Having ups and downs is a normal part of life. We all feel low sometimes, in response to events in our workplace, relationships, or just everyday life. Sometimes you can even feel sad when there is no clear reason. But if feelings of sadness last longer than two weeks, are overwhelming, or are impacting on your daily activities, you may be experiencing symptoms of depression.
What causes depression?
Depression can be experienced and triggered differently depending on the person. For one person, guilt about being unable to reach a positive outcome for a victim of crime might be at the core of the depression. Or you may feel disillusioned about the trustworthiness of people and the safety of the world after what you have seen on the job.
For some people, depression can express itself as anger towards themselves or others. Depression can also be a result of a big life change, such as becoming a parent, going through a relationship breakup or heading into retirement.
Depression can also have a major impact on relationships when the person with depression withdraws from family activities or loses interest in sex. The feeling that no one ‘gets it’ can make depression symptoms even harder to manage. Alcohol use and risky behaviours to avoid experiencing painful thoughts and feelings perpetuate the sense of feeling stuck.
Some people hold a false belief that depression is linked to weakness. There is no room for this in Victoria Police. This kind of thinking has to change. Under the right circumstances and stressors, anyone can experience depression. It’s brave to talk and seek support early to learn how to manage what’s happening, rather than letting things snowball and get worse.
There are multiple factors that have been associated with the development of depression, including:
- significant life events
- long-term life stressors, such as abusive relationships or long-term unemployment
- family history of depression
- biochemical factors (brain chemistry)
- unhelpful thinking styles, such as self-criticism and perfectionism
- physical illness
Everyone is different and just because you may be experiencing one of these factors does not mean you’ll necessarily become depressed. Often clinical depression requires a combination of stressors and individual vulnerabilities for depression to take hold. The most essential thing is that you are aware of early warning signs, and take action to connect with support.
Cycle of depression
A lack of motivation to do things is a key experience of depression. Less activity feeds feelings of fatigue and negative thoughts, creating a cycle of depression:
- Feeling down / low
- Fatigue, loss of energy
- Less physical activity and engagement in life
- Feeling out of control and no sense of achievement
- Increased thoughts of hopelessness, guilt and self-criticism
Noticing symptoms of depression
The first step is to build your understanding of what depression can look like in yourself and those around you.
- “I must be weak to be depressed”
- “I’m a burden on others”
- “I’m a failure”
- “Everything is hopeless and it will always be like this”
- “Everyone would be better off if I was dead”
- feeling physically slowed down
- feeling restless and on edge
- losing or gaining a significant amount of weight, or big changes in your appetite
- changes in your sleep
- loss of interest in sex
- feeling tired and low in energy
- decreased tolerance for minor aches and pains
- withdrawing from friends and family
- poor concentration and inability to make decisions
- not engaging in activities or groups you used to enjoy
- lashing out, getting angry at others
- using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with painful feelings and thoughts
- work performance issues: difficulties with attending work, low job satisfaction, finding it hard to get work tasks done or having negative interactions with members of the community
Most people experience some of these symptoms at some period in their life. However, if the symptoms are severe, last for two weeks or more and affect how you function at home or at work, you may need to see a health professional. Making an appointment with your GP to talk about what is happening is a good place to start.
If you see behavioural changes in someone close to you, it’s worth asking how they are and how you might be able to help. Read some tips on having a conversation like this.
There is support available for you
It’s normal for things to feel hopeless when you’re experiencing depression. When your symptoms are severe, your thoughts can become incredibly painful, frightening and exhausting. You want the pain to stop so it’s not surprising that suicide seems like a solution. But please remember there are other options. There are people who can and want to help you get through this and help you manage what’s going on.
“I acknowledge that the thought is there and tell myself that thoughts are not facts. Just because I’m thinking it, doesn’t mean it’s factual” - Mark
What can I do?
Beating depression requires planning, movement and a shift in thinking. You can’t just ‘snap out of it’, but you can take control over your symptoms.
When you are depressed, taking action can be extremely hard. Often if you wait to feel motivated before doing something, it won’t happen. Taking small steps, even if you don’t feel like it, can help. What can you do right now, in this moment? Think achievable tasks, such as having a shower or collecting the mail. Start with activities that lift your energy and give you a sense of achievement – long enough to make a second small step, such as talking to a friend or preparing a healthy meal.
Especially if you are working rostered shifts. At the end of a shift often the last thing you want to do is decide what you are going to eat or when you are going to make that dentist appointment. Proactively taking responsibility over scheduling your time can help create a feeling of control. Plan small activities throughout your week that give you a sense of achievement and pleasure. A weekly calendar can help with this.
Notice the changes in your mood. When does it improve or get worse and are there any associated triggers? Developing an awareness of mood fluctuations will help you build on what is working, and plan for times that are typically more challenging. A good mood monitoring form can be found on the Black Dog website.
Exercise is one of the most powerful things you can do when feeling depressed. It releases feel-good brain chemicals, and in some cases can be just as effective as medication at relieving symptoms of depression. If the fatigue you are feeling is due to depression, exercise will make you feel more energised, not less. The key is to make it achievable. A 10-minute walk is better than no movement at all.
Depression can make you want to isolate yourself. People with depression can feel like they’re a burden on others or that they don’t have the energy to face the world. This is the depression talking. Making time to be with people who care about you helps to maintain the effort required to beat depression. Other people can also assist you to keep things in perspective. If you feel your social circle can’t give you the support you need, or you require more intensive help, talk to a health professional.
Eat a balanced diet, cut down on alcohol and set up a regular healthy sleep routine. Treating your body well gives you a strong foundation to overcome symptoms of depression.
A lot of us spend our days drifting by on autopilot, not really engaging with the world or what we’re thinking and feeling. This makes it very easy to slip into depressive thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness helps us to be in the present moment , and step back from the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are maintaining depression.
Depression puts a dark filter over the world and how you see yourself. Learning to identify and challenge depressive thoughts is a powerful skill that can help you see things from a more balanced perspective
Sometimes when symptoms of depression feel overwhelming or have been present for a long time, medication can help reduce the intensity and severity of what you’re feeling. For some people, medication can lift mood enough for talking therapy to become effective if it hasn’t yet worked. Talk to your GP if this is an option you would like to know more about.
There are many different treatment options that can help you to manage and overcome depression. For example, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) teaches you skills to challenge depression thoughts and find meaning in life.
Your GP is a good starting point to talk through what you are experiencing, and to rule out physical causes of symptoms. They can assist with a referral to an appropriate psychologist. You can also access free confidential counselling through the Police Psychology Unit or The Police Association Victoria.