Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. It causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home. However, depression can be confusing to understand. The death of a loved one, loss of a job or the ending of a relationship are difficult experiences for a person to endure. It is normal for feelings of sadness or grief to develop in response to such situations. Those experiencing loss often might describe themselves as being “depressed.” But being sad is not the same as having depression.
The grieving process is natural and unique to each individual and shares some of the same features of depression. Both grief and depression may involve intense sadness and withdrawal from usual activities. They are also different in important ways: In grief, painful feelings come in waves, often intermixed with positive memories of the deceased. In major depression, mood and/or interest (pleasure) are decreased for most of two weeks. In grief, self-esteem is usually maintained. In major depression, feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing are common.
The symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include: Feeling sad or having a depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, Changes in appetite weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting, Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, Loss of energy or increased fatigue, Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others), Feeling worthless or guilty, difficulty thinking, concentrating or making a decision, Thoughts of death or suicide, Symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.
Noticing patterns in people’s behaviour can help identify certain red flags; the fluctuation in an individual’s eating habits and general attention is noticeable. The manner in which people speak to friends and family is also a good give away in identifying a person’s mood hence, making it important to understand the undertone in conversations. People themselves can be observant and conscious and read certain signs and procure help if needed. People should look out for signs such as, if you are feeling sad and hopeless nearly every day, for most of the day; If you have experienced a loss of interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy; if you are feeling guilty, helpless, or worthless; if you have thoughts about death, self-harm or suicide, or have attempted suicide; if you have experienced changes in sleep patterns; if you have experienced unintended weight loss or weight gain, appetite loss, or overeating; if you are feeling tired nearly every day, for most of the day, and lack energy for daily activities; if you are suffering from frequent crying spells; if you are having difficulty concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions; if you are having persistent aches or pains, headaches, or digestive problems that do not get better with treatment; if you are feeling restless, irritated, or easily annoyed on a regular basis.
The reason for developing depression has yet to be narrowed down, however, there are many known factors that tend to predispose individuals to depression. Such as, past physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, personal conflicts or disputes with family members or friends, sadness and grief due to death and loss, other personal problems, problems such as social isolation due to other mental illnesses or being cast out of a family or social group all contribute to the risk of developing clinical depression. Substance abuse is another important factor; nearly thirty per cent of people who have substance abuse problems also have major or clinical depression. Research has shown that Genetics disposition also has an influence and a family history of depression may increase the risk too. The aetiology of depression, like most psychiatric disorders, is not simple or straightforward also depression itself is a complex disorder and no one factor is solely responsible, rather a combination of factors.
However, depression is curable and there are many forms of treatment. Working one’s way through depression may be harder than expected but with the right help and therapy, people can overcome it. Cognitive behavioural therapy is by far the most common form of therapy due to its high efficacy and short duration required for therapy. Other forms of therapy such as group-based therapy; interpersonal therapy, psychodynamic therapy, behavioural couple therapy etc. are all used to effectively treat depression. For cases of depression with increased severity medication in the form of antidepressant drugs can be prescribed. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are the most popular. Apart from therapeutic and drug-induced medication, there are a number of things people can do to help reduce the symptoms of depression. For many people, regular exercise helps create a positive feeling and improve mood. Getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis, eating a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol (a depressant) can also help reduce symptoms of depression. Depression is a real illness and help is available. With proper diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of people with depression will overcome it. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, a first step is to see your family physician or psychiatrist. Talk about your concerns and request a thorough evaluation. This is a start to addressing your mental health needs.