What is Depression?

Depression is a mental health condition which affects one’s mood, body and thoughts. While we all experience feeling sad and down at times, depression is a serious condition which can affect someone’s ability to function in all areas of their lives – personally, in relationships, at school or at work. Studies have found that 20% of the population experience at least one depressive episode in their lives. However, not all people know what depression is, how it feels or get the assistance they need to properly deal with the disorder and it’s debilitating symptoms.

How to tell if you or someone you know may be depressed? Depression symptoms include:

  • a persistent low mood or feelings of constant sadness; constantly feeling numb or empty
  • loss of energy and increased fatigue despite getting rest
  • a loss of interest in things which used to be enjoyable (e.g. socialising, hobbies, sex etc.)
  • changes in eating habits (increased appetite/weight gain or decreased appetite/weight loss)
  • changes in sleeping habits (either insomnia, waking up early or oversleeping)
  • restlessness, irritability and hostility
  • withdrawal from and avoidance of social interactions
  • problems with focussing, concentration and memory
  • feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • thoughts of death, suicide and self-harm attempts
  • maladaptive coping mechanisms (e.g. using alcohol or other substances to cope)

Depression does not discriminate according to race, gender, culture or social class – anyone can suffer from it at one point or another.

So what are the causes of depression? Research has found that there is a hereditary contribution with depression. In other words, one has a higher susceptibility to suffering from depression if a close family member suffers from depression. Brain biochemistry also plays a big role in depression because it involves brain chemicals. If your brain is unable to produce and maintain a certain level of specific neurotransmitters, this can cause depressive symptoms too – this is why depression affects the way our bodies feel. Another important factor is the impact of significant life events and how these can lead to depression. This includes things like dealing with loss (e.g. someone dying, losing a house or getting a divorce), traumatic events, financial or legal problems, serious medical problems, high stress and interpersonal relationship challenges. Using alcohol and substances also makes depression worse as these take their toll on your body and it’s ability to recover from stress.

How is depression treated? Fortunately there are various treatment options available which alleviate depressive symptoms. Medication can help to re-balance out brain chemicals and stabilise some of the uncomfortable symptoms which depression causes. However, not all people who struggle with depressive symptoms need to take medication for it. This needs to be determined by a doctor or psychiatrist, who can do a thorough assessment and decide on the need for medical intervention. Psychotherapeutic support involves speaking to a trained professional about your symptoms, how they affect you and how you are coping. A therapist will help you explore any underlying issues and help you improve your ability to cope by exploring your options, looking at your coping mechanisms and supporting you in making important decisions.

Most importantly it is vital to reach out if you are struggling. This way, people can be aware and direct you to resources or to someone who can help. You do not have to struggle alone because this will only get more and more overwhelming. Depression is known as the “silent killer” because it tends to strike and stay without being addressed. If we can educate ourselves more, we can ensure we tackle this issue before more of our loved ones succumb to it.

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