Originally published in ‘At Home with Lorraine Kelly’ magazine.
Depression is the most common psychological disorder in the western world and the World Health Organisation predicts that it may soon be the second largest cause of illness world-wide. One in ten of the population are affected at any one time and 20% or more will experience the condition in their lifetime.
This kind of true depression is not the same experience as a few days of feeling down nor is it a sign of weakness, self pity or something which can be dealt with by ‘pulling oneself together’.
In our society the true meaning of the term ‘depression’ has become blurred, masking the fact that real clinical depression exists and must be taken seriously. Symptoms vary in type, severity and cultural expression but the depressive condition has been unequivocally scientifically validated. Winston Churchill called it his ‘black dog’ while for many women it’s known as the ‘baby blues’.
Depression can develop at any age including childhood. Women are twice as likely as men to present with the condition while men are three timess more likely to successfully commit suicide when depressed. Sadly in men the condition is often missed.
So what is clinical depression? There are different kinds of depressive disorder such as a depressive episode, postnatal depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) through to manic depression (bipolar disorder) and psychotic depression. However there is a core group of signs which is the hallmark of the depressed state. These include, low mood, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, loss of confidence, negative thoughts, feelings of guilt, self reproach, diminished sexual drive and loss of feelings for loved ones and normal pleasures. Depression is a very physical experience with bodily symptoms of anxiety, agitation, pains and fatigue. People may feel that life is no longer worth living, turn to alcohol or drugs to escape and may contemplate or commit suicide.
There is no single cause of depression but a combination of genetics, psychological factors such as low self-esteem, physical illness and environmental issues are involved. Frequently a cluster of stressful life events, such as bereavement, divorce, unemployment or relationship difficulties trigger off the onset of the illness.
Recovery is there to be grasped even although the situation may feel hopeless. Antidepressant medication which helps to redress the disrupted neurochemistry of the depressed brain will help. Psychological treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling are effective along with regular exercise and reducing alcohol intake and stress.
Depression is treatable so summon the energy to seek help from your local doctor, search the internet for information, share how you are feeling with someone you trust and ask for support from family and friends. There is no need to suffer in secret.
Dr. Alex Yellowlees