Mental Health Discussion: Depression (PART I)
All of us feel sad from time to time. We have our bad days- it can be because of a fight with a friend, low marks in a paper or simply because our day isn’t going as planned. At times like this we often say that we are “depressed”, but for a lot of us feelings of sadness go away with a change or improvement in circumstances or situations.
For some other people however, it isn’t so.
People often confuse feeling sad with being clinically depressed. But clinical depression is very different from just bad days. Depression cannot just “go away”, while bad days can.
Because it is a mental illness it is not as easily understood like, say, a broken leg is. Neither is it as easily identifiable and in a lot of cultures across the world it is even a “taboo” subject, or looked upon as a non-serious issue. But mental health is an extremely important topic.
So let’s begin with the basics.
What is a Mental Illness?
A mental illness is a disease to the mind, which causes mild to severe disturbances in the thoughts and behavior of individuals, which results in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. Some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders.
Mental illness is not a weakness and no matter how strong you think you are, depression can bring you to your knees and have an impact on every aspect of your life. Mental health conditions are as real as physical health problems.
How Rare is Depression?
1. Depression is not as rare as one might think. Globally, depression is ranked as the single largest contributor to non-fatal health loss- with 300 million people worldwide suffering from it.
2. Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated.
3. Among adolescents, depression is the third leading cause of disease and disability.
4. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.
Depression can affect people from all backgrounds across the life-course, from early childhood to the end stages of life, with an increased toll at certain time points.
Depression is an Illness, Not A Lifestyle Choice
It is quiet common to hear people ask depressed people to “just be positive”, or to “snap out of it”. However, for somebody who has a mental illness this approach is the equivalent of telling a diabetic to “get over” their diabetes. The causes of depression are several and they include biological, social, economic and cultural factors, which are triggered by environmental factors. But behavioral symptoms are not the only changes that occur to a person with depression, there are various physical changes in the body as well.
For one, the smaller frontal lobe of the brain, as well as the hippocampus are known to shrink. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are also found to deplete abnormally. Depression is also a cause and consequence of several noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, ischemic heart disease and diabetes. It is also adversely associated with chronic communicable diseases like TB, HIV and others.
So what causes depression and what are the symptoms?
Depression can be caused by a variety of factors- some are- genetics, changes in neurotransmitter levels, exposure to stress or trauma and brain chemistry. People with depression often need professional help to fully recover.
Some symptoms of depression are:
1. A lack of interest in things that normally interest you.
2. Changes in appetite- eating too much or too little.
3. Poor concentration abilities.
4. Restlessness or slowness.
5. A feeling of worthlessness or guilt.
6. Sleeping too much or too little.
7. Loss of energy.
8. Recurring thoughts of Suicide.
Depression is a treatable mental illness.
A person may look fine on the outside but can be struggling with their mental health. Asking for help for an “invisible” illness is very difficult due to the stigma and shame attached to it- It takes an average person suffering from mental illness over 10 years to ask for help. But it is important to understand it’s not a weakness or a personality trait. It’s not something one can get over with, just like one cannot get over a broken arm.
There are very effective treatments for depression which can include support, psychotherapy as well as drug treatment.
Depression is a major public health problem in India, contributing to significant morbidity, disability as well as mortality, along with significant socioeconomic losses. So if you know somebody suffering with depression encourage them to seek professional help, without shame- because each life is important.