Depression is one of today’s most common, and most commonly misdiagnosed, illnesses. It may have a devastating effect, causing the sufferer to feel alienated from family, friends and society.
Kay Jamison, in An Unquiet Mind states, “Some imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression instead, is flat, hollow and unendurable.”
The stigma attached to depression may discourage some people from seeking help, feeling that admitting to a mental illness is somehow shameful or labels them as ‘weak’, or ‘a failure’. But it is a medical condition and is treatable.
Causes of depression
Research shows that some people are born with a genetic disposition to develop depression. This is termed clinical or endogenous depression, caused by an inherited chemical imbalance in the brain.
Periods of depression can also occur as a result of a stressful event such as death or redundancy. This is called reactive depression.
Medicines and alternatives
If reactive depression is being experienced due to death, marriage breakup, etc., then relief may be obtained by a temporary course of anti-depressants or through natural modalities such as counselling, herbal medicine, Bach or Bushflower essences, or a combination of both. However, if the condition persists, then it is wise to seek medical attention in case the depression is associated with a biochemical imbalance in the brain.
Just as people with diabetes may need to take insulin, so people with endogenous/ clinical depression may need to take medication to restore the chemical imbalance in the brain.
It often takes weeks to find an anti depressant to suit an individual and usually takes 4-5 weeks for anti-depressants to take effect.
Some people have found relief with the herb St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). In a scientific evaluation of St. John’s Wort in 2000 as an anti-depressant, it was found to be effective for mild depression and reactive, but did not produce the same results for clinical/endogenous depression.
Some GPs do not understand the difference between reactive and endogenous depression. They may jump to a conclusion that the depression is reactive because the patient has recently suffered redundancy, loss of a partner or similar trauma and tell their patient that their depression will heal in time. If the GP doesn’t monitor his patient’s recovery, and the depression worsens without treatment, the patient may become more and more self-blaming, believing that he or she must be weak and inadequate because other people in similar circumstances manage to ‘get over it’. Some GPs don’t even know about ‘reactive depression’, as in the following case of a young father.
I suffered depression with the birth of my second daughter and the increased sense of obligation of my role as provider for my family, in a new job that I found to be far less than I expected. My GP dismissed my state of mind as ‘event and circumstance’ related and therefore justified. I didn’t know about reactive depression and obviously neither did he. I continued trying to ‘get on top of the problem’ with no success. This made me feel even more weak and useless. Later, my depression got worse and I stopped work altogether. Finally, I was ‘taken seriously’ by my doctor and was put on to anti-depressants. I feel that 2 years of suffering and the loss of my job could have been avoided if my doctor had been better educated on reactive depression.
Thoughts of suicide
It is not uncommon for people to have suicidal thoughts when seriously depressed. Be open with your doctor about suicidal thoughts. They are a clear sign that your treatment is not working. There is an old wives tale that people who don’t talk about suicide are serious and that people who do, are not. The truth is that talking about committing suicide is often a cry for help. Shunning a cry for help and accusing the person of attention-seeking, only reinforces the person’s already established belief that he is unworthy, undeserving and of no use to society. Those who suffer psychotic depression may be bombarded with inner voices insisting that the world would be a better place if he or she were dead…that he is useless and worthless and the only possible solution for everybody concerned would be to kill himself.
Our government’s mental health system is still failing Australians. The following case just one of many. ‘Susan’ had a history of suicide attempts. Her family had given up on her years before, as her depression was complicated by drug and alcohol abuse. One day, overwhelmed by the voices in her head telling her to kill herself, she went to the emergency department of an inner city hospital. After a half -hour interview, she was accused of ‘catastrophising’ and sent home with a prescription for valium. ‘Home’ was by now, the streets of King’s Cross. The lack of validation exhibited by the hospital staff only reinforced her beliefs of self-worthlessness. It was obvious they had not taken her seriously. Unwittingly, they provided her with her means of self-extermination. She downed the valium tablets with a bottle of sherry. Her body was found in a lane less than 12 hours after her visit to emergency. She was 19 years old.
5% of Australians suffer depression, which is over 500,000 people a year.
Dealing With Depression. Gordon Parker.
Secrets of St. John’s Wort. Larry Katzenstein.
Recovered Not Cured. Richard Mc lean.
Suicide Earl. A. Grollman.
Wings of Madness. Jo Buchanan.
FREE 24 hour Services:
Lifeline 13 1114
ARAFMI (Association for the Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill) 1800 811 747
Suicide hotline 13 11 14
Mental health information services 1800 655 198
Common symptoms of depression
A sufferer may…
• Feel extremely sad, anxious, agitated or tearful.
• Have difficulty in accomplishing simple tasks such as showering, getting out of bed, conversing with others.
• Have no motivation and become withdrawn.
• Move and walk slowly.
• Sleep badly, or sleep excessively and still be tired.
• Experience early morning wakening.
• Either lose or gain weight and lose interest in eating.
• Lose sexual interest.
• Think seriously about suicide. In some cases, depression can be accompanied by psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices, delusions and hallucinations.
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