Contemporary society is one where we are constantly bombarded by endless advertisements- conventional and digital alike- persuading us to purchase things we don’t really need; convincing us that we are not enough. We are often shown images of what society deems to be attractive or admirable causing those who don’t fit that image to feel inadequate. It’s no wonder that depression is prevalent now more than ever.
But what is depression? Depression is a mental disorder. The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 300 million people are suffering with depression globally- that’s slightly less than the entire population of the United States of America.
Depression is commonly and correctly observed as a prolonged feeling of sadness and/ or feelings of hopelessness. It is often accompanied by several changes: changes in appetite such as a loss of appetite or an insatiable hunger which could cause one to lose or gain weight respectively; changes in sleeping patterns ranging from insomnia or intermittent sleep to excessive, copious, amounts of sleep; and changes in general behavior such as mood swings, agitation and loss of interest. Thus depression varies in its symptoms and to different extents.
Research suggests that people between the ages of 18 and 29 are significantly more susceptible to depression, particularly women. This is not surprising given present societal factors and the way in which advertising is geared more towards the aforementioned target markets. Depression is also separated into different categories and each category is treated differently. For instance, Major Depressive Disorder is a severe form of depression that affects approximately 7 percent of adults in the United States and is often treated pharmacologically whereas mild depression may not require such a treatment.
While people often recognize depression in themselves or in their loved ones, there is the misconception that, because feelings of sadness tend to come and go, depression is not a major issue that requires active treatment and that it will be self-alleviated with time. This is incorrect. The World Health Organization (WHO) note that 800 000 people commit suicide every year and that untreated depression is a major cause in that statistic.
The observable characteristics of depression may disappear but the internal symptoms persist. Depression, like cancer, affects the body from within. The longer it is left untreated the more likely it is to manifest into a more serious condition. It is a widely accepted notion among medical professionals that depression is accompanied by a chemical imbalance whereby serotonin levels (a chemical in the brain) becomes worryingly low. Low serotonin levels inhibit new brain cell production which, in turn, affects mood, appetite and sleep among other aspects.
This may seem like an intense scientific theory but the important take away is that depression often cannot be overcome without some form of intervention. Fortunately, both psychological and pharmacological treatments are available. Research suggests that speaking to a psychologist stimulates changes in the brain that, over time, mitigate the effects of depression.
Similarly, psychiatrists will often prescribe Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) which increase serotonin levels in the brain.
What can you do if you or a loved one is suffering with depression? The first thing to do is acknowledge depression for what it is- it is a mental disorder that shouldn’t be taken likely. The next thing is to acknowledge that although depression is daunting, you are not alone and depression can be treated. If professional medical help is an option to you then one should always seek out a professional’s opinion. Financial constraints can sometime be an issue depending on your location. If this is a concern for you, do not despair; a number of other options are available to you.
WHO and other agencies have produced intervention manuals for depression that detail a variety of techniques to treat depression- such as exercise which boosts serotonin levels and invariably one’s mood. One can also seek out social support groups in one’s area. Finally, if one has access to the internet then there are a number of forums and chat websites (like healthfulchat.org) where individuals suffering with depression can support one another; there are also a number of medical experts who spend time on such forums and provide their medical assistance free of charge for those who need it.