Promoting mental health, demystifying mental illness, countering stigma and discrimination


What is Depression?

Temporary moods of being 'depressed' are common and often normal reactions to the stress of our everyday lives. In some people, at some times, Depression can be so severe that it dominates their lives. It can make life seem barely worth living and drags on preventing people from coping as they used to. This is not 'giving in', and being accused of self-pity or not 'pulling themselves together' doesn't help in the least. This degree of Depression is called 'Clinical Depression'. It is an illness, a medical condition, and needs treatment.

What are the symptoms of Depression?

With clinical Depression or a major Depressive Disorder the low mood continues and you may have a number of other symptoms. These may include:

  • Feeling extremely sad and/or tearful.
  • Disturbance to normal sleep patterns.
  • Loss of interest and/or motivation.
  • Feeling of worthlessness and hopelessness and/or feelings of inappropriate guilt.
  • Loss of pleasure in activities.
  • Anxiety.
  • Noticeable changes in appetite and weight.
  • Loss of sexual interest.
  • Physical aches and pains.
  • Impaired thinking and/or concentration.
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches and/or stomach aches.


Symptoms of Depression usually develop over days or weeks, though many people have a period of anxiety or mild Depression that lasts for weeks or months beforehand. The duration of an episode is variable, but without treatment, depression typically lasts for six months or more.

What are the causes of Depression?

Depression can be a reaction to a distressing situation like loss or stress. Some women experience depression after the birth of a child. Depression may be associated with an illness such as bipolar disorder in which the person experiences extreme moods without any reason. Depression can be unrelated to any external cause, but be associated with a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Depression can appear at any age. Current research suggests that treatable Depression is very prevalent among children and adolescents, especially with the offspring of adults with Depression. Depression can also strike late in life and its symptoms, impaired memory, slow speech and slowed movement can be mistaken for those of senility or stroke.

How many people develop Depression?

About one in five people will experience a depressive illness at some point in their lives. Up to 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men can expect to suffer from depression at some time in their lives. There is some evidence that it is becoming even more common in Western countries.

How is Depression diagnosed?

There is no medical test that can diagnose Depression. A diagnosis is made when a person has some or all of a number of typical symptoms. For this reason it is very important for a health professional to get a full understanding of the difficulties a person has had, from both the person and their family/whanau or others who know them well. Similar symptoms can be seen with the depressed phase of Bipolar Affective Disorder. They are also seen in some medical conditions. For this reason it is important for your doctor to do any tests necessary to exclude these conditions.

How is Depression treated?

The majority of people with Depression are never diagnosed or effectively treated. This is a pity as depression can be effectively treated and people will usually recover from it. Depending on a person's symptoms, a GP may suggest some form of counselling or psychotherapy and may include antidepressant medication. Sometimes electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) can be helpful too. The earlier effective treatment is started the better the chances of recovery. See Care Pathway.

The following websites provide information on depression:

A very useful website fronted by Sir John Kirwan which includes stories, a self test and some self help options as well as a journal that you can log into and log your own thoughts and experiences.

Mental Health Foundation - NZ
A most useful NZ website with resource data on most mental illnesses - including depression.

Mental Help Net Depression Site
An international (Dublin) website with data on most mental illnesses.

A very useful site developed by Child and Adolescent Services, Taranaki Health, working with youth, covering many mental health issues.


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Taranaki Mental Health Sector