Recognising depression

Feeling down or blue

It is normal for us to feel sad or moody at different times. Feeling down, irritable, or unmotivated is something we all experience from time to time as we experience life and what it throws at us. However, when these feelings are experienced consistently, or for an extended period of time, it may be due to depression.

Depression is not a sign of personal weakness or failure. It is not the normal grief process we might go through when we lose a loved one or experience a similar distressing life event. Depression is a health condition that affects your physical and mental wellbeing. While depression is a serious condition, it also responds to treatment.


Understand symptoms of depression

There can be more to depression than just feelings of sadness. Major depression can cause a variety of mental and physical symptoms, which can include:

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  • Feelings of despair, sadness, hopelessness, or helplessness. Other mood symptoms can include anger, irritability, anxiousness, and restlessness.
  • Feelings of being unable to cope with everyday life.
  • Feelings of guilt and self-blame.
  • Being teary much of the time.
  • Difficulty in enjoying activities you previously enjoyed.
  • Poor concentration, motivation, and energy.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Negative thinking about yourself, your environment, and your future.
  • Disturbances in your sleep, for example you can't get to sleep easily or wake early unable to return to sleep. Alternatively, you may want to sleep more than usual.
  • Thinking of or planning suicide.
  • Changes in appetite, for example overeating or a lack of appetite.
  • Experiencing physical feelings of being sick, gastrointestinal problems and other aches and pains.
  • Feeling unmotivated, with impaired thinking and concentration.
  • Loss of interest in sexual activities.


Ways to help yourself (self-help)

If you feel that you are experiencing minor depressive symptoms, or are simply feeling a bit down, you might like to try some of the following strategies and activities for yourself. Remember to be kind and compassionate to yourself, and remember that it's always okay to ask for help.

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  • While it can be difficult to achieve, try to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Depression is associated with a lack of good sleep, and research suggests that poor sleep can even contribute to mental health conditions, such as depression. See the Sleeping well page for sleeping tips and more information.

  • Schedule a pleasant thing to do each day - something that allows you to experience positive feeling or contentment.

  • Try to exercise each day - exercise is a known mood-lifter and can help you to feel better, especially if you're able to do it consistently each day. It doesn't have to be intense, either; something as simple as a walk can be enough to lift your mood. Read more about the benefits of exercise here.

  • If tasks seem overwhelming, break them down into smaller, manageable pieces and start by addressing just one of these. Congratulate yourself when you complete each smaller piece. Check out the Studying well page for a variety of tips and resources on procrastination, time management, and motivation.

  • Respect yourself - give yourself praise when you do something well.

  • Choose to be assertive - know your rights and learn how to exercise them.


Online tools

You might also like to explore how you feel using some of the following professionally developed online tools. These programs can be insightful, and can even be used to treat minor depression or anxiety.

  • MindSpotprovides free, anonymous assessment and treatment for adults experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, and chronic pain. Find it here:

  • moodgym is like an interactive self-help book which helps you to learn and practise skills which can help to prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. moodgym was originally developed and evaluated over 15 years by researchers at the Australian National University. Find it here:

  • BeyondBlue has a range of information, tools, and resources that can assist you learn more about depression. This includes a depression and anxiety quiz (checklist) which can help you develop more insight and guide your next steps.


Seeking professional help

If you feel that you may be experiencing depression, you should reach out for help. Depression is is unlikely to go away on its own. However, it does respond to treatment, and there are a variety of treatment options that you can discuss with a professional. Opening up and talking to someone is a courageous thing to do that can help yourself and those around you.

Seeing a doctor

Talking to a General Practitioner can be a great first step to get help. A doctor can provide more insight and assessment of your case, and provide referral to a psychologist if needed. They may also prescribe medication that can help alleviate depressive symptoms.

When making an appointment, either specify over the phone that it's a mental health related issue, or, if booking online, select a 'long' or 'extended' (30 minute) appointment slot.

Talking to a psychologist or counsellor

Depression can respond well to therapy, which often involves changing or challenging your thinking patterns, improving coping skills, and addressing other psychological elements of the condition. Psychological treatments can include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy;
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy;
  • Mindfulness based therapies.

Therapy can also be useful in helping you to address practical problems and conflicts that can go alongside depression. Psychological treatment is often used in conjunction with medical treatment.

Enrolled ANU students are eligible for free, confidential counselling sessions at the ANU Counselling centre. In addition to booking standard appointments, there are a limited number of 'next-day' appointments reserved each day.


How can I see a psychologist in Canberra?

You don't need a referral to access many psychological service providers, and can simply make an appointment with most clinics. However, certain clinics do require referrals, and having one may allow you to access a financial rebate (see below). You can use the Australian Psychological Society's Find a Psychologist database, or simply do a web-search for psychology services near you.


Medicare rebates for psychological services

To access rebates for psychological services, you firstly need to obtain a referral from a doctor (general practitioner), known as a mental health care plan. This referral allows you to access the rebate, which can cover some or all of the cost of accessing a psychologist, depending on the provider (the Australian Psychological Society has more detailed information here).

International students should consult their overseas health cover (OSHC) or reciprocal health care agreement for coverage of psychological services and how much of the cost can be claimed. Contact your provider to see what coverage is available. 


If you are feeling immediate distress, the ANU Wellbeing and Support Line (1300 050 327 or SMS 0488 884 170) is a 24-hour support service available to ANU students experiencing situational stress, emotional difficulties and mental health concerns.

Useful contacts and resources

For more detail on ANU support services, and some online services, see the non-urgent support page.

  • See the following online informational resources on depression: BeyondBlue, Black Dog Institute

  • ANU Counselling offers free and confidential counselling for ANU students. If you are feeling depressed, talking about it with a professional is a great first-step to take.

  • ANU Medical Centre - a doctor can help to identify and begin treating depressive symptoms. 

  • ANU Psychology Clinic offers reduced-rate psychological services to ANU students. 

  • ACT Health Access Mental Health - 24-hour mental health emergency access and support. Phone 02 6205 1065 or free-call 1800 629 354. 


Unsure about anything?

If you'd like to discuss or explore your options further, you might like to speak to ANU Thrive. ANU Thrive hosts free weekly drop-in sessions with a student peer mentor, who can talk through the options available to you or provide more information about available services and steps to take. These sessions are offered in-person and online on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Reference documents

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