what is depression?

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Depression and feeling depressed is more than just sadness; it’s a combination of how we think, feel and behave

Different people will experience depression in different ways. It’s a good idea to address depression early before it starts having a bigger impact on your life. 

The word ‘depression’ is often used when people are talking about moments when they’re feeling sad or down. It’s normal to feel down from time to time. Many people feel sad after they have gone through stressful or difficult times. This could be a relationship break-up, trouble with family or friends, changing schools or exam times. Lots of people go through this.

There’s no simple answer for why depression happens. For some people, it can be a mix of events or issues that end up affecting how they feel, think and act. Sometimes there’s no clear reason and that’s OK, too.

The good news is that people experiencing depression can and do get better.


Download our fact sheet on depression

(PDF 489kb)

Animated video discussing the signs of depression

What are the signs and symptoms?

Depression can be different for everyone, but there are some common signs and symptoms. A person may be experiencing depression if they've experienced some of the following changes for more than two weeks:

Changes to feelings or emotions:

  • feeling unhappy, numb, empty, moody or irritable/snappy

  • less interest in things that used to be enjoyable

  • feeling worthless or guilty a lot of the time

  • feeling like everything is becoming ‘too hard’.

Changes to thoughts:

  • negative thoughts about themselves, the world and the future

  • having a hard time concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things

  • having thoughts of self harm

  • having thoughts of death or suicide.

Physical changes:

  • feeling tired most of the time

  • low energy and motivation

  • having trouble sleeping, experiencing changes in sleeping habits or not feeling rested regardless of the amount of sleep

  • changes in appetite, loss of interest in food or eating too much − leading to weight loss or gain

  • aches and pains that can’t be explained.

Behaviour changes:

  • withdrawing from family and friends

  • not getting things done

  • difficulty with school, uni, TAFE or work

  • using more alcohol and/or other drugs

  • getting into trouble and fights.

Sometimes people with depression experience other mental health issues too - like anxiety, panic disorder or substance use disorders.

Some young people experiment with alcohol and other drugs to help them feel good in the short term. Unfortunately, when the effects have worn off, alcohol and other drugs can leave them feeling much worse in the long term.

What can I do?

There are lots of things that you can do to improve how you feel and get better at managing tough feelings.

It can feel hard to find the energy or motivation to do these things. Sometimes it might feel like nothing will help. Try starting with one thing you know you can do, then slowly add things in step by step. This can help you feel like you’re making progress.

Take care of yourself

Looking after our minds and bodies can help us with our general mental health and wellbeing. You can:

Notice your thinking patterns

Being aware of our thoughts and feelings is an important step toward improving how we feel. Taking notes on this can help you to figure out which thoughts make you feel better or worse. A journal like this online workbook can help you to understand this more.

Talk about your thoughts and feelings

It’s a good idea to talk to someone that you trust about your thoughts and feelings. Talking to others can help you feel understood and can also help you see things from a different point of view. You might: 

  • talk to your family or friends, a teacher or coach, your mob or Elders

  • get support from online communities or resources, or express thoughts to yourself in a personal journal

  • connect with others and be part of a group, like a sporting club or religious group, to manage feelings of loneliness.

Get into life

Sometimes it can be difficult to think of enjoyable things when you’re feeling low. It might take some extra effort but try to do something that you used to enjoy, even if you don’t feel like it. These activities don’t have to cost money. This can be very helpful in lifting your mood. Try to notice any changes in how you feel before and after these activities, to see those links for yourself.

Learning new skills, like cooking, can also help boost your confidence and help you feel like you’ve achieved something.

Try some relaxation techniques

Practising relaxation techniques can help you manage stress and can help ground you during the tough times. There are lots of websites and apps that can help you with this and you might want to try our interactive activity on mindfulness.

When should I get help?

For some people, using these tips will be enough to manage their symptoms of depression. But if the depression has been going on for too long without improvement, it’s important to get professional help.

Getting help that's right for you

There are mental health professionals at headspace centres and eheadspace (online and phone support) who can help. If you’re at school, TAFE or uni, you may also be able to access a counselling or student wellbeing service.
An important part of professional support can be talking (psychological) therapy. This can help you learn more about how your depression works and how to address how you feel. In certain instances, your general practitioner (GP) might also suggest antidepressant medications. The GP or service you reach out to will help to recommend an approach that works for you. 

Depression and the link between suicide and self harm

Some young people who experience depression self harm or experience thoughts of suicide. Self harm and thoughts about suicide are often ways of trying to cope with difficult emotions.

If you have thoughts of suicide or self harm it’s really important to talk to someone you trust, such as a family member, friend, an Elder or teacher.

You can also develop a safety plan yourself to help cope with feelings of distress and suicidal thoughts by using the BeyondNow app.

Where to get support

If you ever feel unable to cope because of intense emotions or if you have thoughts of harming yourself, then ask for help immediately.

For immediate help contact triple zero (000) if it is an emergency

National 24/7 crisis services:

Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467 or suicidecallbackservice.org.au

beyondblue: 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au


Additional youth support services:

headspace: find your nearest centre or contact eheadspace, our phone and online service (12-25 years)

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 (5-25 years) or kidshelpline.com.au

ReachOut (under 25 years): reachout.com.au

SANE Australia: 1800 187 263 (18+ years) or sane.org

The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.

Last reviewed 27 April 2021

Get professional support

If you feel you need help there are a range of ways we can support you.