Q: I feel so down, so empty and hopeless all the time. Do I have depression?
A: Everyone experiences problems and unhappiness and lots of people may feel down or become depressed temporarily when things aren’t going so well. Sometimes its just an experience that made you feel bad or you blame yourself for something, or are disappointed, feeling the loss of an object, person or pet, which can make a person sad, and empty. Many of these feelings are normal, and most people feel down in the dumps sometimes and those feelings pass.
Depression is not like that. If you have depression those feelings persist and you need to take action to feel better as soon as you can.
If you think you’re suffering from depression, you’re not alone because studies suggest that the majority of the population will experience depression at least once in their lives. About 1 in 5 people will experience depression at some point during their life. Depression is most common in adults but it may occur at any point in a person's life.
For many people depression can start in childhood or adolescence but goes unnoticed because symptoms of moodiness, irritability, and risk-taking behavior may resemble typical teenage problems.
Before puberty, boys and girls are equally likely to develop depression. By age 15, however, girls are twice as likely as boys to have had a major depressive episode. Depression during the teen years comes at a time of great personal change when boys and girls 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. Depression in adolescence frequently co-occurs with other disorders such as anxiety, eating disorders, self harm or substance abuse. It can also lead to increased risk for suicide.
What is depression?
Depression is a clinical term used by psychiatrists to describe a long period when a person feels very sad to the point of feeling worthless, hopeless or helpless and is linked to the inability to concentrate, making it hard to carry out normal daily activities. Depression hits adults, teens and children; it does not discriminate!
Depression is an illness with a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms, which can make it hard to recognize. Everyone thinks of depression as feeling sad or down, but sadness may not always be the main feeling experienced. Depression can also make you feel numb or empty, or maybe you feel nothing at all losing your ability to feel pleasure about anything. Depression as a significant depressive disorder ranges from short in duration and mild to long term and very severe, even life threatening.
A common myth is that depression affects only those who can't handle life's ups and downs because of personal weakness, failure or willpower. This is not true. A person with depression can't change his or her mood much like a person can’t make a head ache go away just by having more willpower.
There are many causes of depression but studies are showing that depression involves a chemical imbalance in the areas of the brain that regulate mood and emotion. Just as a head ache needs attention and some medication, people with depression often require therapy and medication to help them feel better.
There are 3 common forms of depression
Major Depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but often a person may have multiple episodes.
Minor depression is characterized by having symptoms for 2 weeks or longer that do not meet full criteria for major depression. Without treatment, people with minor depression are at high risk for developing major depressive disorder.
A less severe type of depression, dysthymia, involves long-term, chronic symptoms that do not disable, but keep you from functioning at your best or from feeling good. Sometimes people with dysthymia also experience major depressive episodes.
Bipolar depression (manic-depressive illness)
Another type of depressive disorder is called Bipolar depression or manic-depressive illness. It is not as common as other forms of depression. Being bipolar means a person will have cycles of depression and euphoria or mania - feeling really down and then feeling really great. Sometimes a person’s mood can switch very rapidly, but most of the time they are gradual transformations. When in the depressed cycle, you can have any or all of the symptoms of a depression and when in the manic cycle, any or all symptoms of mania may be experienced.
What causes depression?
Depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. There is no one cause of depression, but many factors may make some people more prone to depression like their environment, major stressful events, an imbalance in brain chemistry or a family history of depression. Unfortunately, once a person has had a depression, they are more likely to suffer from depression again.
These factors can increase the risk of developing or triggering depression:
- · Having relatives with depression
- · Being a woman
- · Having traumatic experiences as a child
- · Having family members who have committed suicide
- · Experiencing stressful life events
- · Having few friends or other personal relationships
- · Recently having given birth (postpartum depression)
- · Having a serious illness
- · Abusing alcohol or drugs
- · Taking certain medications from a doctor
What are the signs of depression?
Depression is most often associated with four types of symptoms:
Changes in mood
Changes in thought patterns
Below is a list of examples of the 4 common types of symptoms. People may suffer from two or three of these symptoms but are unlikely to experience them all.
- · suddenly become quiet and withdrawn and stop seeing or going out with friends
- · Feeling useless, inadequate, bad and an overwhelming need for reassurance
- · A noticeable loss or gain in weight
- · Self injury or self harm
- · Being vulnerable and "over-sensitive"
- · Changes in behavior
- · feeling empty, worthless, helpless or hopeless
- · feeling irritable
- · A loss of energy and motivation, that makes even the simplest tasks or decisions seem difficult
- · grades becoming poor
- · Changes in sleeping pattern; sleeping more or less than usual,
- · Changes in eating patterns; eating more or less than usual,
- · having difficulty concentrating or making decisions, forgetful
- · trivial matters seem immense to you
- · Neglecting responsibilities
- · loss of interest in taking part in previously pleasurable activities,
- · decreased sex drive,
- · avoiding other people,
- · overwhelming feelings of sadness or grief,
- · feeling unreasonably guilty,
- · Fatigue, loss of energy.
- · Physical aches and pains, sometimes with the fear that you are seriously ill
- · unexplained changes in behaviour
- · You feel sad or cry a lot and it doesn’t go away
- · You don’t feel like doing a lot of the things you used to like — music, sports, being with friends, going out — you want to be left alone most of the time
- · You feel like you’re no good; you’ve lost confidence
- · Life seems meaningless or like nothing good is ever going to happen again. You have a negative attitude a lot of the time
In severe depression, these feelings may also include:
Thoughts of Death or Suicidal ideas
Failure to eat or drink
Delusions and/or hallucinations
How is depression treated?
If you have depression, it is important to get help immediately. Depression, even the most severe cases, can be effectively treated. There is no need to try to handle it alone. Sadness that evolves into depression can be treated with medicine and with counseling. Many studies have shown that the most effective way to fight depression is a combination of medication, self-care and therapy. The earlier treatment can begin the more effective it will be.
Unfortunately many people don’t seek treatment or don’t think they can be treated, and many who admit to depression are scared to tell someone because of the stigma and negative attitudes held by society towards mental illness.
How can I help myself if I am depressed?
- Depression can make you may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless but it is important to take action to help yourself so you will start to feel better.
- In addition to medication and talk therapy, continue to educate yourself about depression. Understanding depression and finding ways of managing it can reduce the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Try to be active and exercise. Go to a movie, a ballgame, or another event or activity that you once enjoyed.
- Set realistic goals for yourself.
- Break up large tasks into small ones, set priorities and do what you can.
- Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
- Try to spend time with others and confide a friend or relative about how you feel. Tell them you need a hug, some support and that you just need someone to listen
- Don’t expect your depression to end overnight but do expect that your mood will gradually improve and you’re sleeping and appetite will begin to improve as well.
- It may be better to postpone making important decisions, like replacing old friends, quitting activities or sports or quitting a job, until you feel better. Talk to others who may be able to give you a more objective assessment of your situation.
- Don’t give up hope. Positive thinking will replace those negative thoughts as your depression starts to responds to treatment.
- Try to eat nutritious foods and eat regularly
- Get regular exercise and sufficient sleep.
- Work on time management and stress skills for school and activities.
- See if you can find a way to relax with yoga or meditation tapes, aroma therapy or massage to reduce anxiety and tension.
- Try to manage some form of exercise and some fresh air, even a little may help you feel better and more positive.
- Change your lifestyle particularly if it is too stressful.
- Break up your routine and try different things to try to get you out of your rut.
- Try to occupy your mind with interests or hobbies.
- Avoid things like taking up smoking, non-prescribed drugs and alcohol. Alcohol and other drugs are depressants and can make matters even worse.
- Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
- Talk to him or her, and listen carefully.
- Never dismiss feelings, but point out realities and offer hope.
- Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your loved one's therapist or doctor.
- Invite your loved one out for walks, outings and other activities. Keep trying if he or she declines, but don't push him or her to take on too much too soon.
- Provide assistance in getting to the doctor's appointments.
- Remind your loved one that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.