Depression, a sense of persistent sadness and loss of interest in life, often feels like carrying a very heavy burden. An affliction more than 9.7% of the South African population, or 4.5 million people, suffer from every year. Making it one of the most common mental disorders in the country.
Depression is more than just feeling sad, it is more serious. Everyone feels upset or unmotivated from time to time. It is a mood disorder characterised by prolonged feelings of sadness and loss of interest in daily activities. If these symptoms persist for a period of at least two weeks, it is considered a depressive episode.
According to a study by The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), depression affects one in four South African employees.
There is no one cause for depression, as it depends on a unique combination of an individual’s genetic makeup and environmental conditions. There are many factors to take into account:
- The brain’s physical structure or chemistry
- History of depression in a family
- History of other disorders (anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Stressful, traumatic events (abuse, financial issues, death of a loved one)
- Hormone changes (menstrual cycles, pregnancy)
- Certain medications (sleeping aids, blood pressure medication)
Categories of Depression
Just as there is no one cause for depression, there isn’t only one type. It can take many forms. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders lists nine distinct types:
- Major depression where people often experience recurrent episodes throughout their lives, is the most common type.
- Dysthymia is a persistent low mood over a long period of time. Even as much as a year or more. It could be described as feeling like you’re living on autopilot.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder is brought on from a lack of natural sunlight. Some people are more sensitive to the lower amount of light in the wintertime.
- Atypical Depression is often reported as feeling a heaviness in their limbs. They may suffer from irritability and relationship problems, as well as be prone to overeating and oversleeping.
- Bipolar Disorder is also called Manic Depressive Disorder because it involves alternating between mania and depressive episodes.
- Psychotic Depression where sometimes depressive episodes can get so severe that hallucinations or delusions are present. The person becomes catatonic, or they feel stuck in bed.
- Postpartum Depression occurs after giving birth. Mothers may feel disconnected from their new baby or fear that they will hurt their child.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder is a severe depression that shows up during the second half of the menstrual cycle. It affects the individual’s ability to function normally.
- Situational Depression is triggered by a life-changing event. It could be anything, from losing your job to the death of an immediate family member.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Despite there being multiple types of depressions, many of them have similar recognisable symptoms. This list scratches the surface, but it provides a general idea:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or emptiness
- Irritability, frustration, or restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that used to be enjoyable
- Difficulty sleeping, sleep disturbances, or sleeping too much
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Difficulty thinking clearly, remembering, concentrating, or making decisions
- Appetite or weight changes
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or back pain
Experiencing some combination of these symptoms for a period of at least two weeks likely signifies that you are in the midst of a depressive episode.
Recovery is a journey, not a destination. Bad days will still come, but with well-targeted treatment, you should be able to overcome extreme lows. While science has yet to find a cure for mental disorders, it is entirely possible to live a happy and fulfilling life in spite of it.
Depression is a serious medical condition that can be treated with counseling, medication, or a combination of the two. People struggling with depression can also make lifestyle changes to help alleviate symptoms. It helps to look at choices and habits that can contribute to depressive symptoms to understand how to make healthy choices during the treatment process.
Acupuncture is a supportive modality and should be used as and when needed. It helps to release toxicity restoring the body’s natural ability to heal.
Any treatment should coincide with exercise, a healthy diet, and a regular sleep schedule.