As an illness, depression is as debilitating as a heart disease or HIV/AIDS. Those who suffer from the condition often describe the feeling as having a black cloud over their heads, which prevents them from enjoying anything or even functioning normally. One out of 20 people in the world suffer from depression but sadly many of them are forced to live in denial about the disease.
So how is depression different from sadness?
Sadness is part of the life without which happiness would have no meaning. To feel sad during major life crises like the death of a loved one, losing a job or the ending of a relationship is normal. Depression on the other hand is a condition where there is prolonged sadness and an individual’s mood isn’t tied to life events. While healthy individuals have moods related to life events, people suffering from depression suffer from disproportionate amount of sadness and guilt. It is a serious medical condition in which the symptoms make it difficult for the person to function in society, often leads to poor physical health and severe emotional pain.
How common is depression?
One out of every 20 people you know probably suffers from depression. The numbers are hard to pin down for a mental illness like depression because the symptoms are seen as a continuation of everyday-life behaviour. However, considering that 1.8 lakh Indians commit suicide every year and there are 20 times more attempts, which means at least 36 lakh people in India are surely suffering from major depressive disorder.
What are the different types of depression?
There are basically four types of depression –
- Clinical or Major depression
- Bipolar or Manic-depressive disorder
- Postpartum depression (depression after delivery of child)
- Seasonal affective disorder (It usually doesn’t affect people who live in tropical climates like India.)
Clinical and bipolar depressions have two milder phases called dysthymia and cyclothymia, respectively which has similar symptoms but on a milder level and usually lasts longer. Some of the common symptoms of major depression include – despair and loneliness, unwillingness to do the simplest tasks, low energy levels, recurring nightmares and sleep disorders, loss of libido and appetite. These symptoms usually last for over two months.
Bipolar disorder on the other hand is a cyclical disorder characterised by two phases – a manic phase and a depressive phase. In the manic phase, the patient is likely to suffer from delusions of grandeur, excessive self-confidence, feeling of euphoria and higher sexual drive while the depressive phase is very similar to the aforementioned symptoms of major depression.
Causes of depression
What causes depression? Researchers still haven’t zeroed on what causes depression per se but various conditions are usually present in the sufferers. Trauma, grief, work issues, love and relationship troubles and genetic pre-disposition all have a causal link to depression. Some other factors include alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, obesity and pregnancies.
But a cure is not hard to find…
Mental illness is a big problem in our culture, in fact any culture. People don’t like to acknowledge that they aren’t a fully functioning member of society (whatever that means) and there’s a tendency to hush up mental illnesses. It’s almost considered taboo to visit a counsellor or psychiatrist to seek help. Perhaps it has something to do with the way mental illnesses show distinct changes in our personality, cognition and behaviour – the very things that define our being; unlike a physical illness where a certain organ or part of the body is affected. First and foremost, it’s very important to seek professional help
- Seek professional help: You wouldn’t try to self-medicate or refuse to believe you have a problem if you suffered from a heart disease would you? The same goes for the mind. Denial – self or otherwise – simply compounds the problem. The fact is that unlike other diseases which are either untreatable or whose treatment costs are expensive depression has an economic and cost-effective solution. It’s imperative to get professional help and there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in visiting a therapist or counsellor.
- Physical exercise : There has been ample research to prove that physical exercise of all form helps keep the blues away. One of the reasons for this is the feel-good hormones like endorphins and testosterone are released during exercise which makes us feel good. Even walking for 15-30 minutes can make a difference.
- Healthy balanced diet: A health, all around balanced diet is another way to keep depression at bay. For example, omega 3 fatty acids found in fish and vegetable oils play helps keep a part by helping regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin which is used in anti-depressants. Foods high on antioxidants (green tea, broccoli, oranges, spinach, pumpkin, papaya) are also a must.
- Relaxation techniques: Another great way to beat depression is by relaxing. This can include anything you like to do like a walk in the park, meditation, taking up a hobby or even listening to music. It’s necessary get away from the daily grind of life.
- Get proper sleep: Although lack of sleep alone can’t cause depression it is one of the causes. So it’s imperative to get some shut-eye. Make a daily routine for bedtime if you’ve to. Abstain from nicotine, alcohol or caffeine in the evening.
- Share with your loved ones or support groups: One of the most effective non-medicated treatments for depression is sharing with your loved ones. However, this might not be possible for some people and this is where support groups come in handy. Not only do you get to share your feelings but you get to do it with a person who’s been through the exact same problems and knows how to deal with it.
And lastly believe…
The human spirit is insurmountable and depression is like any other hurdle which can be overcome. There is no magic pill to get rid of it; even antidepressants can work that far. In fact, the USFDA found that inert placebos have a significantly high effect meaning that believing you’re taking antidepressants seems to do the trick. So perhaps the answer lies in believing. Don’t let the black cloud win.