How often are we tempted to dismiss a dispirited condition, such as “I’m in a bad mood,” or “I’ve got the blues,” or “I’m down in the dumps”? What we may actually be describing is far more serious. We may well be suffering from a Major Depressive Disorder, a common and serious medical illness.
Depression causes feelings of sadness, loss of interest, changes in appetite, loss of sleep or too much sleep, lower interest in sex, feeling worthless and guilty, difficulty thinking and making decisions and a plethora of other negative feelings.
Have we not all experienced one or more of these symptoms from time to time? However, if such symptoms persist for two weeks or more, it is time to get a medical examination.
More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, the world’s leading health cause of disability. It is the most common mental health disorder and as such there is a stigma surrounding it and it is neglected, dismissed or ignored, leading to a ripple effect of additional symptoms and deadly diseases.
Yet there is help out there. It is not only treatable but the most treatable of mental disorders with 80-90 per cent responding well and almost all gain some relief. Through diagnostic evaluation, including psychiatric interviews, possibly a physical examination, medical and family history, environmental factors, physicians are able to draw a specific plan of action.
Brain chemistry can contribute to one’s depression and factor into the treatment. Forget about uppers and downers. Anti-depressants help modify your brain chemistry and treatment may take six months or longer. For severe cases, electroconvulsive treatment provides a brief electric stimulation under anesthesia, two to three times a week.
Why wait to reach such a stage?
It is hard not to be somewhat depressed when viewing conditions around this world of ours. Continuous violence, persecution, poverty, death, but when there is nothing we can do, we must move on.
The death of a beloved one, the loss of a job, a broken heart, victim to assault or a major disaster can be causes of depression, but generally they should disappear after some time. Grief is not depression, they are different. Distinguishing between them needs professional help, support or treatment.
What happens when we do not nip it in the bud and get over our depression?
Our immune system is so weakened, a blind alley, leading us nowhere. We virtually invite every kind of disease, including the numbers one and two killers, cardiovascular and cancer diseases as well as diabetes, dementia, respiratory and neonatal diseases, not to mention road incidents, terrorism, suicide, the list goes on.
The rough voice of medical science has highlighted those major killers, but not as much the disease that afflicts more people than all the others combined. If we can stop, prevent or treat depression we have to depend on our own observations and lifestyle.
How can we have sympathy for someone who suffers from heart disease and still keeps puffing on his cigarette? Again and again, a healthy lifestyle, some exercise, healthy nutrition and a good night’s sleep is essential, not only do you avoid depression, but most of those other diseases.
The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as a mental disorder, if left untreated it affects your entire body.
Research suggests there is a connection between damage to many parts of the brain that are involved in depression. It is clear there is a biological basis that depression and mental functioning go hand-in-hand. Alzheimer’s is the result. Memory treatment may not always be successful. Depression treatment most always is. Know about changes in your habits, behaviour, actions and reactions. There should be no shame to recognise it, admit it, treat it.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 group,( first being unintentional injury and homicide). It is challenging with older adults in identifying cognitive changes, because they dismiss the signs as part of “getting older”, thus they have more difficulties with loss of memory, according to the American Psychiatric Association.
Children can be affected too. Parents, watch out for unwillingness to attend school, clinginess, worry, bingeing, which leads to obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
Depression does not discriminate. It kills 800,000 annually, young or old, rich or poor — mostly poor.
We may not be aware of it, as the world wearies of sadness and sob tales. We have burdens of our own, but even those we believe have none, the VIPs, the celebrities, the stars, behind the closed doors of their sprawling mansions they too can suffer from depression, sadness and loneliness.
Harrison Ford, Han Solo, Indiana Jones, rough, tough and smart on screen is being treated for depression.
Beauty goddess Angelina Jolie has battled depression most of her life! Think of the high-minded, sedate Emma Thompson, or Harry Potter’s billionairess JK Rowling.
Those who make us laugh like Jim Carrey and Ellen De Generes weep alone. The list is endless including Lady Gaga, Anne Hathaway, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Britney Spears. Although it is not a desirable subject it should be discussed.
Keeping dark thoughts at bay is hard work, put it out in the open.
Take responsibility. Depression breeds disease. Disease triples depression.
Lifestyle, again, is the answer. Stop smoking, watch out for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, take a walk and avoid junk food. Good nutrition is key.
Now you are walking on the right side of the street.
“Disease is an experience of mortal mind. It is fear made manifest on the body.”
Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.