Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia

Experiencing depression

For many of those we talked to, putting their experiences of depression into words was difficult. Some felt that ‘something was wrong’ from a young age; others were confronted with depression in adulthood. Millaa told us: ‘ My depression eventually sort of bubbled to the surface I guess was when I was about 10, so it was sort of… the end of primary school going into high school’. He went to describe depression as ‘general sadness and malaise’. Most people had experienced numerous episodes of depression and talked about periods of feeling better, rather than a sense of recovery. Some people reported prolonged periods of wellness, but only a couple of people expressed confidence that depression would not return.
Some felt that they could pinpoint when their depression began, while others could not. Many thought that depression could be fully understood only by those who had experienced it themselves. Amelia thought her experience of depression was likely to be very different from other peoples’ experiences and said, ‘so I might not be able to understand them'. Most people talked about different physical symptoms as well as emotional feelings of depression. Ivan described his experience: ‘My libido was close to zero, I was absolutely uninterested in any sexual activity or any other activity or hobby…I would start some useless disputes and endless arguments and create emotionally charged situations where I would explode’.
Others described long periods of anxiety, or of feeling very emotional, tearful or hopeless.
A few people resorted to alcohol and other substances to alleviate their distress, but discovered this was not a helpful solution.
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A few people described feeling very anxious in places such as shopping centres with many people, noise and colours. Many people described physical manifestations of their feelings. Emma said: ‘I felt like I'd lost all the tone in my face. It was a real, really physical experience where you - you know when people smile with their eyes? I couldn't even lift my eyes up, it was very overall body feeling, this whole, you know, this feeling’. People talked about experiencing a ‘churning in [the] stomach’ and having ‘an aching brain’. Others talked about feeling ‘numb’ – as one woman said, ‘my emotion, my mental health, everything about me had shut down’.
Feeling ‘fragile and tired’ and a loss of motivation were frequently mentioned. Sara told us: ‘I think one of the things that gets really underestimated in depression is the physical sides of depression. I would find it enormously difficult to physically activate myself’. Many people told us they cried frequently. Artaud described feeling ‘just unable to do anything, unable to think positively, unable to get out of bed’.
Some talked about ‘going into hiding’, cancelling appointments, avoiding friends, having family troubles, and going on sick leave to avoid going to work. Belinda said she became a ‘constant piker as well, which you know I think came across as unreliable; which I don’t like’. A few struggled with ‘irrational thoughts’. Ron was concerned that he was ‘losing control’ of himself and worried he might hurt himself or his grandmother with whom he was living at the time. Kymberly who thought of herself as ‘irrational’ during episodes of depression said: ‘…when you're in a bout of depression, I call it quicksand’. Louise described an overwhelming feeling that each day seemed very long and said she often wondered how she would get through until evening.
Many felt an inexplicable sense of guilt. People talked about not being able to cope with everyday activities, feeling angry or irritable, and worrying about the impact of their behaviour on family members. Some had periods of insomnia which left them exhausted during the day. Others slept a lot. Lack of energy and fatigue were common experiences.
Belinda said it was ‘hard to look after my physical health but, eating healthily and exercising and sleeping, but I was knackered every day, and it was the depression, it really just knocked the wind out of me’. Clinton described feeling a ‘white hot rage inside of myself. It's actually a reaction that you're having to turbulence that's going on inside that hasn't been settled, and hasn't been dealt with’. A few people mentioned the isolating nature of depression, some saying they tried to hide it out of fear of being seen as ‘weak’ and stigmatised as a consequence (see Social experiences and stigma).
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Gabrielle who worked in a small country town described her experiences: ‘I felt extremely isolated because I worked in the health profession in the community that I lived, so I was known. So, it was something that wasn't talked about, so that made me feel ever more isolated; and I felt a failure basically’.
Many people described experiencing low self-esteem as a significant element of their experience of depression. Amelia’s description reflected the feelings of many: ‘I feel vaguely like a human being, pathetic, incompetent and incapable’. Comparing herself with fellow PhD students she said' ‘I couldn't remember any words that had more than one syllable, and just this feeling that everybody at the uni was like so smart and I was just so dumb’.
People described depression variously as' ‘suffocating’, ‘meaninglessness’, or ‘senselessness’. Many used metaphors to describe their depression, including' ‘black cloud’, ‘a big cloud over everything in my life, like I’m looking through things through a cloudy lens’, ‘basket full of misery’, ‘feeling blue’, ‘the whole world just lost its colour’, ‘spiralling down into like a black abyss’, ‘ a nightmare of misery’. Millaa described depression as ‘like a dog scavenging for any remnants of your sanity, in a way, you know… or trying to eat away at you’. A few people talked about a ‘bottomless pit [that] is always ready to swallow you’.
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Suicidal thoughts and self-harm

For most people part of experiencing depression was having suicidal thoughts. Some described repeated attempts to end their lives.

Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated  January 2016.


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