It’s been called ‘the invisible disease’, although as many as one in 10 of us will experience it in our lifetime. But depression can be managed and it’s vital that you seek help.
Uma Thurman, Ashley Judd, Sinead O’Connor, Brooke Shields, Winona Ryder, JK Rowling… This is not only a list of the rich, famous and successful. It is a list of female celebrities who suffer from depression, who know first-hand the feelings of anger, helplessness, despair and futility commonly associated with this condition.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), approximately 6% to 10% of the population will experience a depressive episode in any given year.
One in five women will experience a depressive episode in a year
More women than men are affected, by as many as three times, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and as many as one in five women will experience a depressive episode in a year.
Interestingly, new research suggests that it may be a case, not of men escaping depression, but rather that their manifestations of depression are markedly different to those of women, with men being seen rather as irritable and aggressive, instead of depressed, and thus being misdiagnosed.
Depression is more likely to show itself in people who are socially isolated
While having a good social network and the support of friends and family is no guarantee of immunity, it seems that depression is more likely to show itself in people who are socially isolated and lack close interpersonal relationships.
Depression is an illness caused by an imbalance of neurochemicals in the brain
In modern medicine, it is well recognised that depression is an illness caused by an imbalance of neurochemicals in the brain. Furthermore, depression comes in mild, moderate and severe forms, and the type determines the treatment.
Symptoms of depression
The key symptoms of the condition are lack of energy, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, troubled sleep or excessive sleep, appetite changes, feelings of guilt, self-loathing and worthlessness, withdrawal, irritability, restlessness, impaired concentration, low self-esteem and morbid thoughts.
There can also be physical symptoms, like back pain, headaches or stomach pains that do not respond to treatment.
We all experience times when we’re unhappy or a bit ‘blue’, but this is not to be confused with depression, which is a serious medical condition that, in chronic cases, lasts for an extended period and interferes with everyday life, including social functioning and even work performance.
Transitory feelings of sadness or discouragement are perfectly normal, especially during particularly difficult times in a person’s life. What is important in considering a depression diagnosis is the length of time these feelings last and whether one’s ability to function on a personal, emotional, practical and professional level is compromised.
No one is exactly sure why some people experience depression while â?? under very similar circumstances â?? others do not, but it is thought that part of the cause may be hereditary.
Depression usually has some sort of identifiable trigger
However, depression usually has some sort of identifiable trigger, like a stressful event, a tragedy, great disappointment, the death of a loved one, pain or illness, childhood abuse or neglect, social isolation, alcohol or drug abuse, and even a nutritional deficiency.
Yet, even if you have recently experienced something devastating like the loss of your job or the loss of a loved one, it does not follow that what you feel in the aftermath is necessarily clinical depression; it may be grief-related and a healthy response.
The good news is that about 80% of depressives respond well to treatment
The good news is that around 80% of people who are susceptible to recurrent depression respond very well to psychotherapy, medication or a combination of the two. Support groups, too, can be an enormous help. To find a support group in you area contact SADAG on 0800 21 22 23 from 8am to 8pm 7 days a week.
If you are experiencing depression, make sure that you:
Get enough sleep
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Avoid mind-altering substances, including alcohol
Seek out the company of others
Find and engage regularly in activities that you enjoy
Make sure that you get some sun exposure (but use sunblock)
If your low mood persists for more than two weeks, despite doing all of the above, seek professional help. It is possible to live a healthy and meaningful life with depression.
It is important that depressed patients take responsibility for their mood
Making positive changes in your lifestyle and changing negative thought patterns to positive ones, will also enhance overall wellbeing. The way you live your life, take care of yourself and feel about yourself affects mood stability and depression.
A concerted effort to alleviate stress in your life will go a long way towards stabilising your thinking â?? use relaxation techniques, change your diet, get regular exercise and join support groups.
So, while you might not be able to ‘just snap out of it’, there are many strategies you can follow to enhance your mental wellbeing and improve your quality of life. Depression is a real illness and can be treated â?? there is no need to suffer in silence.
For free information on depression, counselling and referral to mental healthcare professionals, call SADAG on 0800 21 22 23. You can also visit www.sadag.org or get in touch with us via Facebook (The South African Depression and Anxiety Group) or Twitter (@TheSADAG).