When you ask most people what they think of when they hear the word depression, you would hear them say sadness, unhappiness, the feeling of unwellness and suicide. Many of these words are not far from the description of depression symptoms. Depression is a group of conditions associated with a decrease in a person's ability to function mentally and or physically.
Depression is a common illness worldwide, with more than 264 million people affected. Depression affects an estimated one in fifteen adults in any given year, and one in six people will experience depression at some time in their life. Depression is different from usual mood swings, sadness and grief.
Following the death of a loved one, loss of a job or heartbreak, it is normal for feelings of distress or sadness to crop up at such times as a response to the situation. That is to say, sadness and grief are natural; however, there are situations where they co-exist with depression.
It is important to note that depression can affect anyone irrespective of the person's social, ethnic, religious or educational background. It is also worthy of note that a depressed person is a sick person. According to the World Health Organization, you would say that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease; so, because you do not see physical manifestations of this illness does not discredit its presence. Depression can affect a person who seems to live a relatively happy life.
Several factors contribute to the cause of depression.
· Chemical imbalance – which leads to a disturbance in the central nervous system chemical (serotonin) activity.
· Genetics - depression can run in families. First degree relatives of a depressed individual are about three times more likely to develop depression. If a twin is depressed, there is a 40-50% chance that the other twin would be depressed.
· Social and environmental factors could also play a role in depression; continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse, poverty and stress.
· An individual's personality also plays an important role; individuals with low self-esteem and pessimists are more likely to experience depression.
Cognitive-behavioral models of depression suggest that the presence of adverse life events in addition to one's perception of or reaction to those events may impact the development and maintenance of depressive symptoms.
A risk factor could be solely responsible for depression in an individual, and it could also arise from the interaction of more than one risk factor. Researchers are currently investigating the relationships between genetics, environmental stressors and brain abnormalities in the development of depression. There are other interrelations between physical health and depression; for example, cardiovascular disease can lead to depression and vice versa. Other medical disorders like a thyroid disease could mimic the symptoms of depression and could lead to depression. Overuse of alcohol and medications like sleep aids can make depression worse.
Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe. It includes
· The loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
· Change in appetite which could lead to weight loss or gain
· Insomnia and sleeping too much; increased fatigue
· Difficulty with thinking
· Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
· Thoughts of death and suicide.
These symptoms must last for at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression is made.
As stated earlier, sadness and grief can co-exist with depression, but can also occur independently of each other. Grief tends to decrease over time, and it occurs in waves triggered by positive memories of the deceased, as such, the individual has moments where they feel better. With depression, however, the feeling is more persistent (except in atypical depression where positive events can bring about an improvement in mood).
Depression can be classified depending on the number and severity of the symptoms into mild, moderate and severe. An individual with a mild depressive episode will have some difficulty in continuing everyday work and social activities but will not cease to function altogether. It is opposite in a severe depressive episode.
At its worst, depression plays a role in more than half of all suicide attempts, close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. It is the leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds and males are more susceptible to committing suicide from depression.
Depression is like any other illness as such; an affected person must reach out for help. Depression can be treated as it is among the most treatable mental disorders. It is said that between 80-90 per cent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Once the diagnosis has been made, different treatment plans could be carried out.
Psychosocial treatment is usually the course of treatment in individuals with mild depression which includes 'talk therapy' which may involve family, friends and spouses to help address the social and environmental issues. For individuals with moderate to severe depression, psychosocial treatment with medications is usually the course of treatment. Medications are typically antidepressants which help restore the serotonin activity in the brain, modifying an individual's brain chemistry. They are not sedatives, stimulants or addictive.
Illnesses that cause and mimic depression are usually treated as well as ceasing the use of any drugs or substances that makes depression worse. To better manage depression at home, regular exercises, good sleeping habits and being surrounded with caring and positive people play important roles towards recovery.
Depression often responds to treatment, and the outcome is better not just for the affected individual, but the friends and family.
In conclusion, reaching out for help is a sign of strength and not weakness, and early diagnosis helps with early recovery.
Written by Idowu Mary
Idowu Mary is a fifth year medical student at Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD),She is a writer on multiple blogs and also teaches creative writing. She is the brain behind the writing outfit - Write with Mary. She is a mental health advocate, who seeks to educate the public on truth about mental health and its challenges.