I’m not a medical expert by all means but it annoys me when people who say they are stressed are suffering from depression. There is so much more to depression than feeling a bit “stressed”. Stress is also it’s own category of mental health.
So what are the facts with depression other than feeling ‘down’? Well there are many faces to depression and how it came about leaves individual marks.
When you are depressed your mood is pretty low and it is low for a long time. We are not simply talking about a couple of days feeling down in the dumps because our favourite sports team lost or that the special offer we were looking at expired. No, when you are feeling down for such long periods of time it can affect your daily life activities. Sometimes severe (and undiagnosed) depression can lead to much more serious consequences such as thoughts of suicide.
There are multiple types of depression:
- SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. A depression that often occurs in the winter months (but not always). This type of depression is sometimes linked to an increase in eating comfort foods (high carbohydrates like breads, cakes etc.)
- Dysthymia – a persistent depression disorder or chronic depression that lasts two or more years
- Bipolar disorder – this is also known as manic depression. individuals with this suffer from spells of feeling great followed by a sudden low mood.
- Psychotic depression – you a clinically very depressed and may suffer from hallucinations or delusions (including hearing voices, seeing or believe things that are not real). This is psychosis. The voices in your head may tell you to do things that you shouldn’t like suicide or convince you that someone is out to get you (form of paranoia).
- Pre-natal depression – starts during pregnancy (also known as ante-natal depression).
- Post-natal depression – occurs in the weeks and months following the birth of a child. Can affect men and women equally although women are more suspecitical. It should be noted that many women experience the ‘baby blues’ which is a natural low mood felt immediately after the birth of a child lasting a couple of weeks. It is thought this is due to the sudden decrease in hormone levels after the birth of the baby. This in itself is not post-natal depression.
As mentioned there are many faces to depression and the symptoms are not always just psychological they can be physical too. Below is a list of common symptoms associated with depression.
Symptoms of depression:
- continuous low mood or sadness (lasting weeks / months etc)
- feeling of hoplessness and helplessness
- having a low self-esteem
- feeling tearful (and often for no reason at all)
- feeling of guilt
- irritability and lack of tolerance towards others
- having no motivation or interest in things that once made you happy
- difficulty in decision making
- suicidal / self harm thoughts
- physically self-harming
- slower reaction time
- irritable bowel syndrome (constipation)
- aches and pains
- general lack of energy
- loss of or lower than previous sex drive
- changes to your menstrual cycle (including absence)
- sleep disturbance (difficulty sleeping, waking at infrequent hours etc)
- poorer performance at work
- avoiding contact with friends and family
- neglecting yourself
Depression itself doesn’t happen over night. it comes on over a period of time. symptoms are often difficult to notice. many individuals suffering with depression attempt to control and cope on their own without realising they are unwell. The first step to recovering is admitting to yourself that there is something wrong and seeking professional help / support. There is nothing wrong with asking for help but leaving it can have a serious impact on your life.
If you think you are suffering with depression you should seek assistance from your GP in the first instance. You will not be sectioned for admitting you need help nor will you be locked up an asylum for having suicidal thoughts. This is the stigma around depression and other mental health problems people assume that because you have illness you will be locked away from society. You don’t get shut in a cupboard for a broken leg so why act differently towards a broken mind?
Causes of depression
There isn’t a simple answer to this because depression isn’t a fit all illness. It’s not like a cut from broken glass where you can definitely save you are bleeding and have an open wound because you cut yourself on glass. With mental illnesses there are so many other factors that need to be considered. Family history, health, lifestyle and the use and abuse of drugs, alcohol or smoking.
Did you know that depression can run in families. You are more prone if your mother suffered depression when you were growing up.
How you live your life can have an impact on both your physical and mental wellbeing. For example abusing legal and illegal substances, drinking excessive amounts or simply not having a well-balanced diet all have side effects. Some people believe that what we put into our bodies only affects us physically but it’s all connected.
You’re background or current situation could affect you. For example are you constantly reliving events from childhood. Work or a relationship isn’t going to well, unmanageable debt etc.
Depression may be a side effect of another illness for example if you are a lady and suffer with PCOS you are statistically more likely to develop depression.
I’ve already touched on this – the first step to recovery is admitting to yourself and seeking help.
Like with symptoms there again isn’t a one solution suits all approach. It all depends on the individual and the severity of the depression. some people find talking to a complete stranger (trained therapists) can help whilst others it makes little or no difference.
Physical health is just as important as mental health. What you put into and do with your body affects you on a number of levels. You don’t have to enrol in the London marathon or anything but just get up and about and be active for at least 30 minutes a day. Get off the bus a stop earlier, use the stairs instead of the lift. Buy a fitness DVD and enjoy doing some fitness in the privacy of you own home. You could use this to build up your confidence to join a gym and do some exercises classes like yoga, pilates or even swimming.
A kind of think outside the box approach. Think aromatherapy, acupuncture, massage and mediation (basically a trip to the spa). These are not medically proven to get rid of your depression but they help your emotional state which may help overall. Some people may call this a wishy washy approach but don’t knock it until you’ve at least tried it.
It is true in the past GP’s issued anti-depressants like smarties. They do not do these so much these days as more assistance is being provided. That is because anti-depressants can work (long term) but there are some seriously uncomfortable side effects when you are coming off them.
One of the horrible stigma’s I hate about anti-depressants is people calling them ‘happy pills’ and idiotic quotes like have you taken you happy pills today moody? Seriously how is that helpful and also offensive. You don’t say stuff like that to diabetics or asthmatics.
If you think you or someone you know is suffering with depression please speak to your GP.