Seeking help for depression
You don’t have to struggle alone in silence. If you feel like you may be experiencing depression it’s important that you seek help. There are a variety of mental health services and professionals out there that can help you with your mental health issues and prevent things from getting worse.
Some people may have suicidal thoughts when they are very worried and things are too hard and painful. If you feel that life is not worth living, it's really important to seek immediate help. With help, you can overcome these thoughts and stay safe.
Help is available
If your life is in danger call emergency services:
- Emergency Australia - 000
- Emergency New Zealand - 111
You are not alone. There is always someone to hear your pain and problems, and to help you keep safe.
Counselling (24 /7)
- Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14
- Lifeline New Zealand - 0800 543 354
Men's Line Australia - 1300 78 99 78
Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800
Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
You can also:
- talk to someone you trust
- visit a hospital emergency department
- contact your GP, a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.
You should seek help for depression:
- if you've been feeling really sad, overwhelmed or depressed most of the time
- if you've had these feelings for two weeks or more
- if it's affecting your ability to cope with life at home, work or school.
Read more about the signs and symptoms of depression.
The sooner you get help, the better it is for you and your recovery. It can be hard to ask for help when you're not feeling good. But keep asking until you find the right people and resources to help you get better.
It's important to get help to manage depression. You don't have to feel like this all the time.
Start by talking to your GP
Doctors in general practice treat problems like depression all the time. They can help find the best ways to deal with how you're feeling. Your doctor can:
- listen to your concerns
- check for any other health issues
- talk to you about types of treatment
- prescribe antidepressant medication
- suggest lifestyle changes
- refer you to specially trained mental health professionals, such as counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers.
Your GP can prepare a mental health treatment plan and discuss whether you might be able to get a Medicare rebate for psychology treatments. Some GPs take a special interest in mental health issues and have extra training in this area of general practice. If you don't feel comfortable talking to your own GP, find another one. It's really important that you feel OK about talking about how you're feeling with a GP.
If you're having trouble finding a good GP:
- try calling some other general practices near you and ask whether any doctors there have a strong interest in mental health
- check out beyondblue for their national listing of health practitioners with an interest in treating depression.
Other professionals who can help you
Psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors are specially trained to provide help for depression and other mental illnesses. You need to get a referral from your GP to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Social workers, occupational therapists, mental health nurses, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers are also trained in mental health.
Psychiatrists are specialist medical doctors who diagnose and treat mental illness.
Psychiatrists are trained to recognise and treat the effects of emotional disturbances on the body as a whole, as well as the effects of physical conditions on the mind.
Psychiatrists can prescribe, administer and monitor medication, and provide physical treatments.
They may also offer psychotherapy or 'talking treatments'. Psychotherapy involves the psychiatrist and patient discussing problems during regularly scheduled sessions.
Depending on the extent of the problem, this treatment may take a few sessions over several weeks or many sessions over a longer period of time.
When would I see a psychiatrist?
Your GP may refer you to see a psychiatrist when:
- you're feeling severe depression or other mental health problems
- they are concerned about self-harm or suicide
- your depression is lasting a long time or not responding to treatment
- they need some more specialist advice about your treatment.
A referral from a GP is usually required to visit a psychiatrist and is necessary to claim the Medicare rebate for the consultation.
Psychologists and psychiatrists both work in the area of mental health, and often work together.
There are some important differences between them:
- a psychiatrist has to complete a medical degree prior to specialising in mental health
- a psychiatrist can prescribe medication and a psychologist can't
- psychologists have specialist training in non-medical interventions but will work closely with GPs or psychiatrists
- psychologists help people with emotional and psychological difficulties. They also help people who don't have these difficulties, but who wish to enhance their psychological wellbeing and functioning.
Clinical psychologists who have completed specialised education and training in the diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders are helpful when seeking suitable treatment for depression.
Most are highly skilled in CBT and/or other psychotherapies.
If you're considering seeing a psychologist, it would be worth considering the following questions when deciding about getting help:
- What are your needs and what do you want to get out of the therapy?
- Has a psychologist been recommended to you (e.g. by your GP)?
- What will be the style or approach used by the psychologist?
- Does the psychologist have particular expertise or experience in working with your issues?
- What is the consultation fee, the frequency of sessions, and the duration of therapy?
Before making an appointment with a psychologist, it's OK to call them briefly to ask these questions.
What are counsellors and psychotherapists?
There are many different kinds of counsellors and psychotherapists. They will have differing approaches to your treatment.
Some counsellors may have undergone formal training in counselling, such as part of a psychology degree or through a college. Others may have come from a nursing or social work background.
Counsellors aim to work cooperatively with people to help them better cope with difficult life circumstances. They help people deal with grief, loss, stress, anxiety, depression, life transitions, parenting, and self-esteem.
They also help improve individuals' communication and relationships, to help you deal with the difficulties caused by addictions, trauma and abuse.
What should I ask if I'm thinking of seeing a counsellor?
If you're considering seeing a counsellor, it would be a good idea to find out beforehand:
- What approach will the counsellor take?
- What training have they undertaken?
- Are they accredited by a professional body?
- How many sessions are typically needed?
- How much will they charge?
Other counselling options
An online counselling service for relationship problems (in addition to face-to-face counselling services). The online service allows you to 'chat' privately and securely with an online counsellor. Online counsellors are qualified and experienced employees of Relationships Australia. Visit the Relationships Australia website.
Free or low cost counselling may be available through universities, community centres, charities, and religious organisations.
Social workers, occupational therapists, mental health nurses and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers:
- fulfil key roles in our mental health service system
- work closely with general practitioners, psychiatrists and psychologists in the delivery of mental health services
- are university qualified and may have undertaken special study in mental health.
A social worker or an occupational therapist may be an individual’s first point of contact when they start to seek help for their mental health problems. For more information about occupational therapists go to the Australian Association of Occupational Therapy website.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers have a good understanding of the health issues of Indigenous people. They can give support and know what's required to help.
Black Dog researchers are currently developing a suicide prevention app, called iBobbly, for young Indigenous Australians. The app delivers treatment-based therapy in a culturally relevant way.
When you see a mental health professional, you should expect confidentiality, empathy and understanding. You should be given sufficient time to express your thoughts and feelings. You should expect a thorough assessment of your mental health.
The assessment might cover:
- whether depression is the main problem or secondary to another problem (such as anxiety or substance abuse)
- what the risk is of self-harm, or harm to others
- how disabling the illness is
- whether there were any triggers to the illness
- if you have support from family or friends
- what childhood experiences, including school and peer interaction, and parenting you had.
A mental health professional may also ask about:
- any family history of depression
- the quality of your relationships
- your personality style and coping responses
- your drug and alcohol history
- any relevant medical problems or cognitive issues
- any previous depressive episodes and if so, how they were treated
- any factors sustaining the depression, such as marriage problems, work problems or other stresses.
After assessing you, and if the diagnosis is certain, the mental health professional should tell you whether you have depression.
If you have depression a management strategy should be recommended.
If more than one mental health professional is involved in giving you treatment, there should be clear lines of responsibility for each professional.
The cost of treatment varies depending on which health professional delivers your treatment.
However, you may be able to get either part or all the cost of treatment back through Medicare if your treatment is delivered by one of the following mental health professionals:
- mental health nurse
- social worker working in mental health
- occupational therapist working in mental health
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health worker.
Treatment from a counsellor is not covered by Medicare but some private health funds may cover counselling when it is delivered by a registered psychologist.
You may be eligible for a Medicare rebate if:
- your GP has created a mental health treatment plan for you
- you have a referral to a psychiatrist.
Medicare rebates for psychological treatments range from 75-100% and cover both individual and group treatments. Before making an appointment, it might be a good idea to find out how much a treatment costs and whether you are eligible for a rebate.
If you've already received treatment for your illness and you're not getting better, there could be a number of reasons why. These include:
- medication not being taken properly
- not using the right medication
- inaccurate diagnosis
- a change in your condition.
If you're not getting better, we recommend the following four steps:
1. Tell your treating professional
As a first step we recommend informing your treating professional that you don't think you are getting any better. They should review your progress and whether there have been any changes that might need assessment.
You should tell them about any side-effects of medication you might be experiencing. This could indicate that a change in your medication is warranted. (If your treating professional is not your GP you may also like to see your doctor for advice). Suddenly stopping certain medications can be dangerous, so it's best to seek advice beforehand.
2. Consider a second opinion
If you've already told your treating professional that you don't think you are getting any better, are not satisfied, or don't feel comfortable with your existing treating professional, you have the right to seek a second opinion.
There are many mental health professionals out there, and they can take differing approaches.
There are also professionals and organisations that specialise in depression or bipolar disorder, such as the Black Dog Institute. Here at the Black Dog Institute we:
- provide a specialist second opinion service through our clinics
- specialise in difficult cases of mental illnesses including assisting those who don't readily respond to treatment.
Psychiatrists and psychologists working in our clinics are all experts in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. They won't take over the management of your illness but will work with your treating doctors.
Read more about our Psychology Clinic.
Don't feel uneasy about requesting a second opinion, it's a very common practice. It's important to feel comfortable with the person giving you treatment. Every individual is different and needs an assessment and treatment tailored to their individual condition and needs. What works well for one person may not work well for another.
3. Once you've found the best advice, follow it
Sometimes, lack of improvement can be a result of not following the treatment plan designed for you.
Once you've found the person who can best help you, follow their advice, whether that advice is taking medications, having psychological therapy or following another approach.
Ask how long it should take to see an improvement so you know what to expect. Some treatments can take a while to take effect.
4. Keep going until you find what works
The vast majority of people can be successfully treated for depression. If you're not better yet, it doesn't necessarily mean that you won't be. There are many different treatments and professionals. Keep trying until you find the one that's best for you. Lots of other people have been down the same path and have learned to manage depression and live normal lives.
There are also support groups for people with depression and mental illness.
There are lots of other sources of support and things you can do to help yourself get better.
Family and friends
Good friends and family members can play a big part in helping you get better. They know you well and want the best for you. Family members and friends can try to get you some help and listen to your worries.
Even though you might not feel like getting out, try to see people. Don't cut yourself off and be alone. You could try going for a short walk with a friend. If you felt up to it, you could try playing some sport, music, or a game of chess. Something as simple as a cup of tea and a chat can help.
If you don't feel like going out, you can talk to people on the phone. Ask close friends to give you a call each day. Or they could call in to your place. Friends and family want to support you, and are happy to be asked for help.
A support group is a small group of people with a particular condition, such as depression. They meet regularly to discuss their experiences, problems and strategies for coping. Some support groups meet online.
Read more about support groups available.
Black Dog support groups
The REACH program
The REACH program is a 9-week psychoeducational wellbeing group. The program is based on the principles of responsibility, education, acceptance, connection and hope. The REACH groups cover a range of topics, such as:
- fostering strengths
- dealing with loss and grief
- identifying early warning signs and triggers
- wellbeing strategies
- nurturing support networks
- creating a unique wellbeing plan.
Find a REACH support group close to you.
e-Mental health tools
e-Mental health tools are useful psychological therapies that we can use online. All we need is access to a computer, tablet or a smart phone. Research indicates that evidence-based e-mental health tools are just as effective as face-to-face treatments for mild to moderate depression.
Many e-mental health tools are self-paced, and you can also use them with the support of a mental health professional. You can use e-mental health tools from home. They are also very helpful for people who live in rural and remote areas, or people with limited mobility or transport.
Head to our self-help tools and apps page to find the e-mental health tool that's right for you.
Some recommended e-mental health tools you could try:
myCompass is an free online self-help program easily accessible on your mobile phone, tablet or computer. Developed by the Black Dog Institute, it is based on psychological therapies, such as cognitive behaviour therapy, problem solving therapy and interpersonal therapy, as well as positive psychology and behavioural activation.
myCompass has been proven to relieve symptoms in people experiencing mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression. Visit the myCompass website.
THIS WAY UP™
THIS WAY UP™ provides online learning programs, education and research in anxiety and depressive disorders. It is a not-for-profit initiative, jointly designed and developed by Professor Gavin Andrews and his team of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney and UNSW Faculty of Medicine. A small registration fee is required. Take a look at THIS WAY UP
Funded by the Australian Federal Government, mindhealthconnect is an online gateway to trusted mental health resources and content from Australia's leading health organisations. Mindhealthconnect.org.au has more information on e-mental health programs and support services. Visit mindhealthconnect.
This national organisation is devoted to increasing awareness and understanding of depression in the community. Its website contains useful depression resources (including people's personal experiences of depression) and information on current initiatives. Visit the beyondblue website.
Beyondblue also provides a 24-hour telephone information service which is available to provide information on depression and anxiety, and advice on how to get help, where to get services and support Australia-wide.
Information for treatments on depression based on the latest scientific evidence. The BluePages website is provided by the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University and CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences (CMIS). Visit BluePages.
WayAhead is an initiative of the Mental Health Association of NSW. WayAhead provides mental health information and education seminars, and coordinates mental health promotion activities. Visit the WayAhead website.
I Am Back From the Brink
Graeme Cowan shares his personal story of overcoming depression. Visit the Back From the Brink website.
A free online cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) program for preventing and coping with depression. MoodGYM is provided by the Centre for Mental Health Research. Visit the MoodGYM website.
A website provided by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly devoted to helping people with mental illness optimise their lifestyle. Working Well Australia offers information, help and peer-based support to people living with depression in the workplace. Visit the WWA website.
Many of us have had a friend, colleague or family member that we were worried about. If you are concerned that someone may have depression, you can use these steps as a guide.
How to help someone you are worried about
- Ask - Be supportive and ask 'are you OK?'
- Listen - Take what they say seriously. Let the person know you care.
- Check their safety - If you're really worried, don't leave them alone.
- Get help - Encourage the person to get help. Or give them assistance to get help. A first step to getting help is with a GP.
- Follow up - Make a time to check in on them.
- Take care of yourself - Helping someone can be stressful and demanding.
What to do if you are worried about a family member or close friend
If you think a family member or close friend has depression, try talking to them about it in a supportive way. Suggest that they see their GP or other mental health professional.
Sometimes a person with depression may not want to seek help. If this happens, explain that you are concerned about them and why. You could give them some information that you think might be relevant, such as a book or information from a website.
- offer to help them to find professional help with someone they are comfortable talking to
- make an appointment for them
- take them to the appointment
- if appropriate, be with them during the appointment.
This may be particularly appropriate if the person has a severe disorder such as psychotic depression.
Depression in young people, particularly adolescents, should be taken seriously. This age group is particularly vulnerable to mental illness.
If you think your son or daughter is showing signs of depression, find time when you can talk about it (preferably in a stress-free setting). Suggest that it might help him or her to feel better by getting some help. Suggest that they visit the family GP, a school counsellor, or, initially, a friend or relative with whom they feel comfortable.
Worried about suicide?
Conversations Matter is a series of online resources, developed by Everymind, with tips on what to say and what to do when you are worried someone you know may be thinking about suicide.
These resources can assist when:
- you want to know how to talk about suicide more generally
- you are worried about someone and want to know what to say
- there has been a death and you want to know how best to handle individual and community level conversations.
Where can I get help for a child who might have depression?
Visit your GP
It's a good idea to see your doctor first. Your family doctor can give you lots more information about childhood depression and mental health.They can also check on the general health of your child and rule out any other health problems.
Your doctor might refer your child to an accredited child and adolescent psychiatrist. These professionals are trained to assist young people.
Mental health services
Your doctor might also connect you with a specialist child or adolescent mental health service provided through the public health system.
Other child and adolescent specialists
Your doctor can advise you about other specialists who provide help for children all the time. These are professionals like paediatricians and child psychologists.
Community health centres
You can also check out mental health programs at your local community health centre.
You could talk to the counsellor at your child's school. School counsellors are trained to help kids and have access to many sources of help.You can find out more about helping at the Kids Helpline website.
An important part of caring for someone is to help their treatment process.
- If medication is prescribed, encourage the person to take it.
- Counselling or psychotherapy often result in the depressed person 'thinking over' their life and relationships. This can be difficult, but you should allow the person to discuss these issues.
- Treatment has a positive time as well. When the person starts to reengage with the good things in life, carers can have their needs met as well.
Looking after yourself
Don't forget that as a carer, you are likely to be under stress. Therapy can release difficult thoughts and emotions in carers too. Part of caring is to care for yourself, preventing physical rundown and dealing with the thoughts and emotions you are having.
Information and support for carers: