“You ain’t talking to nobody… you just deh by yuhself.’’
How many of us can relate to using these expressions towards someone we know and care about? Have we stopped to think that maybe this person might be suffering from a mental health condition?
Let’s say that condition is depression. Do we view depression as a state of insanity? Are we informed about the type of depression the person is facing? How can we support them while they are going through this difficult situation and should there be some sort of specialised care?
Before delving into these questions, let’s ask ourselves what depression really is. Depression is a mental health condition that negatively affects the way we feel, think and behave. We have no real idea of the origin of depression but it has been linked to a variety of biological, psychological and environmental factors. The good news is that once properly diagnosed, depression is treatable. Mental illness and, in this case, depression, does not discriminate and can affect anyone, irrespective of age, race, gender, culture or socio-economic status.
A variety of situations can cause us to fall into a depressive state, such as if we lost our job, or if we just ended a relationship or if we just lost a family member. Because we aren’t all designed the same way, we will each respond to a difficult situation differently. Some people can pick themselves up and move on, while others find it more difficult and there is no shame in that. But understanding more about depression, its severity and how it actually affects people living with this condition will allow us to be more sympathetic to those persons and to actually realise that their suffering is “real” and that they are not just “looking for pity.” In sum, being aware and educated about depression means that we will be better able to assist with the care of our loved ones who suffer from this very common mental health condition.
To be clear: being diagnosed with depression does not mean you are insane; it simply means that you are suffering from a common mental health disorder that affects more than 300 million people worldwide. And once depression is properly diagnosed, its treatment takes the form of psychotherapy and/or antidepressants.
It is important to note that there are different forms of depression but for the purposes of this article we will only highlight three. Someone suffering from “major depression” can experience prolonged periods of sadness, suicidal ideation, loss of appetite and insomnia, just to name a few symptoms. Persons experiencing this type of depression have suffering that is so great that they can sometimes feel completely hopeless and as though they no longer wish to be a burden to those closest to them.
The symptoms of “persistent depressive disorder” or “dysthymia” are similar to those of major depression, except that they are less severe but chronic, which means they last longer. This form of depression can last for two years and longer.
Meanwhile, “manic depression,” which is now referred to as “bipolar disorder,” is where the affected person suffers periods of extreme “highs” and extreme “lows” (depressive states) This simply means that the person’s mood shifts from feeling euphoric or energetic for an extended period of time to exhibiting all the symptoms of depression.
How can you detect if a close friend or relative might be suffering from depression? Observe their behaviour and take note of how long they have had the symptoms listed below:
*Loss of appetite/weight loss
*Lack of motivation
Remember, a diagnosis of depression can only be made if these feelings persist for more than two weeks but if you notice at least five of these symptoms, then chances are the person is suffering from depression and professional help will need to be sought. Speak to your General Practitioner, who may then refer the person for specialised care. You can also seek help at the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health Unit, located at Quamina and Thomas streets, for further information and guidance.
Remember, depression is a very common mental health condition and understanding what it really entails means that you will be more equipped to recognise and seek help for yourself or someone you may know who is suffering.
Alicia Roopnaraine is a Psychologist at the Georgetown Public Hospital’s Psychiatric Department. You can send questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org