I decided to write this post after hearing the tragic news of Robin Williams’ death today. It is alleged that he committed suicide after battling depression for a lengthy period. Depression is a debilitating experience and it is not possible to just “snap out” of it. I speak from experience as I have been battling depression my whole life and know the pit of despair that you can find yourself in. It feels like being in a black tunnel with no hope and no obvious escape route. Depression is not the same as feeling sad or unhappy. These are temporary mood states. Depression interferes with daily life and undermines a person’s ability to get the best out of life.
My Experience of Depression
It isn’t possible to just think your way out of depression. I get so annoyed with people who look at a depressed person and judge them according to how successful their lives are saying that they should be happy with their lot. Nothing in the material world is important when you feel depressed. You are not thinking clearly. You could’ve just won the lottery and it won’t make a difference. All that exists is a pervasive feeling of hopelessness. It is virtually impossible when clinically depressed to think your way out of it. Thinking obviously affects our quality of life but this process does not apply to a clinically depressed person. More often than not, a depressed person needs medication and/or help from a mental health expert. I have withdrawn from family and friends. I’ve also felt that I was just existing, not really enjoying anything nor looking forward to anything. It is as if my brain disconnects and stops working properly – a chemical imbalance. Like having something wrong with the fuel in your car. No matter how beautiful the chassis, the car won’t work as it’s supposed to if the engine isn’t correctly fuelled.
What is depression?
How common is clinical depression? – Nobody is sure exactly how many people are affected by depression. Health authorities from country to country and even within the same nation publish different figures:
- The National Institute of Mental Health2 estimates that 6.7% of American adults have had depressive illness during the last 12 months, and 30.4% of these cases (2% of the whole adult population) have severe symptoms.
- While the National Institute of Mental Health2 says women are 70% more likely to develop depressive symptoms during their lifetime, an article published in JAMA Psychiatry (August 2013 issue) showed thatdepression affects 30.6% of men and 33.3% of women, not a statistically significant difference.
- The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE)3 estimates that in the United Kingdom 21 in every 1,000 16-to-65 year olds live with major depression (17/1000 males and 25/1000 females). If “mixed depression and anxiety“, a less specific and broader category is included, the prevalence rises to 98 per 1,000.
- In Australia only 1 in every five people with clinical depression is accurately diagnosed, according to theState Government of Victoria4, “because depression can mask itself as a physical illness like chronic pain, sleeplessness or fatigue.”
Common Symptoms of Depression
Below is a list of the most common symptoms:
- A constant feeling of sadness, anxiety, and emptiness
- A general feeling of pessimism sets in (the glass is always half empty)
- The person feels hopeless
- Individuals can feel restless
- The sufferer may experience irritability
- Patients may lose interest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed
- He/she may lose interest in sex
- Levels of energy feel lower, fatigue sets in
- Many people with a depressive illness find it hard to concentrate, remember details, and make decisions
- Sleep patterns are disturbed – the person may sleep too little or too much
- Eating habits may change – he/she may either eat too much or have no appetite
- Suicidal thoughts may occur – some may act on those thoughts
- The sufferer may complain more of aches and pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems. These problems do not get better with treatment.
Causes of Depression
Nobody is sure what causes depression. Experts say depression is caused by a combination of factors, such as the person’s genes, their biochemical environment, personal experience and psychological factors.
A study published in Archives of Psychiatry12 found that MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans showed patients with clinical depression had less brain volume in several regions, including the frontal lobe, basal ganglia and hippocampus. They also found that after treatment the hippocampus returned to normal size.
The Stanford School of Medicine11 says that genes do play a role in causing depression. By studying cases of major depression among identical twins (whose genes are 100% identical) and non-identical twins (whose genes are 50% identical) they found that heritability is a major contributory factor in the risk of developing depression.
An article in Harvard Health Publicaitons10 explains that depression is not caused simply by the level of one chemical being too low and another too high. Rather, several different chemicals are involved, working both within and outside nerve cells. There are “Millions, even billions, of chemical reactions that make up the dynamic system that is responsible for your mood, perceptions, and how you experience life.”
What to do
Accept that you are in a vulnerable place mentally and give yourself time to find your strength again.
Get help – see your Doctor to discuss the possibility of anti-depressants. I have taken anti-depressants and they have changed my life and helped me to function normally.
Speak to someone. Don’t suffer in silence.
There is hope of finding a way out of depression. Many people go undiagnosed and don’t understand that they may have a case of mild depression. Depression is increasing worldwide and is so underreported and under prioritised. It can be different for you. Depression can be paralysing on so many levels and we all hide away, thereby not revealing how widespread this mood disorder is.
There’s always help and there’s always hope.
Photo by Castles, Capes & Clones