damage it is causing our work and personal relationships.

Paranoia, lack of confidence, hyper-sensitivity, guilt and remorse, self-doubt and self blame, helplessness, worthlessness, anxiousness, and many more of the depression's 'demon allies' can have a far greater impact on our lives than we are aware of in the beginning.. They contribute to a negative downward spiral that makes it harder for us to find the help and support we need. The two areas where depression forms the worst downward spirals are work and relationships


The longer the depression lasts, the more we worry about the impact on our work and career. While the quality and quantity of our work can suffer as a result of the depression, often this is magnified by our concerns about our performance and other people's perception of us and our work.

Depression > impacts work >> worsens depression >>>


It can be very difficult to live, work and socialise with someone who is experiencing depression. We no longer have the same energy and enthusiasm in our relationships. We often prefer to stay home rather than go out, be alone rather than share and talk. We push others away. We become very self focussed and sensitive, easily offended, and quick to snap. People close to us often don't understand depression and how it affects us, and we aren't able to communicate because we don't fully understand it ourselves.

As our relationships start to break down, we blame ourselves. We feel worthless, believing that no-one would want to be with us because we don't want to be with ourselves. We push people away and then feel worse because we are alone.

Depression > impacts relationships >> worsens depression >>>

What you can do…

There are some very real things that we can do to break these negative cycles while getting professional help and treatment for the illness.

1. Learn about depression and it's symptoms

Being aware of how depression impacts your life, and the lives of those around you, is an important step in being able to reduce the negative affects on your life. Just knowing that the changes in your reactions and emotions are related to the depression can help you worry less and feel better.

2. Become the observer rather than the victim of the symptoms of depression

Once you are aware of the affect of depression on your mood and reactions you can look at your illness, see that it is there, and be very careful when relying on those parts of you it affects. If you know it causes you to be overly sensitive, whenever you register offence or hurt, stop and check "Is it what has happened that I am reacting to? Or is the depression influencing my reactions and emotions?" If there is a chance you may be over reacting, then wait 24 hours before you take any action or make any decisions. Usually this will be enough to take the power out of the reaction.

3. Don't feel weak for having depression

There is no reason for you to feel weak or that you have somehow failed because you have a depressive illness. This is not true. There are many thousands of people out there just like us who have depression and understand what you are going through. Unfortunately very few people talk about it. The more you accept that you have depression without feeling guilty or ashamed, the easier it will be for you to talk to others about it, and the more freely they will be able to share their experience with you. You will be amazed at the number of people you know who have been there and will welcome the opportunity to talk with you about it.

4. Build a support network

Help your family and friends to understand and to support you and at the same time find others who have been where you are and know what you are going through. Without having experienced depression first hand it is impossible to really know what it is like and to understand the effects of depression on someone you love. Rather than being disappointed that people don't understand, help them. Provide them with information about depression, it's symptoms and effects and any treatment you are receiving. Talk to them about what it means for you. Help them to help you. It will also relieve some of the load on your family and friends if you have people to talk with that know what you are going through. A support group or depressionet or both can help with this!

These are just a few ideas. Reading and talking to others and your doctor or therapist can give you other tips and ideas that may help you. As always, if there is anything that the depressionet team can do to help you, let us know at help@depressionet.com.au!

Your feedback and input will be greatly appreciated.

If you have a service or product that may be of assistance to people with depression or a related condition, or their support people, please contact us for details on how to be listed or contribute to this site.

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