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Self-care for depression

Coping with bad times

Suicidal thinking is usually only temporary, but it is dangerous to try to cope with it on your own.

Your doctor or psychologist should give you information about who to call if you need help, including when your normal doctors are not available.

Steps to surviving depression and suicidal thoughts

  1. Tell someone – your doctor, case manager, family or friends.
  2. Get help – your doctor or case manager can help you manage your emotions. In an emergency you can call your local public mental health crisis assessment team (sometimes called CAT team).
  3. Don’t be alone – try to stay around people and keep active.

More on what to do if you're feeling suicidal

Public mental health crisis assessment teams (sometimes called CAT teams) are trained mental health professionals linked to your local health service. They can speak to you on the phone about your situation, treatment and symptoms.

If necessary, they can visit you or arrange follow-up with your own health-care team.

If you have severe depression, or you are at risk of harming yourself, your treatment plan should include information on how to contact help if you need it when your normal doctors are not available. Ask your case manager/key worker for the phone number, and make sure you have it with you.

Take an active role in therapy

If you do cognitive behavioural therapy, do the homework you're given. Think over what you’re learning. If you're having face-to-face therapy, be honest and straightforward with your therapist.

Pay attention to your mind and mood

Learn to recognise the signs that your depression could be coming back. Pay attention to changes in your body and in your thinking. Tell your mental health team or psychiatrist if you think something is going wrong.

Ask your doctor or therapist to help you make a plan about how to deal with early signs of relapse. You can ask your close friends and family to help you if this happens.

Some people find it helpful to use a mood diary to keep track of their mood patterns and treatment progress.

Eat well

Healthy eating can prevent depression, and might improve symptoms if you already have it. Aim for a balanced diet containing:

  • zinc – found in grains (e.g. wheat, oats, rice, barley, millet and corn), lean red meats, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, beans, milk, cheese and yoghurt
  • folate – found in leafy green vegetables
  • omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids – found in fish and some nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids act like antidepressants in the brain.

It’s best to get these ingredients from fresh foods. If that’s not possible for you, you can take vitamin or mineral supplements. Be sure to talk to your doctor first before you take supplements. Taking supplements can cause problems for some people.

Look after your body

Try to keep active. Regular exercise helps stop people getting depression, and can also improve symptoms.

If you smoke, try to stop. Smoking can increase your risk of having depression and anxiety. Quitting smoking reduces depression, anxiety and stress, and improves your mood and quality of life.

Avoid illegal drugs – they can cause depression or make it worse and stop you recovering.

If you use alcohol, drink sensibly. Heavy drinking makes it harder to get over depression.

Try to get enough sleep. Unhealthy sleeping patterns can bring on depression or make it worse.

Get regular health check-ups and screening tests to help you look after your physical health.

More about managing your physical health

Get the most out of your treatment

When you and your doctor have found the medication and dose that works best for you, keep taking it – don’t skip doses or give up.

It's very important that you attend all of your appointments.

Involve your family

Your partner or family can help you stay well, and can help you make the best choices when you have symptoms.

If you want them to, your health-care team can include your partner or family when providing information and making decisions.

Self-help groups

Self-help groups can help you get support and information.

People in groups can benefit from each other’s experiences. They are also an opportunity to make new friends.

The friendly support you get from your self-help group reminds you that you are not alone – other people have mental illnesses and are coping with many of the same problems as you.

Internet and phone apps

Many websites and apps have been made to help people manage their depression. Some examples are:

If you use an online program, tell your doctor or psychologist, so they can give advice and support to keep it up.

Some of the information about mental health on the internet is not correct or helpful. If you are not sure or can’t find what you are looking for, talk to your health-care team.

Page last reviewed Apr 2017 | C1035V1

This is a general guide only, and does not replace individual medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. The RANZCP is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information. Subject matter experts, people with lived experience of mental illness and carers all contributed to this fact sheet.