Depression: a misunderstood illness

  • Depression is the most used yet misunderstood term now a days, teenagers think it’s the new in-thing, while others misunderstand depression. Being sad is not does not mean depression, what we need to understand is, that depression is a clinical disease. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, around 40% Pakistani struggle with depression. Because it is a mental illness, it can be a lot harder to understand than say, high blood pressure. One major source of confusion is the difference between having depression and just feeling depressed. Almost all of us feel down time to time for so many reasons like getting a bad grade, losing a job etc. even a rainy day bring on feelings of sadness. Sometimes there’s not trigger at all, it just happens out of blue, then circumstances change and those sad feelings disappear. While on the other hand, clinical depression is different, it is a medical disorder, and it won’t go away even if you want it to, it lingers for at least 2 consecutive weeks and interferes with one’s ability to work, play and love. You become handicapped and don’t feel like doing anything.  

    Depression can have a lot of symptoms, a low mood, loss of interest in life, changes in appetite, feeling worthless or excessively guilty, sleeping either too much or too little, poor concentration, restlessness or slowness, loss of energy, or recurrent thoughts of suicide. If you have 5 of those symptoms, according to psychiatric guidelines, you qualify for the diagnosis of depression, it is not just behavioral symptoms, depression has physical manifestations inside the brain.  

    First of all, there are changes that could be seen with the naked eye or X-rays. These include smaller frontal lobes and hippocampal volumes. Depression is associated with few things, abnormal transmission or certain neurotransmitters, blunted circadian rhythms, specific changes in the part of your sleep cycle and hormone abnormalities.  

    Just because the symptoms of depression are intangible, it is hard to know that who might look fine is struggling with depression, it takes the person suffering years to finally ask for help. It is a wide spread public health problem that is often overlooked. Most of the cases go undiagnosed, it is still considered as a taboo and often referred to as a curse from God and not and illness, patients are often restrained in chains and treated badly.  It is very difficult to express mental health symptoms to clinician and professionals but also to yourself and family, there is such a stigma related to it.  

    Unfortunately, not much help is available, very few Pakistani doctors are trained to diagnose psychiatric disorders whether acute ones or common ones. There are around 500 working psychiatrists. More number psychiatrist work in Britain rather than working in their own country.  

    Despite of these issues, there are treatments available. You can go for therapy, medication and therapy complement each other to boost brain chemicals, in extreme cases electroconvulsive therapy, which is like a controlled seizure in patient’s brain, is also very helpful. There are more treatments like transcranial magnetic stimulation, are being investigated too.  

    So, if you know someone struggling with depression, encourage them gently to seek out some of these options, you might even offer to help them with specific tasks, like looking up therapist is the area or making a list of questions to ask the doctor. Even if you yourself feel that you might be suffering from depression, don’t feel guilty or ashamed, we need to understand that it is a medical condition, just like having a headache or diabetes. It is not a weakness or a personality trait, and you shouldn’t expect yourself to just get over it, is it possible for you to get over a broken arm? No, right? Well, same is the case with depression, it needs to get treated.  

    If you haven’t experienced depression yourself, avoid comparing it to times you have felt down. Even talking about depression can actually help! Research shows that asking someone about suicidal thoughts can reduce their suicide risk. Open conversations about mental illness help erode stigma and make it easier for people to ask for help.