Ask the Counsellor: Feeling ‘down’

Counsellor Belinda Muldoon answers your questions.

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Q. How do I know if I’m depressed or just feeling ‘down’?

This is a great question because depression will feel different for everyone. ‘Feeling down’ is a natural experience in certain contexts. For example, it is natural to feel down if you have worked really hard on an assignment and not received the marks you hoped for or if you lose someone close to you, or a relationship ends.

In these circumstances it is perfectly natural to feel sad and experience some of the symptoms of depression. However, when these symptoms linger for more than a couple of weeks and if they start to effect sleep, appetite, enjoyment in activities, it is worthwhile speaking to a health professional such as a doctor, counsellor or nurse.

There is a strongly held misconception that ‘depression’ only involves ‘sad’ feelings. Feelings are somewhat more complicated than that, even sadness may be expressed in a number of ways. People with depression may report feeling a number of confusing emotions including agitation, shyness, irritability, shame, guilt, or indecision.

People with depression may also experience physical sensations such as fatigue, aching muscles, weight loss or gain, headaches and sleep issues.

Sometimes our thoughts may also be affected by depression. Many people with depression also report  upsetting thoughts such as not believing in themselves, not having hopes for the future, or not believing that others care if something happens to them.

These changes in emotion, the body and behaviour may all be indications that depression is hanging about. However, these symptoms are also present in some other health issues, so it is important to rule these out first.

When should I be concerned?

Important questions to ask yourself are:

  • Has my mood or behaviour changed in such a way that it stops me from doing things I used to enjoy?
  • Or has it increased my behaviour in other areas such as drinking, taking drugs or engaging in other risky behaviours as a way to avoid how I am feeling?

If so, then it is probably a good idea to have a chat to a health professional.

The earlier you recognise these symptoms and see someone about it, the easier it is to treat.

Our emotions can be a bit like a sore – it is better to look closely, nurture the wound and heal the pain. If we ignore it, it can become a growing wound that may require significant interventions to become well again.

Where to from here?

If you are not sure if your mood and behaviour has changed significantly, it may be worthwhile to ask someone that you trust, like a family member or close friend, whether they have noticed any of these changes.

It is never a waste of time to speak to a counsellor if you are unsure about your emotional wellbeing – even if you just get some reassurance or some stress management strategies.

You may visit the UoN Counselling Service in the Hunter Building HA209 or drop in for an Blackboard Instant Messenger chat with the Counselling Service Online via your Blackboard page.

Need help now?

Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511.

Further information:

  • Self-test for depression: Black Dog Institute
  • Facts about anxiety and depression: Beyond Blue
  • Concerned about someone that you think may be suicidal? Conversations Matter
  • Online course for managing issues such as depression and anxiety: MindSpot
  • Curious about what increases happiness? Try Happify for activities for improving emotional wellbeing.

Ask Belinda a question!

Belinda Muldoon is a Counsellor with the university’s Counselling Service.

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