‘It’s just a phase’, ‘just get over it’, ‘think positive’ are often expressions used to jerk someone out of a state of persistent sadness, a pervasive lack of enthusiasm and joy, which is depression. This is an illness, just like diabetes and heart disease and it affects both the mind and the body. Each individual has a different experience of this mental health problem. Depression is not ‘a phase’ someone goes through, and ‘snapping out of it’ most often does not work. There are approximately 322 million people around the world who live with depression, and the World Health Organization has stated that by 2020 it will be the leading cause of disability around the world.
There are several misconceptions about depression that exist in our society. There is a belief that feeling sad and being depressed is the same thing. We all feel sad at different times in our lives, but the sadness is often not persistent. However, feeling low and sad is seen to be persistent in depression. A person living with depression does not have to experience it for his/her entire lifespan. It is an illness that can be treated. It is not just the young or the elderly that are vulnerable. We all have a vulnerability towards developing depression or another mental health problem. No one is excluded.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a common type of depression that we often find around us. A period of two weeks where one experiences low mood for most of the day, and displays a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities along with other symptoms can be diagnosed with MDD. Dysthymia lasts for two years or more and is usually described as mild depression. It is also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder. Post-Partum Depression (PPD) is a form of depression that can occur weeks or months after becoming a parent. Atypical Depression is another subtype of depression where a person with depressed mood can brighten up in response to positive events. Other key symptoms include increased appetite, weight gain, and sleeping more than usual. Psychotic Depression is a serious form of depression that requires urgent medical attention, that can bring about delusions hallucinations along with other symptoms of depression.
Causes of Depression
There are many known causes of depression. Genetic predisposition and biological factors like changes in brain chemistry can put a person at risk of being depressed. Childhood factors like trauma, neglect, early loss of a parent, unstable home environment etc can be risk factors. Stressful life events like unemployment, divorce, relationship breakdown, being diagnosed with a terminal illness, bereavement, and abuse can also be factors that can bring about depression. Biological conditions that affect brain functioning, hormonal issues like thyroid malfunction, menstrual and menopausal related issues can also cause depression. Alcohol and substance misuse that is comorbid with other mental health problems is also associated with depression.
Signs and Symptoms
Low mood, persistent sadness along with loss of interest in daily activities are vital signs of depression. Sleep difficulties and changes in appetite are also signs to watch out for. Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and emptiness are common complaints from those experiencing this illness and constant fatigue, aches and pains, and general slowness in daily functioning are also commonly reported. Low sexual functioning is another symptom that can be observed and those living with depression may develop thoughts about harming themselves. It is of vital importance that treatment is sought early, if and when the signs mentioned above are observed in a loved one. Early treatment increases the likelihood of better outcomes.
Coping with Depression
There is a great deal of professional support available in Sri Lanka for the treatment of depression. There are Psychological Counsellors and Psychologists who provide talk therapies to help people cope with and overcome depression. Psychiatrists are medical professionals who support those experiencing depressive illness with medication and other medical interventions. Befriending organizations provide face to face, e-mail and phone based befriending, for anyone who wishes to unburden themselves and find options to help them cope. It is also important to consider Ayurveda and Homeopathic remedies, which are often neglected as potential treatment methods.
Physical activity and regular exercise are great strategies to cope with depression as activity elevates mood and helps one feel better. Adequate family support and maintaining relationships with people in our lives, though we might feel like isolating ourselves is also important. Pursuing hobbies such as photography, music, art, dancing and hiking can be effective mood boosters. Religious activity and prayer can be helpful coping strategies and most importantly setting realistic and achievable goals and taking baby steps towards them can really contribute towards recovery. Depression is treatable, and anyone living with depression can live productive and fruitful lives.