Mental wellness matters – how to handle depression is key to the wellbeing of the individual.
Expert advice by Dr. Lihini Wijeyaratne MBChB, BSc .
A young man who couldn’t cope with work related stress took his own life recently. There were also several young men and women who in the recent past, committed suicide due to depression and related conditions.
Did you know that…
Mental illness is commoner than heart attacks and cancer, worldwide.
As many as 1 in 10 people in Sri Lanka suffer from depression?
More people in Sri Lanka have died due to committing suicide than from dengue fever, road traffic accidents, or the civil war?
The first thing to say about mental illness is that it is common. It is everywhere. Let’s not hide from it.
What does depression feel like?
That brings us to the next important point- depression is not obvious.
Classically, someone who suffers with depression finds it difficult to wake up in the morning, get out of bed, or make plans and feel excited for the day ahead. They find no pleasure in the way that they used to- even watching a favourite TV show does not give them joy. They feel ‘low’ or ‘down’, and simply have no energy to keep going. Sometimes it is difficult to eat, sleep, concentrate or think straight. Feelings such as worthlessness, hopelessness and guilt take over, and some people are driven to misuse alcohol and drugs, harm themselves or even take their own lives, in an attempt to try and get away from it all. Depression isn’t about feeling sad alone. We can recover from feeling sadness, disappointment and grief, but depression is not so easy to get rid of.
However, as human beings we are experts at covering things up. There are plenty of us who seem fine, happy, or appear to be going on as normal, yet inside, our lives are miserable. It is absolutely essential that we understand this. Just because Robin Williams was still smiling on TV, it didn’t mean that he couldn’t be depressed. So be conscious of the fact that your friends, relatives and work colleagues may be in need of someone to be on the look out for them. Mental wellness and handling depression is critical to our wellbeing.
Why does it happen?
Depression is an illness.Normally, the cells in our brain release different chemicals that cause us to experience emotions such as happiness, fear, sadness, stress, confidence etc. However with depression, these chemicals are released in different amounts, causing an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Depression is an illness, just like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Sometimes there are obvious reasons for people to feel depressed. They may have lost their job, lost their marriage, lost a loved one, be short of money, failed exams…the list goes on and on. However it is entirely possible and common for none of these things to have happened, for everything in your life- your family life, work life, social life- to be going well, and to still feel depressed. This is something that people find difficult to understand. They feel there must an obvious reason to feel so different from normal. This is simply not the case.If you suddenly developed a kidney stone, diabetes or had a heart attack, you wouldn’t be trying to think “But why? What have I done to make this happen to me?” Yes, there are things that increase our risk of developing these conditions.
It is important to remember this – don’t feel guilty if you cant find a reason, and do not blame yourself for feeling this way. It is not your fault, it does not make you silly, and it does not make you ‘mental’ or ‘crazy’. It simply means that you are not well.
What can be done about it?
A lot! Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to manage mental wellness and handling depression.
- Recognise the problem. If you have been feeling this way, and if this has been affecting your life (no matter in how small a way) then it is a problem.
- Ask for help.This is not easy. You will fear how people will react and what they will say. This takes a lot of strength, but it is the most important step that you can take to help yourself. You can tell anyone – a family member, a friend or a doctor. Even if you feel there is no one in your life that you can share this with, there is always your doctor.
- Seek medical advice. Doctors will recommend different approaches depending on your situation.
Women’s health is important. There is plenty of scientific evidence that counseling and seeing a psychologist can help immensely. Psychologists carry out talking therapies, which are extremely effective. They will help you to recognise how your thoughts, mood and behaviour all affect each other. You will feel more in control of yourself and gain better insight into why you are feeling the way you are.
The other option is medication. There are some important things to understand about medication:
- It is not a ‘failure’ to take medication (anti-depressants) for depression.
- Anti-depressants are not addictive.
- They will work much better if you take them and see a psychologist at the same time.
- Having a good support network will help you immensely. Having family and friends who know what you are going through will make the process much easier.
- If necessary, take time off work until you feel you are able to manage.
If you have are misusing alcohol and drugs, have thoughts about harming yourself or taking your own life, please seek help immediately. There will be someone who can help you.
Mental wellness matters – how to handle depression –
A common myth about depression, treatment-wise, is that if you would just ‘get your act together’ and ‘pull your socks up’, that it will all go away. However depression is not just sadness that will go away like that. It needs proper attention and help.
All in all, depression is an important condition to recognise. It affects many of us, it is treatable, and in some instances, recognising it can prevent tragedies from occurring. It is important that the stigma associated with mental illness and medications is erased- people who suffer from mental illness are first and foremost people, and there is often a lot we can learn from their experiences. Remember, depression can happen to anyone, you are not immune and it could easily be you. There is also nothing to be scared of, except perhaps seeing the emptiness of our assumptions. The horror stories we hear of someone being stabbed to death by a ‘mental patient’ are very rare, and these things usually happen when the person is frightened, very unwell and has not been given enough help in enough time. It is essential that we make this society one that everyone can live in, and feel accepted in. It is the best way to help someone recover.
Mental wellness and handling depression are important areas for everyone.