We’ve all been tense, stressed or anxious at some point in our lives. There may have been times when some of us have felt incapable of moving ahead in life or felt a bit empty from within. Feeling sad is a normal reaction to personal loss or our day-to-day struggles. But if the low mood lingers day after day, it could signal something larger.
According to the American Psychiatry Association, “Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home. Symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) considers depression as the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide, and expects it to become the second leading cause by 2020. An estimated 121 million people are currently living with some form of it. Of these individuals, fewer than 25% have access to adequate treatment.
Age is an important risk factor. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System found that the rate of diagnosis increased with age, from 2.8% for adults between 18-24 years to a peak of 4.6% for adults between 45-65 years. A study conducted by the Bangalore-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences placed the average age of the depressed Indian at 31 years. In fact, a WHO report suggests that India is the most depressed country in the world.
Similarly, gender also plays a great role. Worldwide, women are about twice as likely to experience depression as men. Approximately, 1 in 10 women experience symptoms of depression in the weeks after having a baby which is known as Postpartum Depression. The other forms of depression include Bipolar Disorder (extreme mood swings), Psychotic Depression where a person may experience delusions and hallucinations, and Seasonal Affective Disorder which is characterised by the onset of depression during the winter months.
Although there is no ‘depression test’ that a mental health expert can use to diagnose depression, certain symptoms are more or less common to all the cases. These symptoms may vary according to the form or stage of illness.
Dr. Dherandra Kumar, a Delhi-based Clinical Psychologist and Consultant at Apollo Hospital in Noida, suggests you consult a doctor if you experience the following symptoms persistently:
1. Changes in mood, such as feeling down or low. This is usually accompanied by persistent boredom and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. In some cases, the person becomes excessively irritable.
2. The chances of substance abuse increase drastically i.e. alcohol and drugs, in turn affecting the person’s interpersonal relationships.
3. The person faces cognitive dissonance and difficulty in concentration. As a result, even day-to-day things slip away from memory. Confusion and difficulty in making day-to-day decisions.
4. Sleep disturbances become a common occurrence. They prefer to stay in bed for a longer duration of time. In some cases, patients may have trouble sleeping or suffer from insomnia.
5. There is a drastic alteration in the eating pattern. It is often marked by frequent over-eating or starving oneself, consequently leading to evident weight gain or loss.
6. Feeling of hopelessness, guilt, and/or pessimism is one of the most common symptoms.
7. Sluggishness and decreased energy, feeling fatigued or weak all the time. On the contrary, some may experience restlessness, be hyper active or even have trouble sitting still.
8. Frequent aches, cramps or pain in the body without any physical ailment.
Depression has a certain social stigma attached to it. As a result, in most cases, sufferers feel too shy or ignorant to reach out. They fail to realise that depression is just like any other disease and it’s not a sign of weakness or a negative personality. Therefore, there is an urgent need to create awareness in order to facilitate a change in our attitude and mindset regarding this medical condition which can actually be treated and dealt with.