I’m not depressed! I’m…just having a bad day…
You may well be having a bad day, but then again, it just may be more serious than that.
Bad days are a perfectly natural part of life – we all have them – and they do not necessarily mean that we are depressed. Depression, however, is a significant mental health issue, and before you say “that wouldn’t happen to me”, remember that in each year, approximately one in five Australians will experience a mental health issue.
Maybe I’m just sad?
Maybe you are and some days we may feel sad for no apparent reason and that’s OK. Sadness can come and go, it affects your mood, you may fell lousy and flat, but it usually only lasts a day or two. Sadness will generally relate to a specific situation – job loss, relationship problems, financial problems etc. But overall we continue to feel positive about life and we look forward with anticipation.
Actually it’s been like that now for weeks and I just can’t get going…
Then you may well be depressed. Depression is a serious illness and a diagnosable mental health disorder, depression counselling is a form a treatment that can help to deal with depression. It is not something that you can “just snap out of”. It has been described as the common cold of mental health: most people will be exposed to it at some point in their lives, either directly or indirectly. There are even different types of depression but we won’t worry about that right now.
So what is depression?
Depression is like a big, black cloud that hangs over every aspect of our lives and affects our ability to function on a daily basis. It has a number of symptoms including:
- A persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood;
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism lasting days or weeks on end;
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness;
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies and activities;
- Social withdrawal;
- Changes in sleeping patterns;
- Appetite changes – weight loss or gain;
- Fatigue, loss of energy, no motivation;
- Irritability, anger issues, lack of emotional control;
- Problems with concentration, memory, decision making; and,
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide in severe cases.
Generally you need to have experienced your symptoms for 2 weeks or more. This is not an exhaustive list of symptoms and if you are concerned about what you are experiencing, see your doctor for a check in.
So what’s caused this?
After many years of research science is not a lot closer to understanding what actually causes depression. The most widely held belief is that depression is caused by a complex interaction and/or combination of biological, psychological and social factors. Some recent research even points to a role being played by the important bacteria in our digestive systems. So what does this mean? For some people they may have a genetic predisposition while for others it may be an environmental factor such as the loss of a loved one. But the cause is not really the issue: getting appropriate and effective treatment is.
So what can I do?
It is really important to remember that depression can be treated. There are a wide variety of very effective treatment options available: it’s a matter of finding one that is right for you. But there is no quick fix – it takes time and patience.
Treatment options can best be summarised as:
- Medication (antidepressants);
- Psychotherapy (seeing a psychologist); or,
- A combination of both (this shows the best results over time).
The first step is to see your doctor and discuss your symptoms. Openly. Honestly. You wouldn’t sugar coat a pain in your chest, so don’t sugar coat this. Your doctor will discuss with you your options, prescribe medication and/or a referral to a psychologist. Medication can take between 2-4 weeks to really take affect. You need to be patient. If you think it’s not working after that time, do not stop taking it. See you doctor again and discuss options for a different medication.
But what will people think?
Sadly there is still a stigma attached to mental health but the more we talk about it, the more we address it, the more people will come to accept it as a medical condition no different to heart disease or diabetes. We would not hesitate to treat these disorders and our mental health should be no different. Tell your family and friends. You may be surprised how many will tell you about someone close to them who has also experienced depression.
The final word….or words
So. Have you been experiencing some of these feelings and thoughts but just couldn’t explain them? Have you seen some of these behaviours in someone close to you? Don’t hide in the shadow of that black cloud. Don’t let those close to you live there. Depression is an insidious disease – it creeps up slowly on you so maybe you haven’t really seen the changes. Stop now and think about yourself and those close to you. Can you identify any of the common symptoms? It’s never too late to put your hand up for help.