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Depression is a problem that can occur to anyone at almost any stage of life.  It’s estimated that around one in five people will experience persistent and abnormally low mood for a significant length of time at some stage in their lives.

The causes of depression can be biological/genetic or as a response to stresses in a person’s environment.  While there is no such thing as a ‘depression’ gene, some people may develop depression more easily than others who experience similar difficulties or challenges in life.  This can reflect some people’s greater sensitivity to adversity and this is also something that may be seen in several generations of the same family.

Environmental causes of depression are many and varied.  Depression can often result if a person’s personal resources are over strained for a significant length of time.  We are all able to manage a degree of stress and adversity in life without becoming depressed, however if a person experiences several stresses at the same time and/or for a long time then the individual’s personal resources can become exhausted and depression may occur.  Depression can also result if a person has experienced great adversity through their childhood and adolescent years.  These years play an important role in how a person feels or what a person believes about themselves.  For example, some people may have experienced failures at school or negative comments from parents in their early years that created negative self-perceptions and this increases the likelihood of depression in later life.

Depression of course involves sad, low or miserable feelings.  However, depression also includes several other symptoms as detailed below.  For depression to be diagnosed a minimum of five symptoms must be present for 2 weeks or more.  Either criteria 1., OR criteria 2., must also be present more days than not over the 2 week period.

  1. Depressed mood more days than not. This may include feelings of sadness or a sense of feeling ‘low’ or ‘flat’.
  2. A loss of enjoyment in previously fun or meaningful activities. Some people who experience depressed and low mood also stop doing things they once greatly enjoyed.  For example, a person with depression who once enjoyed fishing or rock climbing may stop doing these hobbies as they’re no longer as enjoyable as they once were.
  3. Disruption to normal sleep patterns. This can include difficulties falling asleep (e.g., taking an hour or more to get to sleep), difficulties staying asleep (e.g., waking through the night on several occasions) and early morning waking (e.g., waking some hours before the person needs to).  Some people experience a disruption in their normal sleep pattern that involves excessive sleep.  This might include sleeping for 12-hours or more or sleeping solidly at night as well as through the day for several more hours.  Difficulties getting enough sleep is commonly known as insomnia while excessive sleep is referred to as hypersomnia.
  4. A change in a person’s appetite leading to significant weight increase or decrease (i.e., more than 5 kilograms in a month).
  5. Physical agitation (e.g., inability to sit still or stop legs shaking). OR alternatively, physical retardation (e.g., slowed physical movements).
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy. Tiredness and exhaustion through the day.
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
  8. Difficulties thinking. Difficulties can include maintaining attention or concentration on tasks such as reading or losing the flow of one’s thoughts while in conversation with others.
  9. Thoughts of death, dying or suicide. Thoughts of suicide can include fleeting thoughts like ‘maybe life would be easier if I wasn’t here’ or no longer making the effort to keep oneself safe.  At other times, particularly when depressed feelings are very strong suicidal thoughts can include plans on how to end one’s life and when.

A number of psychiatric conditions can involve symptoms of depression including Bipolar disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Adjustment Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder.  Clarifying the nature of the depressed feelings a patient experiences plays an important role in the type of intervention necessary.  Speaking to your GP is an important first step in understanding any symptoms you may be experiencing and in receiving the most appropriate treatment.  Depression is very treatable with either medication or counselling or a combination of both.  Your GP can provide the guidance you need on how to get help if you experience any of the above symptoms.

Disclaimer:  The information covered on this website is for educational purposes only.  A diagnosis of any psychiatric or medical condition must only be made by a medical or mental health specialist.  Diagnosing a psychiatric concern is a complex process that involves formal training, do not ‘diagnose’ yourself.  If you have concerns that a particular disorder or condition applies to you, please speak with your General Practitioner for further assessment and medical/psychological care.

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