A depressive disorder is a ‘whole-body’ illness, involving your body, mood and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away.
People with a depressive illness cannot merely ‘pull themselves together’ and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression.
How do I know I’m depressed?
Depressive disorders come in different forms and within these types there are variations in the numbers of symptoms, their severity, and persistence.
Major depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, sleep, eat and enjoy once pleasurable activities. These disabling episodes of depression can occur once, twice, or several times in a lifetime.
A less severe type of depression, dysthymia, involves long-term, chronic symptoms that do not disable, but keep you from functioning at full steam or from feeling good. Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, involves cycles of depression and elation or mania and is often a chronic recurring condition.
Some people experience a few symptoms, some many, and the severity varies:
Persistent sad, anxious or ‘empty’ mood
Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness
Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
Appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
Decreased energy, fatigue and being ‘slowed down’
Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
Restlessness and irritability
Difficulty concentrating, remembering and making decisions
Persistent physical symptoms that don’t respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain
Just as depression takes many different forms, it has many possible causes. In fact, depression is often caused by a combination of factors.
Medication or psychotherapy, or a combination of the two treatment methods, usually relieves symptoms of depression in weeks. Even the most severe forms of depression can respond to treatment rapidly. In fact, 70 percent of people with depression will make a good recovery on anti-depressants. If one particular medicine doesn’t work for you, it’s a question of trying another.
People often are tempted to stop medication too soon. It is important to keep taking medication until your doctor tells you to stop, even if you begin to feel better. Some medications must be stopped gradually to give your body time to adjust. For individuals with bipolar disorder or chronic depression, medication may have to become part of everyday life to avoid disabling symptoms.
Some people are able to help themselves through lifestyle changes:
1. Relaxation: This can include exercises, audio tapes, yoga, meditation, aromatherapy and massages.
2. Exercise: Some form of exercise, however gentle, will often have beneficial results, and if some exercise can be taken in fresh air, this can add to the benefit.
3. Slowing down: Lowering those impossible-to-achieve standards and reducing your workload can help. Live at a slower pace.
4. Diet: Under or overeating is a symptom of depression. Try to follow a well-balanced diet, which prevents tiredness and lethargy.
5. Avoid: Smoking, illicit drugs and dependence on alcohol are damaging. Alcohol is a depressant and despite giving a temporary lift, it can definitely worsen depression.
6. Keep occupied: It can be of great help if your mind can be occupied by an interest or satisfying hobby, or by reading a book or watching a movie.
7. Holidays or short breaks: We can so easily end up in a rut, so bring some relief by breaking up the routine.