Published On: Tue, Jul 18th, 2017

Matters of the Mind: Depression, the “common cold” of mental illnesses

13508943_10208050211426500_7616458610154801160_nDepression, the “common cold” of mental illnesses is so common that according to the World Health Organization (WHO) over 300 million people worldwide are affected by it. It is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act, and it’s not just feeling sad for a short period of time. Other than sadness, depression can also make persons feel numb, irritated and/or angry for weeks, months or even years. And as it worsens, depression can lead to suicide. According to WHO, close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.

Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. The symptoms of depression include feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, loss of interest in daily activities, self-loathing, appetite or weight changes, sleep changes (sleeping more, less or not at all), anger or irritability, loss of energy, reckless behavior, concentration problems, and unexplained aches and pains.

Depression can be treated – but not by simply cheering the person up or by telling the person to get over it – that can lead the person to feel misunderstood because depression isn’t something you can brush off and pretend it never existed. People struggling with depression need to receive professional help, and the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), an organization created to provide guidance and therapy to individuals and groups, is there to provide the help needed.

Today spoke to a woman by the name of Stacey Giddis, who has being fighting with depression ever since she was a child. She says “I was diagnosed with Depression when I was 12, but I can remember periods of depression at a much younger age. I don’t presume to be the voice of all who have depression, because it’s different for everyone, but I can tell you what it’s like for me. And even with me, the symptoms can vary quite a bit.

My sleep gets all messed up. I either can’t sleep, or I sleep way too much. It also affects my appetite, and I either have no appetite or often forget to eat all day, or I overeat, which in turn affects my weight. I have mood swings, so I either cry constantly, or I feel numb – what the experts call “lack of affect” – basically, I feel too much, or nothing at all. There are other things like loss of interest in things I once enjoyed, loss of joy in things that once made me happy, feelings of guilt and worthlessness and loneliness, and avoiding social situations. There are physical symptoms, too: headaches, nausea, body aches, stomach problems, and being more prone to colds or illnesses.

I wish people knew that depression is not a matter of will power, and it’s not something you can just shake off. In my case, it’s very much biological, meaning it can flare up seemingly for no reason. It doesn’t mean there’s anything going on in my life to cause me to be depressed. It can come suddenly, without warning, even when life is going well. And yes, sometimes there are triggers that will prompt an episode, but that’s not always the case. I also want people to understand that depression doesn’t always mean crying. Sometimes I look fine. And sometimes I just feel numb and can’t cry at all. Depression can look like many different things. It can also be very hard to treat. Some people can try one medication, and then they’re fine. But I have a depression that’s doesn’t respond easily to treatment. I’ve been on dozens of medications and dozens of combinations of medications and different doses. It can be a really long, tiresome, and frustrating process. The doctor will put me on a new med, and it can take 2-4 weeks to see results, if any, and if it’s not helping, the doctor has to decide where to increase the dose, add another med on top of the first one, or try something different altogether. Then it’s another 2-4 weeks to see if the change will even work. And when I do find something that works, it usually only works for a while before the effects wear off, then it’s back to the drawing board. At times, I get frustrated and refuse to take any medication at all, and then I spiral down into a black hole, then it becomes harder to get better.

by Julie Alcin