The word depression can mean different things to different people. Everyone can feel ‘down’, sad, tearful or uninterested in life at certain times and many people can be emotionally fragile when things do not always go right for them in their daily life. But medically speaking a true clinical depression exists when those feelings are deep and persistent with no letup in the symptoms. A depressed patient is devoid of moments of optimism and cheerfulness, and their physical well-being, general demeanour and behavior are also affected.
What is Depression
Depression is the most common of all psychiatric illnesses and up to 15 per cent of people will suffer from it at some time in their lives. All age groups are affected but because the elderly often suffer from social isolation, physical ailments and reduced mental abilities, they remain particularly vulnerable to this condition.
Symptoms of Depression
- Feelings of hopelessness and bouts of crying
- Mood swings
- Loss of appetite
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Poor concentration
- Guilt and suicidal thoughts
Someone who is depressed can experience all or many of the symptoms listed above and often the depression fluctuates in severity.
Classically it is more severe at night or first thing in the morning and eases off slightly as the day goes on. Gradually, however, unless recognized and treated, the depression can worsen with the sufferer eventually withdrawing totally from social activities and walling themselves off emotionally from the outside world. A terrible but not uncommon consequence of severe neglected depression is suicide.
Also Read: Exercise Helps Fighting Depression
Causes For Depression
There is no single cause of depression. It is a complex and often perplexing illness but one which lends itself extremely well to a holistic and integrated ‘body and soul’ medical approach. Every person requires such individual therapy.
Depression can be triggered by certain events such as bereavement, social rejection, dysfunctional relationships, sexual or psychological abuse and other stressful life events, but it can also result from physical illnesses such as viral infections like ME, as a side effect of drugs or medications, as a consequence of light deprivation as in seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or as a result of hormonal fluctuations as seen premenstrual and postnatal or as a result of taking the oral contraceptive pill.
You are also more at risk of becoming depressed if your mother or father suffered from depression, although by no means necessarily so.
As often as not, however, no identifiable trigger factor can be determined. The illness just seems to descend on the individual – however cheerful and bubbly their personality may have seemed in the past – totally out of the blue and for no obvious reason. This form of depression, known as endogenous depression (in other words, from within), is often the most difficult form to treat.
There are other types of depression that may form part of a more complex disorder, for example in association with ME, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. Also, depression can fluctuate with bursts of euphoria and an excessively elevated mood, as in the so-called ‘bipolar affective disorder’ known as manic depression.
Early recognition and treatment of depression is vital if suffering is to be avoided. There still remains a deep-seated stigma associated with depression, and this has to be overcome by an ignorant and judgmental public if the situation is to improve. All of us would do well to remember that this condition could just as easily befall us at some time in the future in which case the understanding and support of others will be essential.
As suicide is the greatest danger of all in depressed people, and 80 per cent of all suicides are related to depression, everybody concerned with caring for someone who is affected should keep a close and careful eye at all times on how they are feeling and coping.
Also, since many of the difficulties faced by depressed people are related to financial, relationship and accommodation matters, the intervention of effective community services such as housing departments, employment agencies, self-help groups and other social services are all extremely important.