- Eating Out
- Useful Info
Because her nights were disturbed, getting out of bed every morning was becoming a serious struggle for 42-year-old May. Filled with thoughts of helplessness, she found it difficult to care for her two young children and because she felt constantly sad even pleasurable experiences like meeting friends began to feel like a chore. Like 17 per cent of the population who are affected by depression, May found the condition very disabling because it left her feeling like a stranger in her own body. Consultant psychiatrist Anton Grech says that depression can present itself in many different ways – some find that they are very tired whilst other might experience weight gain, insomnia, loss of appetite and headaches. “Depression can be very disabling because patients often have to take time off work because they feel too weak to cope with daily life.”
The symptoms associated with depression are also found in conditions like Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis and other disorders linked to neurology. The real condition strikes when the brain chemical serotonin decreases and causes an imbalance that affects our mood. Depression has a genetic disposition so you are more likely to be affected if someone in your family suffers from the condition. People with depression can feel physically unwell and even experience problems with their digestion. “The mind and the body can never be seen as separate because one cannot function without the other. Biological depression can range from mild to severe and needs to be addressed immediately.” Dr Grech explains that high levels of stress can decrease the level of serotonin and trigger off depression. Symptoms can differ drastically between one patient and another: “a person can have some or all the symptoms but normally when someone has a relapse the symptoms are usually the same as those experienced in previous episodes.”
Sometimes we can have no control over depression because it can strike when things around us go wrong. Sarah, who had lost her mother the previous year, couldn’t get over the loss. She was constantly crying and suffered from nightmares; her mind was filled with thoughts about death. Dr Grech explains that the grieving process comes in three stages – denial, anger and acceptance – and depression is likely to strike before we get to the last stage. “The healing process takes approximately six months and if a person is still depressed after this period he or she should seek professional help.” The sudden death of a loved one can trigger off depression because the negative change can have a big impact on our emotions. When someone near to us is terminally ill we prepare ourselves for the loss and this helps us cope better when our loved one passes away. “Depression is more likely to occur if we lose someone tragically or through a heart attack because this loss occurs when we least expect it.” The loss of a job, the end of a marriage and even the loss of a pet can all trigger off depression because in such situations we tend to lose a part of ourselves.” Ironically even positive life-changing experiences can trigger off feelings of gloom. “I see young brides who move to a more affluent neighbourhood suffering from the condition because they experience a loss of their ‘old’ lifestyle.” Depression derived from environmental factors can be cured without medication when one seeks help in the early stages.
The psychiatrist tells me that it is easier to convince someone with a mild depression to get out of bed and get into a routine in the early stages before symptoms escalate. “In later stages patients run the risk of becoming psychotic where they could experience delusions and hallucinations. As the condition advances it will become more difficult for the person to revert to the individual he was before the illness.” Sometimes symptoms progress because patients remain in denial. “Depression cannot be diagnosed through blood tests and sometimes it can be difficult for patients to accept their diagnosis without a visible test result.”
Being told you need anti-depressants can seem demoralising because it can be taken as a sign that you have lost your ability to cope. But Dr Grech begs to differ. “People with depression often feel a sense of relief during treatment especially when they begin to enjoy life once again.” According to Dr Grech, it is very important that patients with depression continue to take treatment for six months after they recover; during this period sufferers will also need support because they are more likely to relapse if they discontinue treatment. Living in a serene environment where there is little or no conflict is also important for the healing process. Sadly depression has been linked to suicidal thoughts. “In a psychiatric setting talking to patients about suicide could help them to link their feelings to the illness and make more sense of the situation.” When a family member is diagnosed with depression, relatives may experience a sense of fear that the person will lose his mind completely; however after treatment most individuals go back to their normal self.
Do you see the glass as half empty or as half full? Studies show that pessimistic people are more prone to depression. “Certain character types are more likely to suffer from depression because of their outlook towards life and the way they handle stressful situations.” Dr Grech explains that having a good sense of humour is an essential tool which can act as a shield against the condition. “The ability to laugh can greatly reduce stress and help us to see life in a brighter light. Even when depression strikes those with a sense of humour recover much faster than others who see life through dark lenses.” We all experience bad days when life can seem horrible; however this is not a sign of depression unless the symptoms persist for weeks. This illness is not a sign of weakness and we are all at risk of developing the condition because no matter how well one handles stress everybody has a breaking point. People with real depression should not suffer in silence because no one should have to live with a heavy heart for long periods of time. By offering support and a shoulder to cry on we encourage others to seek help so that they may embrace the beauty of life once again.
A new service is available at Mater Dei casualty where people with severe mental illness can seek help. Open from 7am to 7 pm.