Depression is believed to cause more problems in developed countries than any other medical illness.
Whilst depression is frighteningly common, it is not always easy to diagnose and treat. The reason being that it is not ‘one thing’ to all people, and it does not have a single cause. Even within one person, it may have different shades and come from several causes which combine to create the problem.
Symptoms of Depression
There are several common symptoms, these include:
• Chronic lack of motivation & interest in doing things
• No pleasure in daily life
• Frequent crying, often with no obvious cause
• Deep sadness
• Lack of interest in sex
• Low self-esteem
• Sleep problems: too much or too little
• Disproportionate level of worry over a variety of aspects of life, e.g. job, God, love, friends etc.
Degree of Depression
When you look over the above list of symptoms, its probable that most of us have experienced at least one of these at some time in our lives. Does this mean we were depressed?
Not necessarily. Depression can be thought of in three broad categories, and it is the duration and severity which characterise true depression.
1. Healthy Unhappiness
This is a normal human reaction to an event.
Fo example, losing a loved one is likely to cause a deep sadness in us. Failing at an exam may dent our self-esteem. And so on.
This level is not technically depression as such, as it is often a temporary reaction which we quickly bounce back from.
2. Mild Depression
Its technical name is Dysthymia.
This is characterised by feeling unhappy or discouraged most of the time. However, someone with this form of depression often doesn’t have any problems with sleep, sex, their job etc.
People may be mildy depressed for years and simply come to believe that it is a part of their personality. They may even conclude that they’ve always been unhappy.
3. Severe Depression
Full blown, severe depression is an incredibly debilitating illness. It deeply affects not only the person who has it, but also their family, colleagues at work and friends.
It can last for days, weeks and even years in the worst cases.
Causes of Depression
There isn’t a single cause.
What there are, are a series of predispositions which can lead to someone being likely to suffer from depression. For instance:
• High stress situations can trigger it
• Biological triggers may be present. If family members suffer from depression, then you are more likely to have a problem at some point in your life.
• Mental make-up: Mental and emotional attitudes can influence it strongly
• Environment: Diet, amount of sunlight, physical exercise can all be factors
Treatments for Depression
There are two main combined treatments for depression which can work very well together. And these are anti-depressant medicines and psychotherapy (especially Cognitive Based Therapy or CBT).
It is important to get the correct diagnosis, and stick with the treatment plan.
There are several things you can do to help with depression, and it must be stressed that these are not a substitute for a correct medical diagnosis and treatment plan. These are:
• Avoid sugars, alcohol and caffeine
• Take vitamin B complex and additional B1
• The herb St John’s Wort can help with mild forms of depression.
This may be the last thing you feel like doing when depressed, but regular exercise (appropriate for your age and physical condition) can help to lift a depression.
Lack of Sunlight (seasonal depression):
See the blog “Feeling Blue” from October 8, 2009 on this site.
Thanks to the following sources:
The Food Bible by Gillian McKeith, 2008, Penguin Books.
50 Signs of Mental Illness, by J. W. Hick, MD, Yale University Press
If you’d like to read more in-depth about depression, either for yourself or to try and understand someone you know, then the following book is ideal: