About Depression

What is depression?

Depression is the term used to describe a state of mind characterised by a pervasive feeling of sadness, persistent negative thoughts about one’s self, the future and life in general. As a result of the persistent nature of these negative thoughts, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and thoughts that life is not worth living could also be a feature. 

How common is Depression?

Depression is a common condition and it is estimated that 350 million people are affected globally.  1 in 4 people will suffer from depression at some point in their lives and the condition is more common in women than it is in men.  At its worst depression can lead to suicide and the global rates of suicide are increasing significantly.

What are the symptoms of Depression?

People who are depressed feel sad all the time, experience difficulties sleeping, eating and concentrating.  They tend to lose interest in things which were enjoyable and find it difficult to derive pleasure from life.  They also harbour a sense of hopelessness and helplessness and can find it difficult to see a way out of the current situation.  If symptoms persist for a long time, then thoughts that life is not worth living could be a feature which could lead to suicidal urges and intentions.  These symptoms could be severe enough to interfere with people’s lives to the extent that they find it difficult to work, study and sustain relationships.

Signs and Symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling sad or empty for significant periods
  • Difficulties sleeping, eating and concentrating
  • Anxiety, nervousness and tension
  • Tiredness and a lack of energy
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless and lacking purpose
  • Loss on interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • Lack of motivation
  • Thoughts that life is not worth living
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Physical symptoms like aches, pains and cramps

What are the causes of depression?

The best way to think about the causes of depression is to break them down into biological, psychological and social causes. 

Biological causes refer to a disruption in the normal chemical functioning of the brain either due to genetics or environmental factors.  A reduction in serotonin levels could give rise to depression.  Use of drugs and other psychoactive substances like certain medications could also lead to depression

Psychological causes such as stress, relationship difficulties, low self-esteem and a persistently negative perception of self, circumstances and the future could lead to depression.

Social causes of depression include financial difficulties, work related issues, relationship breakdown and other aspects of a person’s social life that could be causing significant stress.

Can depression be treated and if so how?

Yes, depression can be treated and it is worth noting than there are different treatments based on how severe the symptoms of depression are. 

The first line treatment for mild to moderate forms of depression is psychotherapy with or without medications. 

For severe symptoms, medications such as Prozac would help reduce the symptoms associated with depression. 

If symptoms do not respond to multiple trials of different medications, your doctor may consider electroconvulsive therapy if this is deemed necessary.

The first step in the treatment of depression is to visit your doctor who will take a detailed history and perform investigations to rule out medical problems that may be causing depression.  Once this has been completed, your doctor will devise a treatment plan.

How can I prevent myself from getting depressed?

There are certain things we can all do to reduce our risk of developing depression:

  • Eating healthy and optimising our nutritional intake
  • Avoiding illegal drugs and excessive consumption of substances that act on the brain
  • Regular exercise, and drinking adequate amounts of water
  • Managing stress effectively and removing ourselves from unsustainable stressful situations
  • Participating in activities you enjoy on a regular basis
  • Engaging in activities that provide a sense of purpose, meaning and fulfilment
  • Providing and receiving love and attention

How can I help a loved one who may be depressed?

If you know someone who may be suffering from depression, encourage the person to see a doctor in order to get a diagnosis and commence treatment.

You can offer support by:

  • Providing reassurance and hope
  • Never ignore comments about suicide and ensure you report these to the therapist or doctor
  • Invite him or her out for walks, outings and other activities
  • Talk to your loved one and listen carefully

If you or someone you know is in crisis or actively contemplating suicide, please click here for information about emergency services available.

Click here to view therapists that specialise in depression and related conditions