The recent demise, following a suspected suicide, of popular movie star Robin Williams and subsequent revelation of the fact that he had been battling chronic depression and alcoholism for years has renewed interest in this subject.
Depression is a term that is used lightly/loosely in our every day world. “I’m depressed about so and so…..”, “this movie is so depressing…..”. But depression is more than just a snapshot feeling. For some people, it depicts their mood all the time. This is when depression shifts into a disease, with signs and symptoms and thankfully, a cure.
Depression makes it tough to function and enjoy life like you once did. But no matter how hopeless you feel, you can get better.
Understanding the signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment of depression is the first step to overcoming the problem.
What is Depression?
Like we said above, depression is more than a feeling that describes a normal reaction to a setback or disappointment, its much more than sadness.
Some people have described depression as “having a cloud hanging over them continually” or feeling like the world is “gray” all the time and no longer colourful or exciting; and nothing they do can help shake this feeling.
Causes and Risk Factors
Some illnesses have a specific medical cause, making treatment straightforward. But depression is more complicated. Depression is not just the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, and is not simply cured with medication.
Experts believe that depression is caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. In other words, your lifestyle choices, relationships, and coping skills matter just as much as genetics. However, certain risk factors make you more vulnerable to depression.
- Lack of social support
- Recent stressful life experiences
- Family history of depression
- Marital or relationship problems
- Financial strain
- Early childhood trauma or abuse
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Unemployment or underemployment
- Health problems or chronic pain.
Signs and Symptoms
Depression varies from person to person, but there are some common signs and symptoms. It’s important to remember that these symptoms can be part of life’s normal lows.
But the more symptoms you have, the stronger they are, and the longer they’ve lasted—the more likely it is that you’re dealing with depression.
If these symptoms are crippling, then it is time to seek medical help.
- Persistent feelings of sadness: Feeling low or down every day or most part of the day with no relief.
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness: A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
- Loss of interest in daily activities: No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
- Appetite or weight changes: Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
- Sleep changes: Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
- Loss of energy: Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
- Self-loathing: Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
- Concentration problems: Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
- Unexplained aches and pains: An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain, crawling sensations and feelings of heat around the head and body.
The deep despair and hopelessness that goes along with depression can make suicide feel like the only way to escape the pain.
Thoughts of death or suicide are a serious symptom of depression, so take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. It’s not just a warning sign that the person is thinking about suicide: it’s a cry for help!
Warning signs of suicide include:
- Talking about killing or harming one’s self.
- Expressing strong feelings of hopelessness.
- An unusual preoccupation with death or dying.
- Calling or visiting people to say goodbye.
- Getting affairs in order (giving away prized possessions, tying up loose ends).
- Saying things like “Even death would be better than living like this”.
- A switch from being extremely depressed to acting suddenly calm and happy.
If you or someone you know are experiencing these symptoms, please seek medical help. Don’t be concerned about the stigma of visiting a psychiatrist. You are saving a life.
It is the norm to feel frightened by that which one cannot immediately explain. But as discussed above, depression can and has been explained.
Remember, not every case presents as overt expression of sadness. If the individual has some or most of these symptoms, but doesn’t look or act sad, the depression may be masked.
If even the thought of tackling depression seems overwhelming, don’t panic.
Feeling helpless and hopeless is a symptom of depression—not the reality of your situation.
It does not mean that you’re weak or you can’t change!
The key to depression recovery is to start small and ask for help. The simple act of talking to someone face to face about how you feel can be an enormous help. The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to fix you; he or she just needs to be a good listener.
Having a strong support system will speed your recovery. Isolation fuels depression, so reach out to others, even if you feel like being alone or don’t want to feel like a burden to others. The truth is that most people will be happy that you chose to confide in them. So, let your family and friends know what you’re going through and how they can support you.
Lifestyle changes are not always easy to make, but they can have a big impact on depression. Lifestyle changes that can be very effective include:
- Getting regular exercise and sleep
- Eating healthy foods to naturally boost mood
- Managing stress
- Challenging negative thought patterns.
Many people lack the skills needed to manage stress and balance emotions. Building emotional skills can give you the ability to cope and bounce back from adversity, trauma, and loss. In other words, learning how to recognize and express your emotions can make you more resilient.
If support from family and friends, positive lifestyle changes, and emotional skills building aren’t enough, seek help from a mental health professional.
There are many effective treatments for depression, including therapy, medication, and alternative treatments. Learning about your options will help you decide what measures are most likely to work best for your particular situation and needs.
Effective treatment for depression often includes some form of therapy. Therapy gives you tools to treat depression from a variety of angles. Also, what you learn in therapy gives you skills and insight to prevent depression from coming back. Some types of therapy teach you practical techniques on how to reframe negative thinking and employ behavioral skills in combating depression.
Therapy can also help you work through the root of your depression, helping you understand why you feel a certain way, what your triggers are for depression, and what you can do to stay healthy.