Inspiring Better Health

Understanding Depression

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Understanding Depression
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It is normal to feel low or a little depressed at times. However, when this sad feeling lasts for weeks or months, and it is accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness, it becomes something to worry about, with clinical depression being a likely cause. Depression can be categorized as severe, moderate or mild, depending on the symptoms and their intensity. Understanding depression is the first step to getting treatment and recovering.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a mental disorder that affects over 350 million people globally, with women being the most affected. If left untreated, depression can result in suicide[1].

In Qatar, around 18 percent of the population suffers from one type of depression or another, according to a senior psychiatrist at Hamad Medical Corporation, Dr Suhaila Ghuloum[2].

The Symptoms of Depression

There is a wide range of symptoms experienced by people with depression that can overlap with other health conditions. Many therapists will use a set of criteria to diagnose depression. Being familiar with these criteria can help you spot signs of depression in yourself, a friend, family member or colleague.

Regularly experiencing 5 or more of these symptoms indicates a significant likelihood of depression:

  • Depressed mood or being irritable most of the day (feeling sad, tearful or ‘empty’).
  • Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities.
  • Significant weight change (5%) or change in appetite.
  • Change in sleep: Insomnia (unable to sleep) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
  • Unusual repetitive physical activity such as pacing the room, twisting fingers etc.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy, mentally or physically.
  • Feelings of worthlessness.
  • Excessive or inappropriate guilt.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate.
  • Excessive indecisiveness.
  • Thinking about dying or suicide (a mental health specialist should be consulted when suicidal thoughts are being experienced).

The Causes of Depression

The exact cause of depression is yet to be settled on, but a combination of social, biological and psychological factors have been shown to trigger the disorder. For example, cardiovascular disease has been known to cause depression and vice versa. This shows that there is a relationship between physical health and mental health[3].

Diagnosis and Treatment

Depression is treatable and the type of therapy will depend on the severity of the disorder. Generally, treatment consists of psychological support, medication and psychotherapy. Where depression is mild, psychosocial treatments, such as talking therapy or support groups, are the recommended line of therapy. Where the depression is moderate or severe, such treatments are usually combined with antidepressant medication.

Antidepressants can be effective to treat moderate to severe depression, but concerns have been raised about their safety for children and adolescents[4]. Like all medications, antidepressants can cause side effects, including increased feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts or attempts. This prompted the FDA to issue a warning on all antidepressant medications stating the risk of suicide and increased depression, particularly in young people[5].

Severity of Depressive Episodes



Self-Help Strategies for Depression

When depression is left undiagnosed and untreated, it will typically get worse. Physical, mental and emotional symptoms can all severely disrupt your life, job and relationships. Acknowledging there is a problem and seeking help are the first steps on the road to recovery. Although taking this first step may seem daunting, there are many things you can do to start lifting yourself out of depression.

Cultivate supportive relationships — Spend time with people who care about you and share your thoughts. This can help relieve some of the stress and loneliness that accompany depression. It doesn’t have to be something you deal with alone.

Exercise — A simple task like getting out of bed can seem a challenge when you’re depressed. But just a small amount of exercise has been shown to improve the symptoms of depression by encouraging the release of endorphins in the brain[6]. Gentle physical activity such as walking, yoga or tai chi can be very relaxing and energizing.

Challenge negative thoughts — Depression is often characterized by cycles of negative thoughts, including self-criticism. You can learn to challenge these destructive thought patterns by cultivating a more balanced and positive approach to feelings, people and situations. This technique takes time, but with practice can be a very effective tool to fight depression.

Be grateful — Look for people, places and events in your life to be happy about and grateful for. Gratitude is a powerful emotion; you’ll find that when you take the time to concentrate on the positives you’ll notice them more easily, and this can help you view life in a new light.

Eat Healthily — Eating a diet high in processed foods can exacerbate the symptoms of depression[7]. It’s therefore important to focus on nutrient rich, healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and oily fish. A higher intake of vitamins and minerals can improve both your mental and physical health[8].

Other helpful activities:

  • Socialize and meet new people.
  • Engage in a hobby or fun activity.
  • Practice relaxation techniques.
  • Seek professional help.

If you feel unable to seek professional help or visit a doctor, there are many others who can help. Consider talking to friends, family or a faith leader. Simply speaking to other people about how you are feeling can help you recover faster. In many cases, receiving a listening, non-judgmental ear and a dependable shoulder to cry on will make you feel loved, valued and appreciated.

Most importantly, if you are experiencing depression, rest assured, you are not alone. Depression may be a sign that something in your life needs to change; while medication can be of use in the short term, longer term changes in your thinking and behaviour patterns will help you to return to a happier state of mind. Seek help from friends, family members and professionals to get you on the road to recovery.