Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia

Self-discovery through depression

Describing the meaning of recovery was complex for many people we spoke to. Most people talked about how recovery was a gradual process of self-transformation, rather than a return to how they felt before their experience of depression (see ‘Getting better’). Most people experienced periods of feeling better and for many, depression signified a profound life-changing experience that influenced the way they saw themselves, their lives and the world around them. For many, this involved reassessing the ways in which they were living their lives. A few said the experience of depression enabled them to develop and grow as people, and become the people they had always wanted to be and putting an end to worrying about what others thought of them.
Many described becoming more patient, and no longer worrying about pleasing everybody. Jack told us he would not want to change his experience of depression as: ‘the person I have become now is a person that I actually like'. John commented that even if it was possible to, he would not want to erase his painful experience if the price was returning to the life he lived before depression. Many people appreciated what they learned about themselves in living through depression.
For most women the ability to be more assertive, less hard on themselves without feeling guilty, not accusing themselves of things that they had no control over, learning that their life should be about them, and respecting themselves were newly gained perspectives. As Jane told us: ‘I own everything that I do, and I say no’. That is just the most liberating thing that I learned to do, was just to say no’. A few women who described themselves as recovered from perinatal depression talked about the deep changes they experienced, and reflected on their transformation as positive one. Emma described her earlier perinatal depression as a life-changing experience.
Kim Hai who doubted she would make a full recovery from depression, talked about how she had learned to be more rational about her feelings of sadness and to accept sadness as an integral part of her life. She had also learned to allow herself to feel good – something that was foreign to her before she experienced depression.
Those who questioned the notion of ‘recovery’ usually compared their current selves with who they were before depression. Many felt they changed significantly, but did not necessarily consider this ‘recovery’. Some observed that recovery did not mean returning to who they were before depression, but becoming another, different person.
Some people talked about feeling healthier, happier and more mature, stating that through depression they learned a lot about themselves. Many had re-assessed lifestyle aspirations that had contributed to stress, aspirations mostly related to material possessions and career goals. A few people ‘downshifted’ to simpler, but emotionally more satisfying lives in which they made space and time to focus on what really mattered to them. A few people acknowledged that had they not experienced depression, their lives and self-understanding would not be as enriched.
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A few people who had migrated to Australia had to confront their hopes of returning to their home countries and grief about lost family ties and friendships. Ivan saw his experience with depression as one of the most enriching and significant experiences of his life. For him, and some other migrants we talked with, relinquishing the dream of returning to their country of origin and accepting that their life was in Australia was healing.
Many felt that experiencing depression and living with suffering helped them to learn to accept themselves, enabled them to grow and take charge of their lives.
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In addition to inner gains, a few people talked about deriving pleasure from feeling reconnected with their social networks and broader society. Some were actively looking for opportunities to help others.
Millaa appreciated his experience of depression as it provided him with a chance to learn about himself and facilitated a ‘personal reflection’ to acknowledge his problems and deal with them. This helped him grow as a person. A few people found the experience of living through depression liberating. Others who saw their suffering as a continuum talked about their hopes, explaining where they would like to be once their depression passed.

Last reviewed January 2016.
Last updated January 2016.


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