Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Let's Talk About: Depression

I've been wanting to write this post for quite a while now - or should I say, this series of posts, because that's what I hope this will be. This first post is going to be some facts about Depression, because a lot of people have a very poor understanding of what it actually is. I'm going to cover dealing with depression, and supporting someone you love who has depression, in another post or maybe two.
I think it's important that we try to understand depression, and it's absolutely essential that we talk about it; mental health has been a taboo subject for far too long, pushing people who suffer to desperate ends in their attempts to cover up their illness. Depression needs to become as accepted as an illness as asthma or diabetes or any other "physical" illness. I think knowing some basic facts will help people to accept this, and with acceptance comes understanding, support, and recovery.
I am not qualified to provide any kind of therapy for depression. If you think you may have depression, please talk to someone who can help. I know it's scary, but trust me, it's worth the leap of faith. Talk to a friend or family member, your GP, a school or university counselling service, a teacher you trust, the Samaritans - any of these people can help you get the help and support you deserve.
I have a degree in Psychology and have experience of depression myself. If you'd like references for any of the facts I've given in this post, get in touch and I'll be happy to provide them. If you have any further questions, again, get in touch and I'll do my best to help. Just to repeat, though, I am not a health professional and I cannot offer therapy of any kind.
That said, here are some things you might not have known about depression:
  • Symptoms of depression include the obvious; sad mood. Other symptoms range from changes in appetite and weight, through loss of sex drive and reduced ability to concentrate, to insomnia or hypersomnia (inability to sleep or constant tiredness), slowing of movements, unexplained physical pain, and loss of self-confidence. Everyone's symptoms are different, but if any of these sound familiar, speak to your GP.
  • Depression is thought to affect up to 15% of people in the UK at some point in their life, is the most common psychiatric disorder in the UK, and the third most common reason for seeing a GP. Women seem to suffer more than men, although this may be because men are less willing to seek help for the illness; male suicide rates are thought to be up to five times higher than female, with males aged 30-44 being most at risk for suicide.
  • "What's he got to be depressed about?" - this has to be one of the most-asked, and the most insulting, questions about depression. Depression is associated with changes in your brain, with hormones and neurotransmitters (they're the chemicals that let your brain function properly) changing. It's all very well telling someone to cheer up, but when the chemicals that let you feel happy aren't there, it's easier said than done. Please understand that although depression is largely a mental illness, it most definitely has physical causes. No-one ever asks what someone has to be diabetic or epileptic about, and depression is no different; it's caused by imbalances in your body and things not working quite as they should.
  • Depression can, however, be triggered by experiences you might have, such as a stressful event or a bereavement. In such cases, depression may be considered a "normal" or even healthy response at first, and so your GP may not see it as a cause for concern. If you don't start to feel more normal within a couple of months, though, it could be that your brain has lost the habit of keeping correct levels of neurotransmitters and so on. In this case, go back to your GP and ask for a second opinion if you feel it's necessary.
  • Depression can happen in cycles; there can be periods of weeks, months or even years where an individual is absolutely fine, before a bout of depression strikes. These highs and lows can add to the overall stress of the illness and can make an individual seem unpredictable and "moody". This basically arises from the brain struggling to properly regulate various things, resulting in a sort of rollercoaster of emotion, and correcting it could be as easy as a course of tablets. Cycles can also result from seasonal changes (Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD) and from hormonal changes (like an extreme form of PMS).
  • There are lots of treatment options for depression, with anti-depressant medication being the most obvious. These drugs work to correct your abnormal neurotransmitter levels, helping your brain to function properly. Some people's brains learn to do this themselves after a course of treatment, others don't. Some people need other treatment in conjunction with the drugs, for example Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which helps an individual to identify and correct faulty thought processes and can be extremely effective. I'll discuss this in more depth in my 'Coping with Depression' post.
I hope you've found this post interesting and have learnt something from it; please feel free to get in touch if there's anything you'd like me to add or cover in subsequent posts - if you're not comfortable leaving a comment, you can email me!

4 comments:

  1. I currently have a nan who dreadfully suffers, and I have in the past. It is awful. xx

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  2. I only read the intro to this post, but I want to thank you for writing it! It's so, so important to talk about mental illness. The reason I only read the intro is precisely that I've had some bad experiences with people (for the record, most of the time if I say "people" I mean "my father") dismissing my anxiety and my need to be on meds and I'm too sensitive right now to read about the ways in which people are wrong about depression. So seriously, thanks. <3

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  3. thank you for expressing things I wasn't quite sure how to put into words on my blog x

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