Depression: a silent killer

Probably a lot of us has experienced feeling sad and lonely or maybe feeling hopeless and worthless. Having these “negative emotions” is normal. In fact, it’s one way of healing ourselves. They say “you have to feel the wound to heal the wound” right? We are humans and being a human includes feeling different emotions.

But what if we feel something else? What if we feel all the negative emotions all at the same time for a long time? Is this depression?

With the current “lockdown / quarantine” almost every country is experiencing, it is highly possible to feel depressed. Specially to those individuals who prefer working outside, mingling with other people, feeling depressed is common. But how do we know if we are depressed? What is depression and how do we “treat” those affected?

What is depression?

Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, think and act (APA 2017). It is said that females experience depression twice as common as males (Nestler et al. 2002). Apparently, depression has been described by mankind many years ago, around 400 BC when Hippocrates coined the term “melancholia” (which means black bile in Greek) (Nestler et al. 2002).

The following are the known symptoms (both mild and severe) of depression:

Symptom #1. Feeling sad or having depressed mood.

Symptom #2. Changes in appetite: either you eat too much or too less.

Symptom #3. Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much.

Symptom #4. Loss of energy or fatigue.

Symptom #5. Slowed movements and speech.

Symptom #6. Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions.

Symptom #7. Thought of death or suicide.

I know all of us has experienced one or two or three or all of these symptoms. We experienced these either in work, at home or with our friends. So the question now is, how do we distinguish (really) feeling sad from being depressed?

Ok remember this: The American Psychiatric Association (APA) said that these symptoms MUST LAST for 2 weeks before it can be diagnosed as depression. However, you still must consult doctors and medical experts for confirmation, as symptoms of depression can mimic symptoms of other medical conditions (e.g., thyroid problems, a brain tumor or vitamin deficiency).

Why are we experiencing depression? Is there science behind it?

Of course there is science. Depression is a combination of genetics and environmental factors. When they say it is genetic, it means you may inherit it, just like other common complex medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension and asthma. When you say environmental, it means that you may have depression because of your surroundings. For example, too much stress at work or at home, traumatic experiences or viral infections (Nestler et al. 2002). Depression is therefore a complicated and complex phenomenon that include several factors.

Can depression be treated?

Treating depression is not an easy thing, but YES IT CAN BE TREATED. In fact, depression is one of the most treatable mental disorder. Currently, there are three ways to treat depression: medication, psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy. Let me briefly discuss it.

Treatment #1. Medication. Yup, antidepressants. But be careful with the dosage. Usually, doctors will prescribe low dosage and slowly increase it as needed. But then, if these medications will still not work (after a specified period of time), the doctors will not keep increasing the dosage, as these medicines might be a “risk” in the future. So it is really important to tell your doctors the truth. Other ways will then be considered.

Treatment #2. Psychotherapy or also known as the talk therapy. In many cases, talk therapy helps. It might be a slow progress (as it depends on every patient) but it does make improvements. Talk therapy allows the patient to think and focus on the problem and possible solutions. You let the patients do the thinking but on his/her own pace.

Treatment #3. Electroconvulsive therapy. Well, this one is performed when the patient did not respond to the other treatments. It involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anaesthesia.

But the most important thing everyone may do to help those suffering in depression is to LISTEN. Most of the times, these individuals have so much in their minds and they feel overwhelmed. They wanted to be heard. Not everyone is gifted with great listening skills. In fact, many times, people tend to talk and talk and talk about themselves, or maybe listen to prepare for the their responses. We should learn to lend our ears and hearts to these people. They need someone to hear them, not to judge them.

I hope you learn something from this post. I myself have learned things I did not know before. 🙂 And also, if you know someone suffering from depression, give them a chance to be heard. You might just save a life. Take care friends! Adios!

References:

APA 2017. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

Nestler EJ, Barrot M, DiLeone RJ, Eisch AJ, Gold SJ, Monetggia LM. 2002. Neurobiology of depression. Neuron 34(1):13-25. http://doi.org/10.1016/S0896-6273(02)00653-0

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