What is Depression?
It wears many guises. It can manifest as a feeling of low mood, hopelessness and weariness of the soul lasting weeks and months that will not lift.
It can also present as reduced interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed, loss of sexual desire, disturbed sleep patterns, restlessness, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, impaired ability to think or concentrate, the inability to make decisions, or in very severe cases, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or an attempt at suicide.
It is important to note that life events often mean that at some point we will all feel low. However if these feelings persist over weeks and affect daily activities such as work and our ability to function and cope with daily life, it is important to seek medical advice.
Depression is very common. When consumed by it, it can be very hard to see a way out.
Our cultures often make us feel ashamed to admit that all is not well.
Religious individuals in our circles may even go as far as admonishing us for not praying “enough” or not having enough faith to “bind the demons of depression” or declaring with great confidence that “there must be unconfessed sin in our lives!”
Depression is a reality of the human condition and no one should be made to feel ashamed for experiencing it.
Why Does Depression Happen?
Depression can happen for a number of reasons and has a number of triggers. Sometimes it is due to biochemical abnormalities in neurotransmitter levels in the brain or hormonal disturbances (such as in the case of post-natal depression, thyroid gland disease). There can be a genetic predisposition towards it. Environmental factors such as a change in life circumstances (loneliness, divorce, loss of employment, diagnosis of a life-changing illness) or personality traits (e.g. low self-esteem) a significant trauma(loss of a loved one, assault) can also precipitate it’s onset.
When individuals are depressed, they often hide behind maladaptive coping strategies such as excess alcohol consumption (which actually worsens depression), illicit drug use or sexual promiscuity or they overwork themselves.
How is Depression Diagnosed?
There are no physical tests for depression but your doctor can carry out some tests to rule out certain medical conditions that can cause it, and assess your state of mind.
It is important to see a doctor early on and to be honest and open in order to enable them to diagnose you correctly and assess how severe the depression might be.
How is Depression Treated?
The treatment for depression depends on its severity. Counselling and Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can be very helpful.
Anti-depressant medications can also be of benefit. The effect of these drugs is often only felt after 4- 6 weeks of treatment. A combination of both medication and therapy has been shown to have the best outcomes.
Regular exercise can help as well as social support from family and friends.
The first step in dealing with depression is acknowledging its presence. The second step is speaking to someone you trust about it and the third, seeking medical help.
You are not alone. Help is out there.