Debating Depression

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by Zeenat Farooq

Depression is a serious mental and psychological condition that can interfere with a person’s life and well-being. It is primarily characterised by extreme feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest in activities.

Prevalence

The centre for disease control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States has estimated that nearly 10% of their adult population had more than one symptoms of depression between 2009 and 2012, and this figure is likely to have gone up in the following years.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of depression are feelings of sadness and grief. However, these symptoms can vary with age, underlying cause, gender, history of other mental/psychological conditions, and substance abuse (drug addiction). Depression may also cause physical medical symptoms like pain, changes in appetite, and trouble sleeping. Doctors usually look for symptoms that last for two weeks or more in order to diagnose depression.

Causes

Depression can be caused by a number of factors and even by a combination of various factors. The most prevalent causes recognised by experts are:

Genetic: Depression or other mood disorders can run in families and have a genetic background. However, not everyone with a family history is likely to have depression.

Major life events: Sometimes, certain stressful major life events like loss of a loved one, broken relationships, broken marriage and loss of a job can trigger depression.

Hormonal changes: Certain hormonal fluctuation conditions also provide a permissible background for the onset of depression like pregnancy and menopause.

Illness: Certain forms of illness can also make a person more prone to falling prey to depression like long-term pain, heart disease, cancer, and bipolar disorder.

Substance abuse: Under certain conditions, drug or alcohol may increase the likelihood of developing depression. Conversely, depression itself may make a person addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Medications: Certain medications also increase the likelihood of depression like steroids, high blood pressure and some anti-cancer medicines.

Associated Problems

The type, intensity and severity of problems associated with depression may also vary with factors that affect symptoms of depression. However, the most common troublesome issues that have been reported to be associated with depression include:

Feelings of hopelessness: State of Depression is often associated with feelings of grief and hopelessness. Often the afflicted person feels remorseful and does not find any way to get better. It can make a person feel trapped in a never-ending state of hopelessness.

Lack of pleasure in life: An afflicted person often does not feel better in doing things that he or she once loved to do. They lack the sense of enjoyment in all of the things around.

Loss of focus: It nearly becomes impossible for a person with depression to focus and concentrate in studies, in decision making, reading and writing or even with the simple routine activities like watching television.

Loss of self-esteem: Such people always think of themselves as good for nothing and worthless. This perception precipitates as loss of self-esteem. They often dwell on negative events and experiences and are not able to see any positives in life.

Irregular sleeping pattern: Some people with depression find it difficult to go to sleep and can remain awake for the most part of the night. On the other hand, some may sleep excessively but may still look tired and exhausted in spite of the extra sleeping hours.

Loss of stamina: Most of the people feel tired to do even the simple and basic tasks of everyday life. They feel too weak to perform routine activities and often do not feel like coming out of bed.

Loss of appetite: Some afflicted people do not like food and may have an altered perception of the taste and smell of certain foods. This may result in weakness and weight loss.

Binge eating: A certain proportion of people with depression start binge eating on unhealthy processed foods, sometimes as a soothing and coping mechanism. This can lead to weight gain and can also result in other medical conditions like metabolic syndrome.

Frequently experiencing aches and pains: Certain forms of body aches and most commonly headaches occur more frequently in people with depression. Nausea is also a common problem associated with depression.

Misunderstandings

One of the most common misunderstandings about depression is that it is similar to feeling sad and low. Although it is a prominent sign of depression, the condition is far more severe than a mere feeling of sadness that may come and go in response to situations. Symptoms of depression may persist for months or even years in a patient. It can potentially harm all aspects of a happy life like health, problems with career, family issues, relationships, self-care and daily routine life. It is also a common misunderstanding that depression is a matter of choice and that a person can come out of it by strong willpower and peer support. Although family support and will are crucial factors, these alone sometimes cannot help a person to get rid of the condition. In this situation, it becomes very important that the person be taken to an expert psychiatrist for regular counselling and medication.

A person with depression cannot simply stop having the condition and its associated complications. It is very important to have patience with such victims and treat them with care. It is equally important to instil confidence in them and not to make them feel like they are incapable of doing things on their own. Seeking help from a medical expert is the most important thing to do and should never be delayed due to social stigma and fear of social abandonment. Mental illness, like any form of illness, is a medical condition and should, therefore, be dealt with in a manner as suggested by the medical expert.

(Author is a research fellow at Department of Biotechnology, University of Kashmir.)

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