What is depression?
Depression is a condition that robs one’s energy and vitality for life. It is different from sadness. A sad person may feel better after some time but a person with depression experiences intense sadness for days, weeks and even longer. This may happen even when life events are favourable, making it hard for others to understand the sufferer.
Depression may come unexpectedly following a difficult life event such as; a broken relationship; a job loss, a failed project, a chronic illness or a traumatic event. Other causes of depression could be genetic factors, deprived home environments or a background of neglect and abuse. No matter the circumstances it is always a struggle to live through the depressive experience.
The Symptoms of Depression
The symptoms are usually the first tell-tale signs of depression. A person who suffers from a major depressive disorder (clinical depression) would usually go through a significant change in mood and lose interest in daily activities that are pleasurable – also known as anhedonia. One may refrain from doing daily activities such as missing work/school and may even withdraw from social engagements such as meeting friends. Other symptoms may include:
Lack of sleep or over sleeping
Anger and irritability
Lack of energy (fatigue) – even simple things such as taking a bath seems difficult to complete
Overeating or appetite loss followed by a change in body weight
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and hopelessness (for example over thinking about past mistakes)
Loss of confidence and negative-thinking
Unexplainable pains and aches
Recurrent thoughts about death and suicide – this can be dangerous especially when one has a specific plan for suicide or already made a suicide attempt.
The family’s experience
If you are the partner, the parent or the child of someone who suffers from depression then you are all too familiar with the ongoing battle with depression. You may watch helplessly as you see the person sink deeper into a dark hole where you cannot reach. You may offer your understanding then get frustrated when despite your efforts, the person stays stuck. You may also feel like giving up on your loved one. In these moments it’s important to remember that your presence, patience and perseverance makes a difference in whether the person seeks further treatment.
How to treat depression
Depression is a medical condition which can be treated. Many sufferers have gone through treatment with good results. Mental health professionals say that effective treatment often depends on a combination of medication; self-care techniques and therapy.
Treatment is often adapted to the type of depression. In cases where depression has an underlying medical condition, this needs to be treated first. An acute depressive episode may need more concentrated treatment and often anti-depressants are prescribed. Anti-depressants target chemical changes in the brain that help to ease the depressive symptoms. It is very important, when taking such medication, to follow the prescription of the GP or the psychiatrist.
Depression leaves one feeling drained from energy and unable to take care of oneself. With a little extra effort progress can be achieved. Some simple activities include:
Do something enjoyable: Find time to do something which gives you pleasure. This could be cooking, watching a film or taking a long bath. Set small goals that help you feel better about yourself.
Exercise: Staying active is the best way to fight depression. Exercise brings about chemical changes in the brain that energize your spirit. It is also helps to distract yourself from the negative thoughts that feed depression. If you are not a sportive type of person you may choose a less hectic activity such as walking or swimming. Enrolling in an aerobics class may also help you keep your weekly commitment to exercise.
Maintain healthy habits: Eat a balanced diet and stay away from alcohol consumption and smoking. Changing unhealthy habits is difficult but if you want to make a positive change then you need to take care of the most important machine you have – your body.
Stay connected: Depression can make you withdraw into yourself. Isolation adds to the depression so it’s important to stay connected. Seek people who are supportive as they can provide the emotional nourishment you need.
Talking has a great healing power but it needs to be done in a way that makes you feel understood and accepted. Psychotherapy can provide this safe space. With your psychotherapist you can talk about your difficult experience without the fear of being judged or criticized. The therapist will give you support and help you become aware of the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are keeping you depressed. Knowing oneself is the start of the healing process. In therapy you will then gain new skills on how to cope better with the situation.
Recovery from depression can take long and keeping up the fight takes a lot of courage. Those of us who succeed gain the strength to live a meaningful life even when it gets too hard.