Am I just sad, or could it be depression?


4 minutes

25 February 2022

A young woman on the couch looking lost in thought

Feeling sad, flat or overwhelmed? A psychologist explains when to seek support – and what can help.

We all feel down from time to time. But when these sad feelings don’t go away, become difficult to cope with, or interfere with everyday life, it may be a sign of depression.1

Depression is more than just a low mood. It’s a treatable mental health condition, and if you’re experiencing symptoms it’s important to reach out for assessment and support from a health professional.1

To understand more, we talked to psychologist Dr Marny Lishman.

In this article

What is depression?

Depression is more common than many people may realise. In fact, 1 in 7 Australians will experience depression in their lifetime.2 

“Depression is a mood disorder characterised by low mood for an extended amount of time, which causes distress to the person experiencing it,” Dr Lishman says.

Anyone can be affected by depression at any time. However, some personal factors such as family history may increase your risk.3

Challenging life situations, like relationship issues, grief, ongoing stress and loneliness or isolation can also trigger depression.3 

Signs and symptoms of depression

Dr Lishman says signs and symptoms of depression vary, but may include:

  • Sadness that you can’t shake
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest and lack of pleasure in usual activities
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Feeling a sense of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
  • Brain fog or difficulty concentrating or making decisions 
  • Constant tension or feeling on edge
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Changes in appetite and unintentional weight loss or gain

When should you seek help, and how?

“If your symptoms have lingered for more than two weeks and you’re unable to self-manage them, it may be time to seek help from a health professional,” advises Dr Lishman.

These health professionals may include:4

  • Your GP. Talking to your GP is a good first step. They can assess your symptoms, give you some useful information and refer you to a mental health professional if needed.
  • A psychologist. A psychologist can teach you tools to help manage symptoms of depression. HBF extras cover for psychology can pay benefits towards this.
  • A psychiatrist. In some cases, particularly if your symptoms are more severe or complex, your GP may suggest you see a psychiatrist – a medical doctor with further training specialising in mental health conditions.

Another way to get support is to call a helpline such as the Beyond Blue Helpline on 1300 22 4636.

It can also be a good idea to reach out to friends and family, Dr Lishman says.

“Be honest with your loved ones. Let them know how you’re feeling and be open to them helping you. Having their support can be a big help,” she advises.

How can depression be treated? 

Dr Lishman says there are a variety of treatments available for depression and the best approach will vary depending on the individual.

For some people, psychological therapy (talk therapy) can be an effective way to treat depression and improve your mood.

Psychological therapies can help you to identify and change unhelpful thinking patterns and teach you strategies to better manage symptoms of depression.5

In some cases, particularly if you are experiencing moderate to severe depression, your doctor may recommend medical treatments such as antidepressant medication alongside psychological treatment.6

Talk to your doctor for more information about the best treatment options for you.

Self-management techniques

Beyond seeking professional help, there are things you can do to help manage depression and low mood. Dr Lishman says these include:

  • Exercise. Getting active can help boost your mood, release stress and give you more energy. Try to do some form of physical activity daily to get those feel-good hormones pumping.
  • Eating healthy food. Nourish your body and mind with a balanced and nutritious diet, based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
  • Meditation or mindfulness exercises. Set aside time to breathe and quiet your mind. Try searching for guided meditations online or use an app such as Smiling Mind.
  • Relaxation. Allow yourself a break and do the things you’d usually find enjoyable or relaxing. Sit outside, spend time in nature, listen to music or read a book.
  • Social connection. Try to stay connected to friends, family and colleagues, even if low mood makes you want to withdraw from social activity. 
  • Talking to friends and family. If you feel comfortable doing so, let them know that you’re feeling low. Talking it out with a good listener can often help you feel more supported.
  • Cutting back on alcohol. Some people may drink to try to feel better, but alcohol can contribute to symptoms of depression.7 If you need help changing your drinking habits, talk to your GP.
  • Good sleep habits. Prioritise getting enough restful sleep each night. Create a relaxing bedtime routine, try to get up and go to bed at the same time each day, reduce screen use before bed and make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and comfortable.
  • Learning to change your thinking styles. A psychologist can help teach you strategies for dealing with negative or upsetting thoughts.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, remember that help is available. Talk to your GP and find out about mental health support options that could help you.

You can also reach out to helplines such as:

How can health insurance help?

Your mental health is an essential part of your overall wellbeing. HBF can provide cover for:

  • Seeing a psychologist. HBF extras cover can give you benefits towards visits with a psychologist or clinical psychologist, up to your annual limit.
  • Hospital psychiatric services. HBF Gold hospital elevate cover can pay benefits for hospital psychiatric services to treat mental health conditions such as depression.

Learn more about HBF mental health cover and how it could help you.

If you’re an HBF member, you can check what you're covered for by logging on to myHBF or calling us on 133 423.

Explore HBF mental health cover

Find health cover that includes mental health services, for extra support when you need it most.

Find out more


  1. 1Beyond Blue – Depression
  2. 2Beyond Blue – Statistics
  3. 3Beyond Blue – What causes depression?
  4. 4Beyond Blue – Who can assist?
  5. 5Beyond Blue – Psychological treatments for depression
  6. 6Beyond Blue – Medical treatments for depression
  7. 7Beyond Blue – Drugs, alcohol and mental health


This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.