The information provided below is extracted from The Australian Psychological Society information sheet on depression.
What is depression?
The word depression is used to describe various and sometimes overlapping experiences. To many people being depressed means feeling sad, 'blue', downhearted, disappointed, detached or upset. However, a person can feel all these emotions without being ‘clinically' depressed. Feelings of sadness or the ‘blues' are generally brief and have slight effects on normal functioning.
Clinical depression is an emotional, physical and cognitive (thinking) state that is intense and long-lasting and has more negative effects on a person's day-to-day life. Approximately one in five people will experience an episode of clinical depression in their lifetime. It is also important to distinguish depression from the sadness we naturally experience after loss, such as during bereavement. Although the grief associated with loss is often intense and long lasting, such emotions are a healthy response to loss and allow people to adjust to their new life circumstances. Depression on the other hand, can have significant and detrimental effects on many aspects of a person's life. It is generally important to consider what is causing and maintaining the depression for improvement to take place. This may involve a person approaching life stresses or relationships differently, making lifestyle changes, regaining self-esteem or reconnecting with his or her values.
Finally, it is helpful for depressed people to understand what depression is and isn't. It is not something to be ashamed of or to feel guilty about. It is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness, or a lack in discipline or personal strength. It is not just a ‘mood' that someone can ‘snap out of'. Most importantly, depression is not permanent - that is, the chances for recovery are very good. A number of psychological and pharmacological treatments (antidepressant medication) are effective, affordable and readily available.