Indians are the most depressed community in the world. Not joking. It is reality! According to World Health Organization (WHO), India’s depression levels are exceeding 36 per cent and horrifically this is the highest figure in the world.
What makes this even more frightening is the fact that WHO projects depression to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020. The biggest challenge, however, lies elsewhere; it is about mental and physical illnesses being treated differently in our country. Sadness is something we all experience. It is a normal reaction to difficult times in life and usually passes with a little time.
When a person has depression, it interferes with daily life and normal functioning. It causes pain for both the sufferer and those who care about him/her. Doctors call this condition “depressive disorder” or “clinical depression.” It is a real illness. It is not a sign of a person’s weakness or a character flaw. You can’t “snap out of” clinical depression. Most people who experience depression need treatment to get better.
Signs and Symptoms
Sadness is only a small part of depression. Some people with depression may not feel sadness at all. Depression has many other symptoms, including physical ones. If you have been experiencing any of the following signs and symptoms for at least 2 weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms
Factors Playing Role in Depression
Among the several factors that may play a role in depression, genetics, brain biology and chemistry and life events such as trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, an early childhood experience or any stressful situation are the most prominent ones.
Although depression can happen at any age, it often starts showing up in the late teens or early 20s or 30s. Most chronic mood and anxiety disorders in adults begin as high levels of anxiety in children. In fact, high levels of anxiety as a child could mean a higher risk of depression as an adult.
Depression can co-occur with other serious medical illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Depression can make these conditions worse and vice versa. Sometimes medications taken for these illnesses may cause side effects that contribute to depression. A doctor experienced in treating these complicated illnesses can help work out the best treatment strategy.
Types of Depression
Major depression: Severe symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, sleep, study, eat and enjoy life. An episode can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has several episodes.
Persistent depressive disorder: A depressed mood that lasts for at least 2 years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for 2 years.
Some forms of depression are slightly different or they may develop under unique circumstances. They include:
Psychotic depression, which occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false beliefs or a break with reality (delusions) or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations).
Postpartum depression, which is much more serious than the “baby blues” that many women experience after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not get better with light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy.
Bipolar disorder is different from depression. The reason it is included in this list is because someone with bipolar disorder experiences episodes of extreme low moods. But a person with bipolar disorder also experiences extreme high moods.
Depression Affects People in Different Ways:
Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. Some people experience only a few symptoms. Some people have many. The severity and frequency of symptoms and how long they last, will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness. Symptoms may also vary depending on the stage of the illness.
Women with depression do not all experience the same symptoms. However, women with depression typically have symptoms of sadness, worthlessness and guilt. Depression is more common among women than among men. Biological, lifecycle, hormonal and psychosocial factors that are unique to women may be linked to their higher depression rate.
Men often experience depression differently than women. While women with depression are more likely to have feelings of sadness, worthlessness and excessive guilt; men, on the contrary, are more likely to be very tired, irritable, lose interest in once-pleasurable activities and have difficulty sleeping.
Men are very likely to turn to alcohol or drugs when they are depressed. They also may become frustrated, discouraged, irritable, angry and sometimes abusive. Some men may throw themselves into their work to avoid talking about their depression with family or friends or behave recklessly.
Before puberty, girls and boys are equally likely to develop depression. A child with depression may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent, or worry that a parent may die. Because normal behaviours vary from one childhood stage to another, it can be difficult to tell whether a child is just going through a temporary “phase” or is suffering from depression. Sometimes the parents become worried about how the child’s behaviour has changed, or a teacher mentions that “your child doesn’t seem to be himself.” Most chronic mood disorders, such as depression, begin as high levels of anxiety in children.
The teen years can be tough. Teens are forming an identity apart from their parents, grappling with gender issues and emerging sexuality, and making independent decisions for the first time in their lives. Occasional bad moods are to be expected, but depression is different.
Older children and teens with depression may sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative and irritable and feel misunderstood. Teens with depression may also have other disorders such as anxiety, eating disorders or substance abuse. They may also be at higher risk for suicide.
Children and teenagers usually rely on parents, teachers, or other caregivers to recognize their suffering and get them the treatment they need. Many teens don’t know where to go for mental health treatment or believe that treatment won’t help. Others don’t get help because they think depression symptoms may be just part of the typical stress of school or being a teen. Some teens worry what other people will think if they seek mental health care.
Depression often persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood, especially if left untreated. If you suspect a child or teenager in your life is suffering from depression, speak up right away.
Having depression for a long period of time is not a normal part of growing older. Most of the older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems. Depression in elder people, however, may be difficult to recognize because they may show different, less obvious symptoms.
Sometimes older people who are depressed appear to feel tired, have trouble sleeping or seem grumpy and irritable. Confusion or attention problems caused by depression can sometimes look like Alzheimer’s disease or other brain disorders. Older adults also may have more medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke or cancer, which may cause depressive symptoms. Or they may be taking medications with side effects that contribute to depression.
Some older adults may experience what doctors call vascular depression, also called arteriosclerotic depression or subcortical ischemic depression. Vascular depression may result when blood vessels become less flexible and harden over time, becoming constricted. The hardening of vessels prevents normal blood flow to the body’s organs, including the brain. Those with vascular depression may have or be at risk for heart disease or stroke.
Older adults who had depression when they were younger are more at risk for developing depression in late life than those who did not have the illness earlier in life.
Depression is curable
Depression, even the most severe cases, can be treated. The earlier treatment begins, the more effective it is! Most adults see an improvement in their symptoms when treated with antidepressant drugs, psychotherapy or an amalgam of both.
If you think you may have depression, start by making an appointment to see your doctor or health care provider. This could be your primary doctor or a health provider who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions (psychologist or psychiatrist).
Need help now?
Call the 24-hour, toll-free confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org .