This article is by Australia Counselling member and Sydney counsellor Sharon Chapman.

What is depression?

Depression is an illness generally described as a persistent low mood that continues for more than two weeks. It is a serious illness that affects up to 1 in 5 people and can have profound effects both on the sufferer and those close to them.

Often people may suffer from depression for years without being diagnosed and learn to live with the persistent sadness that they have become used to. Without treatment, depression can sometimes be overcome on its own, but usually some form of intervention is required to help overcome this illness.

What are the symptoms of depression?

While most people experience times of deep sadness at some point in their lives, people suffering from depression will experience some or all of these symptoms for a longer period.

  • Persistent low mood and feeling of sadness
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be pleasurable
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Change in appetite causing weight gain or loss
  • Poor sleep or wanting to sleep a lot of the time
  • Loss of motivation
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Low self-esteem and low confidence
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feel emotionally numb

How do you treat depression?

Depression can be treated through counselling, medication and lifestyle changes. It is widely believed that the best form of treatment is through a combination of both counselling and medication. Often lifestyle changes can have a profound effect on helping with the treatment of depression, particularly when it is a mild level of depression.

Counselling is an effective approach for depression

A common therapy used to help treat depression is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). This therapy focuses on recognising the negative patterns of thinking that contribute to depression and working to correct them. The focus is on present thinking rather than past experiences.

CBT also focuses on identifying current behaviours that may be contributing to the depressive illness. Goal setting, working on communication, relaxation techniques and problem solving are some of the behaviours that are focused on.

CBT can be very effective in helping individuals overcome depression and learning strategies to maintain a healthy mindset.

Medication responses to depression

Many people feel there is a stigma attached to taking anti-depressant medication. It is in fact a very effective tool in managing depression so that the individual can focus on putting in place strategies to overcome depression in the long term.

Medication does not change the individual’s personality or make them ‘high’. What it is designed to do is help correct the chemical imbalance in the brain. The brain chemicals that are corrected through the use of medication are Serotonin, Dopamine and Noradrenalin.

Medication can also help to restore a healthy sleep cycle which is important in overcoming depression. Anti-depressant medications are not addictive but if they are used for a long period it can take time to lower the dose until it is no longer required.

There are a number of different types of anti-depressant medication and a doctor will need to prescribe and then monitor the effects of the particular medication to ensure it is the correct one for the individual. It can take some time to find the appropriate medication and this should be managed through working closely with your doctor.

Generally speaking, anti-depressants are used as a short term tool, often six to twelve months, while other strategies such as counselling are used to overcome depression. There are times however, when it may be appropriate for the individual to remain on medication for a longer period. Again this is managed through discussion with your doctor.

Natural strategies to overcome depression

Diet

Most people are aware of how their diet can affect their body, but we generally pay little attention to the effects diet can have on our mental well-being. It stands to reason that as food nourishes our body, so too it nourishes our brains and affects our mood.

Try and include the following foods in your diet to help boost mood:

Zinc: this is helpful in producing Serotonin, the feel good chemical in our brain. Some foods that contain zinc are oysters, seafood, pumpkin seeds, and red meat.

Magnesium: this too helps produce Serotonin. Foods such as Brazil nuts, rolled oats, brown rice, nuts, dark chocolate, green leafy vegetables and legumes contain magnesium.

Omega 3 Fish Oils: naturally sourced from fish, however the levels required to help overcome depression may be better reached through a fish oil supplement.

Tryptophan: This is an amino acid needed to make Serotonin. It can be found in turkey, cottage and swiss cheese, milk, yoghurt, eggs, meat, fish, chicken and nuts.

Vitamin D: there have been recent studies indicating that a Vitamin D deficiency can have a profound effect on mood. A sufficient level of Vitamin D is believed to be above 75nmol/L (you can get this checked through a blood test) to help maintain good mental health. The best source is through exposure to sunlight which explains why many people have lower mood throughout Winter. You can also maintain healthy Vitamin D levels through a supplement.

Exercise

Exercise plays an important role in treating depression and maintaining good mental health. Exercise is another natural way of increasing Serotonin. Walking for at least twenty minutes per day is considered a minimum amount to help boost Serotonin.

Aromatherapy

Some essential oils can help to slow the brain down and provide a sense of relaxation and calm. Oils that are helpful are Clary Sage, Rose, Lavender, Frankincense and Ylang Ylang.

Depression can be overcome and it is important to ask for help when you feel you may be suffering from depression. There are many forms of help available and talking to your doctor or finding a counsellor can be the best place to start.

About the author 

Sharon Chapman is a Sydney counsellor based in Baulkham Hills who specialises in depression and relationship issues. Visit Affinity Counselling to sign up for Sharon’s free report, “The 5 Languages of Love”.

If you or someone you know suffers from depression, Australia Counselling has counsellors who specialise in the treatment of depression and run depression support groups in locations such as Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and regional areas of Australia. Visit our depression area of practice page to find a depression counsellor or psychologist near you.