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Recognise depression and address it early

Effective treatment is at the disposal for those who are depressed and such individuals should not prolong an evaluation fearing social stigma. Picture: Supplied

Effective treatment is at the disposal for those who are depressed and such individuals should not prolong an evaluation fearing social stigma. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 9, 2023



Depression is the number one disability worldwide. This is linked to suicides, the second leading cause of death for age groups between 15 and 29. Statistics indicate that two individuals commit suicide every minute across the globe. Depression manifests itself in a complex interaction and a mix of genetic, environmental, psychological and social factors.

This condition has an impact on individuals of diverse cultural origins which can be present in all age groups. Fortunately, studies have shown over the last 30 years, the introduction of medication has helped improve the health and well-being of this widespread depression. Psychodynamic theories suggest that an individual has to address early developmental conflicts and engage in effective interpersonal relationships that allow him or her to cope with depression.

Some depression types tend to be family-related. However, depression may present itself within individuals without a family history of depression. Research shows that scientists are investigating the types of genes that can make some individuals more susceptible to depression. An upsetting life event, losing a loved one or any stressful situation can set off a depressive episode, other depressive episodes may arise with or without an apparent trigger.

The Mental Health Profession states that depressive individuals start to see their mind open to sadness, while the body progressively comes to a standstill, becoming less able to cope, ultimately feel numb and empty. Depression hampers everyday life and causes agony for the individual and their loved ones.

An episode can crop up once in an individual’s lifetime but often an individual has multiple episodes. Yet, persistent depression implies a depressive mood of at least 2 years. Occasionally, individuals may feel distraught or blue, yet emotions experienced are normally short-lived and are transmitted within a few days. Certain mood changes and depressive feelings arise with natural hormonal changes.

The signs and symptoms of depression can include constant sadness, agitation or having ‘empty’ feelings, feelings of negativity and irrelevance. Experiencing mood swings, low self esteem, lack of appetite, insomnia, slowness in activity and pain that cannot be alleviated with treatment are some signs of depression. Also, studies reveal that withdrawal of antidepressants, alcohol or dependency may co-exist with depression.

According to the World Health Organisation, women are at greater risk than men. It is estimated that 10-15% of women suffer from post-partum depression after childbirth. While the seasonal affective disorder (SAD) embodies the start of depression in the winter months as a result of less natural sunlight. Antidepressants help reduce the symptoms of SAD.

Anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are often linked to depression. PTSD can happen after an individual experiences a terrifying event such as a violent assault. Depression is a condition of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) indicate the brain of individuals with depression appear different from those individuals without depression.

Areas of the brain involved with mood, thoughts, sleep, appetite and behaviour emerge as having a different appearance. Nevertheless, these images do not disclose the reason behind the depression. Studies indicate that most depressive individuals have no incentive to seek treatment. Though, the majority of individuals with this condition including the most severe depression receive effective treatment through medication, psychotherapy and other modern techniques.

Effective treatment is at the disposal for those who are depressed. Research dictates that treatment is most effective if depression is addressed earlier. The first step to obtaining appropriate treatment is to schedule an appointment with a doctor or a mental health specialist. However, certain medications and health issues such as viruses can exhibit the same symptoms as depression.

A mental health specialist may detect these symptoms by performing a physical examination, consultation and laboratory analysis. If the specialist concludes that there are no health concerns that cause depression; the next step is a psychological evaluation. Depressive individuals should not prolong an evaluation. Yet, individuals feel a social stigma against communicating their depressive feelings thereby hesitate to seek professional assistance.

Existing studies state that the longer one waits; the greater the deficiency can be down the road. In addition, individuals should not isolate themselves – rather allow loved ones to support them in the process. Individuals should not anticipate to suddenly, ‘snap out of’ depression. Gradually, positive thinking will substitute negative thinking as depression reacts to treatment.

A study in a medical journal reveals that individuals with low self-esteem perceive themselves and the world fill with pessimism; whether this represents a psychological predisposition or a premature form of depression is unclear. Further, depressed individuals feel powerless and insignificant. Individuals compare themselves socially on Facebook and Instagram, particularly teenage girls who aspire to external perfection.

Does social media contribute to a sense of loneliness – although designed to create connections? Could this platform play any role in our epidemic of loneliness?

Anolene Thangavelu Pillay is a Psychology Advisor.

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