Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia

Experiences with getting diagnosed

Almost all the people we talked with had been diagnosed with depression, most by their GPs and some by psychiatrists or psychologists.

For some, non-mental health specialists such as gynaecologists or oncologists had picked up on their depression. A few people were advised by work colleagues, friends, or family to seek help.
Reactions to being diagnosed varied from relief at being able to name their distress to discomfort about being diagnosed with a mental health condition. In some cases the diagnosis was carefully and compassionately conveyed by a health professional, while other people were told in a way that caused them additional distress. Most people talked about feeling sad, lonely or ‘different’ for a long time before they were diagnosed (see Stories of growing up’).
Most people had been through several episodes of depression and said the first encounter with a medical professional regarding their emotional distress was crucial. Being treated with understanding, care and support and having enough time to talk were much appreciated. Stewart said being diagnosed made him feel as if a ‘weight had been lifted off my shoulder’. While still in her country of origin in Africa, Akello was diagnosed with perinatal depression but received little useful help. After immigrating to Australia, her work supervisor advised her to seek help after noticing she was experiencing emotional distress. She saw a supportive GP and her experience of being diagnosed was positive.
It was common for people to describe being diagnosed with depression as bringing a sense of relief after living with emotional turmoil, in some cases for years. People reached this point via different routes. For those with multiple mental health conditions and other health issues, having their depression diagnosed was not straightforward. Some people had been diagnosed with dyslexia, anxiety, hearing voices, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a combination of these conditions before depression was introduced into the mix. Clinton said that he had stopped searching for a label, as felt his mental health condition was more complex than a single label could convey.
A few people could not recall ever being ‘officially’ diagnosed with depression, but didn’t mind as their emotional distress was acknowledged and addressed by their doctors. Comodor only learned of his diagnosis with depression (which he disputed) when he read his discharge letter following a cancer operation. While he never accepted the diagnosis, he permitted his GP to refer him to a psychiatrist and took antidepressants. Instead of being told they had depression, some people were given neurological explanations by their doctors – that they had a ‘chemical imbalance in their brain’ or an ‘imbalance of serotonin’.
Some people told us they struggled with their distress for many years before being willing to confront it. Kymberly said a history of depression and suicide in her family made it difficult for her to acknowledge her own emotional distress as depression and she only talked to her GP when she had reached a crisis point. Another woman initially rejected her diagnosis as she did not want to acknowledge that she was not well.
Some people also suffered from serious physical conditions, including cancer, diabetes, kidney problems, or adjusting to organ transplants in addition to depression.
Some people initially saw their doctors about physical symptoms and had various medical checks before being diagnosed with depression. In the process, a few were misdiagnosed and prescribed inappropriate medication, but eventually their emotional distress was addressed. Some continued to question their diagnosis.
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Dani realised ‘things were not right’ when she was teenager and began neglecting her diabetes care. Her GP referred her to a psychologist who diagnosed her with depression. Ivan was diagnosed by his ‘regular’ GP after reading a brochure on depression and recognising the symptoms listed. His initial reaction was disbelief and fear of stigma, but after the initial shock he felt that ‘finally his symptoms made sense’.
A few people went online in search of an explanation for their distress, some self-diagnosing before they consulted their GP.
A few people acknowledged the complexity of diagnosing mental health conditions such as depression. Some contemplated the human condition and wondered why some people seemed less resilient than others.
Acknowledging emotional distress and accepting a diagnosis of depression was difficult for some, particularly men. Some feared being thought of as ‘weak’ by their peers and this prevented them from disclosing their distress and seeking help. Ralph who refused to see a psychiatrist his GP referred him to explained' ‘I suppose being a bloke; they don't do those things I guess’. Similarly Amelia said being diagnosed with depression made her feel ‘like a total failure, terrible, a real loser’. Others said being diagnosed with depression was made more difficult when GPs or other health professionals failed to provide them with meaningful information.
(For more experiences on talking with health professionals see ‘Experiences with health professionals: General Practitioners’ and ‘Experiences with health professionals: Psychiatrists, Psychologists and other Counsellors’).

Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated January 2016.


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