The Facts About Depression

stress-6It’s a sobering fact that while our society has come a long way in understanding physical health complaints, our knowledge of mental health lags far behind. And when it comes to mental health conditions, few are as misunderstood as depression.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. When “I’m so depressed” is the war cry of bored teenagers everywhere, how can you expect people to take it seriously? Misconceptions abound: it’s described as a solely medical illness (social, biological and psychological factors come into play), a sufferer is just “feeling sorry for themselves”, it’s a sign of genius (for every Churchill and Florence Nightingale, there are thousands more ordinary people!) Saddest of all, children who say they’re depressed are dismissed as attention seeking, or told they’re going through ‘growing pains’. In actual fact, 1 in 8 teenagers are suffering from depression at any given time.

So what is depression?

Let’s dismiss the most toxic myth of all: depression isn’t something you can simply ‘snap out of.’ It’s a genuine illness with varying degrees of severity. Like any condition, you need to learn to recognise the symptoms and seek help. Happily most patients can recover if they receive the right treatment for them.

As the NHS points out, the symptoms of depression are many and complex; you don’t have to display them all to be diagnosed. It covers a wide range of psychological, physical and social issues. The most obvious is a continuous low mood, complete with feelings of low esteem, anxiety and worry. In the worst cases a patient may suffer from suicidal thoughts; if you or somebody you know considers harming themselves, you (or they) should seek help immediately. A lack of motivation and interest in activities the sufferer used to enjoy is also characteristic.

While the physical effects of depression are less documented, they are noticeable. Some report moving or speaking more slowly than usual.  A patient might suffer from constipation, upset sleeping cycles and aches with no known cause. Another common side effect is a greatly diminished libido, further impacting upon confidence. Lastly, depression has a knock on effect on a patient’s day to day existence. Work performance can plummet. A patient may actively avoid company and neglect their hobbies. Since family and friends may not understand the changes in their behaviour, somebody suffering from depression often has domestic troubles to contend with as well.

Looking back, my brother in law Pete was a textbook case, but because we had so little understanding of depression, we were merely angered by what we saw as his moodiness and rudeness. He dropped out of college, either couldn’t sleep or slept continuously, ducked out of seeing us and the rest of the family. It was only when I noticed his changed speech patterns- the slowed down effect mentioned above- I realised that he wasn’t being difficult or ungrateful but suffering from depression. Luckily since then he has sought help and he’s well on the way to a full recovery.

 

What causes it?

Perhaps it’s pithy to say, “Nobody knows,” but there’s a degree of truth to it. People who don’t understand the illness frequently say, “What have you got worry about compared with …” (cites recent atrocity). Nobody’s denying that current events are upsetting, but it’s far too simplistic to attribute it to any one cause. Past trauma and abuse, loneliness, a major illness or injury (particularly if a previously active person is disabled by an accident), bereavement, loss of a job, breakdown of a marriage or relationship … these are only a few issues that may lead to depression.

Genetics play a part, too- if your family has a history of mental illness, you are far more likely to become depressed. To quote a wise old saying, “Depression is when you have been too strong for far too long”- it’s your psyche’s natural reaction to your resources being spread too thinly.

Some causes are esoteric and weird- ones you might never have considered. Read this article on Health.com to discover some of the less documented causes of depression.

stress-1

How can I treat it?

As soon as you’re sure you’re suffering from depression, it’s imperative you speak to your doctor or therapist. By discussing the matter in detail, he or she will be able to determine what the best treatment is for you. While some doctors might put you on a course of anti depressants, others may recommend use of a counselling service.

Recovering from depression is an extremely personal thing. What works for you may not work for somebody else. When my friend Mel’s husband walked out after four months of marriage, she had a devastating breakdown: she’d moved to London, given up a promising job and- as she found out a fortnight after he’d left- she was carrying his child. Nothing could convince her that it wasn’t her fault. Since she believed she was truly terrible at everything, she was worried she wouldn’t be a good mother either.

She sought a range of treatments, with varied success. Probably her best find was London Counselling and Psychotherapy, which specialises in mental health conditions such as depression. Through a series of intensive counselling sessions, Mel was able to go over recent events and realise that it wasn’t her fault, and let go of her pain and anger. Within a matter of months she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and was much more optimistic about her future.