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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one fifth of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, including eight per cent who will suffer from major depression.

But it’s very common for adults, particularly men, to misinterpret symptoms of depression as signs of stress. (“I’m just stressed” seems much easier to admit than “I’m really struggling.”)

So how do you tell the difference between depression, anxiety and stress? It’s true they are similar in some ways, but they’ve all got 'classic' signs or symptoms that can be readily identified. Here they are:


  • Feeling sad and low most or all of the time (for at least two weeks). Losing interest or pleasure in things that would usually be enjoyable. Feeling physically ‘heavy’ or weighed down, tired and lethargic.
  • Common thoughts: “What’s the point?”, “I can’t be bothered”, “I hate my life”, “Everything sucks” or “I’m boring”.
  • More focus than usual on death and dying – not necessarily suicidal, but thoughts like “It wouldn’t be so bad to be dead” or “When will I die?”
  • Outsiders might notice a withdrawal from things that are usually enjoyed, and a generally negative tone.
  • Disrupted sleep, particularly waking in the early hours (classically 2am to 5am) for no apparent reason. Change in appetite. Alcohol intake often increased (not a good idea).
  • Depression might be triggered by a life event (divorce, job loss) or come out of the blue. Those who have had depression in the past, or with a family history, are more likely to experience depression.


  • Feelings of nervousness or uneasiness with accompanying worry. Often precedes a challenging event (exam or job interview).
  • Physical symptoms: shortness of breath, chest tightness, dizziness, trembling in the hands, racing heart, shakiness, feeling sick and an overall feeling of being close to panic.
  • Common thoughts: “There’s something wrong with me”, “I can’t breathe”, “I can’t cope” or “Something dreadful is going to happen”.
  • Outsiders might notice the person worrying about every little thing, looking uptight and pacing around a lot.
  • Difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. Appetite often reduced. Alcohol intake increased in a bid to avoid anxious thoughts (experts strongly discourage this).
  • Anxiety can appear after a life event or just come out of the blue. Those who have experienced an anxiety disorder in the past, or with a family history, are more likely to be diagnosed.


  • Feeling keyed up and finding it hard to relax – often relating to external factors such as a demanding time at work, financial pressures or moving house.
  • Feeling physically tense and ‘wired’. Mind racing with everything that needs to be done.
  • Common thoughts: “I’ve got too much to do” and “I’m not sure I can cope with all this”.
  • Outsiders might notice the person appearing busier than usual, tense, unusually impatient or irritable.
  • Withdrawal from social activities, usually because they think they are “too busy” rather than that they “won’t enjoy it” (as in depression).
  • Sleep may be disrupted or restless. Appetite often increased or decreased. Alcohol intake increased, often to ‘wind down’ or ‘relax’ (experts strongly discourage this).

With many Canadian mines located up north, where sunlight is often severely restricted, another potential issue is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, symptoms include change in appetite (craving sweet or starchy foods), weight gain, low energy, fatigue, oversleeping, difficulty concentrating, irritability, avoiding social situations and feelings of anxiety and despair.

The isolation and separation of working away (or being left at home) can also sometimes lead to alcohol abuse. Common signs include blackouts, drinking to be happy, trying and failing to quit, flushed skin and trembling hands, arguing with loved ones about your drinking, or lying about it.

Now for some good news! If you remember only one thing from this little book, let it be this: help is available for all of these conditions. There is no need to go it alone. If any of these combined symptoms sound familiar, visit your family doctor – for the sake of yourself and those you love.

Further information: 
• Canadian Mental Health Association (

Mining Family Matters aims to break down the barriers of isolation and the stresses of living away from family and friends. Although this website provides general advice from a psychologist and practical tips from mining families, the content should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. Always speak to your doctor or specialist provider for advice on a specific medical condition. If you are depressed and require urgent assistance, call 9-1-1 or visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website at

Angie Willcocks is a registered psychologist with a private practice in Adelaide, South Australia.