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Depression – The Journey to Healing
A while ago, a young woman in her late 40s was found lifeless in her apartment. She had taken her own life. This woman was known to be a wonderful person with great virtues and people who knew her testified of her gracious qualities. Just as you might be thinking, it wasn’t marital problems, search for a spouse, or loneliness that drove her to do this, it was none of these things.
Depression stemmed from deep sadness drove her to do it. This lady had been depressed for a long time and had struggled with depression till she couldn’t contain it anymore. And as an established career woman who was thriving in her career, it came as a rude shock to everyone who knew her!
Depression is real and can creep into a person’s life, wreak one’s feelings and cause havoc in such a person’s life without showing visible symptoms.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds and untreated depression can lead to suicide. It can also undermine a person’s relationships, disrupt workflow and make maintaining sound health very difficult, if not impossible.
What then is depression?
Depression is a common mental health disorder that affects over 280 million people globally. It is characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, inability to feel pleasures and reduced energy levels for no clear reason. At some point in our lives, we have been sad and overwhelmed. But in the case of depression, one experiences this feeling of sadness persistently for a long time.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression (also called a major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting about seven million Nigerians.
Another sad incident happened sometime back when a young man left a suicide note behind after battling depression for a prolonged period. Unfortunately, the people around him had no clue because he would put on a façade of wellness, yet they didn’t know he was experiencing inner turmoil.
He had left a note saying he was sorry, he didn’t want to bother others yet wanted out of the pain. However, he added that people struggling with depression shouldn’t place a lid on their feelings and emotion, as vocalising their feelings was more important and would set them on their journey to healing. Sadly, this is one of many cases.
Depression is different from mood fluctuations, popularly referred to as mood swings or changes in your mood in response to different life experiences. Depression is definitely more than that.
Causes of Depression
- Biological factors like genetics, chemical imbalance, hormonal changes, etc.
- Psychological factors like negative thinking patterns, personality type, traumatic childhood experiences, etc.
- Social factors like adverse life events, financial difficulties etc.
- Vulnerability factors: According to Brown and Harris, there are vulnerability factors that can further increase the risk of developing depression, especially in women. They include early maternal loss, lack of confiding relationships, unemployment and having more than three children who are under the age of 14.
Now if depression is this real, don’t you think being able to identify its symptoms is crucial? This is not only for ourselves but for the people around us, our friends, mates, and loved ones. This is because people can act normally yet be fighting a losing battle against depression.
It’s high time we knew its hidden symptoms.
Here are some hidden symptoms of depression that you should look out for in your day-to-day life:
- Constant Fatigue: Feeling tired, exhausted, and drained of energy can be a pointer to depression. Studies have shown that 90% of people with depression experience fatigue.
- Poor Concentration: Losing your train of thoughts frequently during conversations is an indication that you are struggling with your memory and that might be related to a depressive illness.
- Increased Appetite: Unlike the typical poor appetite experienced in depression, increased appetite, referred to as “Emotional Eating” is also a symptom of depression. People with depression sometimes eat to satisfy emotional and not physical hunger.
- Behavioural Symptoms: When someone who is the life of the party suddenly becomes withdrawn, angry, or irritable, depression may be the cause. Research revealed that men are more likely to experience anger or irritability than women.
- Physical Symptoms: People with depression sometimes complain of physical symptoms like headaches, backaches, body pains, joint pains, etc. In a survey done by WHO, 69% of those with depression reported only somatic symptoms as the reason for their visit.
Depression has many faces. It is possible to be depressed, and still get up from bed, have a shower, wear make-up, do daily tasks, take care of the family and do a host of other things. This can be referred to as a high-functioning depression.
According to a well-renowned psychotherapist in California (Mayra Mendez), “High-functioning individuals with depression tend to forge ahead in an effort to succeed with their goals.” This further hinders them from seeking help early and might worsen their symptoms.
Thus, early identification of symptoms and treatment is advised. Before depression gets chronic, seeking help as quickly as possible is advised. But how can one seek help when these common symptoms of depression are ignored?
So, we highlight 10 other symptoms that are usually common in stories of depression. They include:
- Low mood
- Tearfulness/Excessive crying
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling worthless
- Suicidal thoughts
- Low energy
- Loss of interest
- Lack of motivation
- Poor sleeping habits
- Constant negative self-talk
Sometimes we wonder why people with depression do not speak out until they succumb to suicidal thoughts. Secretly, we even go ahead to blame them. See this – the major reason people with depression find it difficult to speak to people is that they feel they will become a burden to others. They don’t want to “disturb” others with their problems and thus, try to manage them by themselves.
Also, research has shown that stigma is one of the leading risk factors contributing to poor mental health outcomes. Many people who are depressed are unable to speak out because they are afraid of being stigmatised. Stigma ultimately leads to delay in treatment and reduces the chances that the affected person will receive appropriate and adequate care.
However, speaking out to people we trust is very important and this leads us to how we can treat depression.
First of all, depression is treatable especially if spotted on time. The treatments include therapies, medications, and lifestyle modifications.
Practical treatments for depression
- Counselling: Speaking to a mental health professional goes a long way in your healing journey. Your counsellor helps you identify and address your problems, and goes ahead to suggest coping mechanisms to you.
- Self-help: Examples of self-help exercises include getting enough sleep, engaging in physical exercises, taking a walk, etc.
- Trying something new: Go out and explore. If you can, visit a new city and relish nature’s offers. Try new activities such as taking swimming classes, reading a new book, etc.
- Spending time with loved ones: While depression may want you to do the opposite, deliberately choosing to spend time with loved ones will help you greatly. Create time to be among those who truly love and care for you.
- Cognitive restructuring: This is a therapeutic process that helps to identify and challenge automatic negative thoughts. Replace them with alternative thoughts. Cognitive restructuring has proven to be very effective in treating depression if done in a structured manner with the help of a therapist. You can speak out loud and set a rule that says, “for every negative thought that comes to my mind, I’m going to counter it with two positive thoughts.” Be intentional about guarding your mind.
- Mindful journaling: Keep a daily journal. It allows you to express yourself in the best possible way that will bring you relief. You can get a diary or journal, put words to your emotions in this journal and take mindful walks. Mindful journaling helps you to be conscious of how you feel.
However, treatment options are based on the severity of the depression. Some lifestyle changes that have been proven to help with depression include adequate water intake, eating a balanced diet, maintaining social connections, networking, etc.
Common Misconceptions about Depression
According to a study, there are different misconceptions about depression. Some of them include:
- “You can ‘snap’ out of It”: Depression is not something you can easily snap out of. People who do not understand what depression means see it as deliberately choosing to wallow in deep sadness. So, the next solution to them is for such persons to simply “snap out of it”. However, depression is beyond that; such people cannot easily snap out of it.
- “If you can function, you’re not depressed”: People experience depression in different ways. While some may find it difficult to get out of bed, others may still find it easy to do their day-to-day work. That a man can do his work excellently does not mean he should be taken less seriously when he manifests symptoms of depression.
- “People with depression are ungrateful or lazy”: People who have many things to be grateful for can still struggle with depression. Depression is neither a result of laziness.
Though depression is real, the good news is that it is also treatable! Also, suicide is preventable! Help is available, please do not hide your feelings. We understand how you feel and we want to help you. To this end, TMH provides support to individuals experiencing various mental health issues including depression. For more information, contact us at www.talkmentalhealth.org/
Dr Adeola Adeyemi
Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist
Founder, Talk Mental Health