Depression is one of the leading mental health issues that humans are facing today. People of all races, geographical locations and political inclinations are devastated by this epidemic. But unlike other illnesses, mental health issues are surrounded by taboo and misinformation and hence taken rather lightly.
Mental health patients are repeatedly given blatantly wrong advice to just “snap out of it”. The burden becomes heavier to bear when the blame of the disease is shifted to the victims themselves. Their friends and family don’t take the condition seriously until it’s too late. Even in death, patients are accused of being irresponsible towards family, and their death is disrespected by being announced as an act of cowardice.
There is mass ignorance surrounding mental health challenges. The layers of stigma and taboo surrounding these issues have made us blind towards the suffering of our loved ones. Most often, patients hide their condition from everyone for the fear of being mocked at or being called too weak. That too, is only when they are themselves aware of the source of their suffering.
I suffered in silence for four years, blaming myself, before I came to know that my suffering was rooted in a disease and was not a fault of my own. It was a little too late, my depression had become chronic and a part of my identity. It was very difficult to treat and took a toll on my caregivers too. All because I had no information about the mental health risks that existed.
Today, having been fighting this monstrosity for two years and winning most of those battles, I feel responsible for creating awareness about what depression is, so other people don’t have to go through the same amount of suffering.
Depression is a subtle, silent killer. The symptoms are often misunderstood and ignored by patients and audience. An early detection is the way to an early recovery.
Major depression can come along with a series of other diseases, mental or otherwise. However, patients always exhibit five or more of the following symptoms:
1. Anhedonia – A loss of interest in activities that the person previously enjoyed being part of. People stop engaging in their hobbies and have low interest in any activity that they would find fun otherwise.
2. Weight loss/gain or change in appetite – They may suddenly gain or lose a lot of weight, without intentional attempts at it. They may face an increased or a decreased appetite.
3. Changes in sleep pattern – Most people suffering from depression may begin to sleep for prolonged hours. They might stay in bed asleep for 12 to 18 hours. Some patients may suffer from insomnia and may not get any sleep for days at a stretch.
4. Psychomotor agitation or retardation/agitation – They may become increasingly fidgety with a fastened speech pattern. Or they may suffer from retardation. Their physical movements may become reduced and very slow. Speech may become low and inaudible. Many patients feel unheard and ignored because of the inaudibility of their speech.
5. Fatigue – A significant loss in energy from previous levels of functioning. After depression hits, people feel tired and have low energy than they normally had earlier. This causes a lot of impairment in day-to-day functioning.low energy than they normally had earlier. This causes a lot of impairment in day-to-day functioning.
6. Guilt – Thoughts of worthlessness occupy the minds of individuals. They feel a delusional and inappropriate amount of guilt for accidents and mistakes they may not necessarily be responsible for.delusional and inappropriate amount of guilt for accidents and mistakes they may not necessarily be responsible for.
7. Difficulty concentrating – People suffering from depression often face a diminished ability to think clearly, to concentrate, or focus on tasks at hand. A state of indecisiveness is persistent. It is very difficult to make a decision, however trivial it may be.
8. Suicidal thoughts – Suicidal thoughts occur frequently. They might plan even plan a suicide or worse – make an attempt at taking their own life.
9. Persistent sadness – Sadness persists in the psyche of depressed people, which really doesn’t disappear even if they appear to be laughing and enjoying themselves. Most chronic patients learn to create a facade of happiness and a normal personality so as not to attract pity for their condition or for the fear of being accused of attention seeking.
The above-mentioned symptoms can be used for identifying depression in clinical psychology. “The symptoms must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in the functioning of individuals.”
People might temporarily show some symptoms due to several other conditions or life events. However, exhibiting five or more symptoms for more than 2 weeks most of the day almost every day, causing a significant change in functioning, is a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.
Depression, if left untreated, may subside on its own after a six to eight month period, but only to return fairly soon. Or it may become chronic.
A person who demonstrates depressed mood for most of the day, more days than not, for at least two years and shows two or more of the symptoms of depression, is diagnosed as having chronic depression. Chronic depression is much harder to treat and may become a lifelong condition.
If you know somebody who demonstrates these symptoms, please encourage them to consult a professional. You can also invite them to have a conversation with you, if you think that you may be able to help them deal with their issues. You can also advise anyone suffering from depression to engage in regular physical activity. Exercise has been a proven method of coping with depression.
Remember that there are only three good pieces of advice you can give to someone battling depression: Exercise, seek professional help and say to them, “It will be all right”.