Depression is more than just having the ‘blues’

 

07/07/2020

One of the buzz phrases during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the term ‘mental illness’. Worldwide lockdowns, government-imposed restrictions, social distancing and a severe global recession, has left many crippled with fear, anxiety and sadness. This has inevitably resulted in an escalation in the number of people suffering from mental health conditions.

 

Mental health disorders, irrespective of what they are, affect one’s mood, thinking and behaviour. And although the common assumption is that psychiatric disorders only affect adults, this couldn’t be further from the truth!  Mental illness is not age-related and can affect anyone susceptible to them.  

 

Although there are a vast number of illnesses that fall under the mental conditions’ umbrella, the most common are depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and addictions.

 

Depression has increasingly reared its nasty head over the last few months. Although most people occasionally experience sadness, especially in the current global climate, having depression is vastly different from a sporadic emotional or psychological slump. The latter is associated with relentless, often debilitating, symptoms. Sufferers experience persistent negative thoughts and feelings which hamper their ability to function.

 

Depression is a condition that is characterised through one’s ongoing feelings of sadness, loss, or anger. Although it is normal to feel blue at times, feeling this way often is an indication that something is amiss, and one may be suffering from depression.

 

Depression is a real threat to a person’s daily activities. It may influence their work, schooling, health and relationships. It is considered a severe medical condition that can get worse without proper treatment. Complicating matters further is that not all depression disorders are the same. There are several types –  from mild and major depression to persistent, manic and clinical depression, to name a few. Despite all of these sharing similarities, some are more severe and tougher to deal with and treat.

 

Symptoms of depression
Depression is much more than a constant state of sadness. It can cause a variety of symptoms which affect both the body and mind. Furthermore, depression is known to affect men, women and children differently.

The most common symptoms experienced by men suffering from depression are:
* Feelings of anger, aggression, anxiety and restlessness;
* Loss of interest in doing activities they once enjoyed;
* Lowered libido and sexual performance;
* Inability to concentrate, complete tasks or hold a steady conversation;
* Changes in sleep patterns;
* Fatigue, body aches, headache, digestive problems;

The common symptoms experienced by women battling depression are:
* Mood swings with irritability being the most prominent;
* Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness;
* Loss of interest in doing activities they once enjoyed;
* Withdrawal from social engagements;
* Suicidal thoughts;
* A change in cognitive abilities such as talking more slowly;
* Changes in sleep patterns;
* Decreased energy, increased fatigue and extreme changes in appetite (either over or under eating which leads to weight fluctuations);
* Physical symptoms such as cramps, headaches, body aches and IBS;

Although some people assume children can’t suffer from depression, this is incorrect. Depression is linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain, which can affect anyone, at any age. Kids battling with depression often experience these symptoms:
* Changes in mood with irritability, anger and weepiness being the most common;
* Feelings of incompetence, despair and intense sadness;
* Social behaviour changes such as getting into trouble at school, refusing to go to school or avoiding friends and siblings;
* Suicidal thoughts;
* Difficulty concentrating and a decline in school performance;
* Change in sleep patterns;
*  Loss of energy, digestive problems and changes in appetite;

 

Causes

The conventional theory is that depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, experts say that this is only one of the factors that contribute to the debilitating illness. Depression isn’t purely the result of having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals; it’s a combination of factors. These include faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetics, stressful and traumatic life events, unfavourable lifestyle, medications, and certain medical conditions.

 

Treatment
Living with depression is difficult. The bad news is that there is no cure for it, but the great news is that it can be controlled and managed. That is why treatment is essential!

Those who seek medical advice and receive treatment usually see improvements within a few weeks. There are numerous ways to treat depression, and sufferers may find relief in just one form of therapy or a combination of treatments. Health practitioners are best equipped to advise on preferred treatments for specific types of depression. The most common treatments are:

Medications – these include antidepressants, antianxiety or antipsychotic prescription drugs. Because not all depression medications are created equal, and all have their own set of benefits and potential risks, it’s imperative to consult a doctor before starting on a course of such medication.
Therapy – speaking with a therapist can help one learn coping skills and understand the patterns of their negative thought and feelings. Therapy can be done one-on-one or in a group. This choice is dependent on the extent and type of depression an individual suffers from.
Light therapy – although this is not a commonly used therapy for depression studies show that exposure to doses of white light can help regulate one’s mood and combat depression.
Alternative therapies – Acupuncture, herbal remedies, traditional medicine, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) can also help fight depression. Although medical experts recommend these be done in conjunction with mainstream therapies, they are certainly worth trying.

 

Doctors also advise depression sufferers to exercise regularly. Physical activity produces happy hormones (endorphins) in the brain, which in turn help combat depression. Although 30 minutes 3-5 times a week is ideal, doing just one session a week may help.  

 

A big no-no when combatting depression is drugs and alcohol! These may make one feel great during consumption, but when the downer hits, sufferers experience an almost unbearable mental and emotional crash. And the longer they consume these substances for, the higher the chances that their depression will worsen.