We all feel sad from time to time. But when this sadness never seems to fade away, it might be a symptom of depression. Knowing how to spot depression can help protect you and your loved ones. With early detection, you can beat the blues.
What is depression?
Depression is more than feeling down or being sad. Depression may affect your work, interest in activities and quality of life. It is not a sign of weakness and it does not just 'go away'. Depression can happen to anyone.
Depression is a medical condition that affects how you think and behave, and the way you feel and function. It is one of the most common mental health problems and is faced by over 121 million people worldwide. In Singapore, an estimated 5.6 per cent of the population are affected by depression during their lifetime.
How to recognise depression
Depression is different from normal sadness as it interferes with your day-to-day life making it hard for you to work, rest and have fun. People with depression experience five (5) or more of the following symptoms almost every day, for two weeks or longer:
- Persistent sadness or emptiness
- Loss of interest in all or almost all activities
- Decrease or increase in appetite; unintentional weight loss or gain
- Difficulty in sleeping or sleeping excessively
- Restlessness or feeling agitated
- Fatigue and lacking in energy
- Difficulty concentrating or having trouble thinking and making decisions
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
Risk factors for depression
Challenging life events can increase your risk of depression especially when you find it difficult to cope with them. Some of the life stressors that can increase the risk of depression may include:
- Relationship problems
- Financial difficulties
- Physical illnesses
- Lack of support
- Loss of a loved one
Reducing your risk for depression
The risk for depression can be reduced by adopting a healthy lifestyle and maintaining your mental well-being. Having a positive mental well-being will help you manage life challenges, solve problems and achieve your goals, thereby reducing the overall vulnerability to mental health problems.
Of the various mental disorders, depression is one of the most treatable. The World Health Organization estimates that treatment is effective for 60 – 80% of those affected1.
Depression can be managed using a range of different strategies including medication, counselling or psychological intervention and lifestyle changes. Treatment plans may differ, depending on the individual's symptoms and personal and medical history. As depression presents a range of symptoms that relate to our physical functioning, thinking, feelings and behavior, a combination of strategies are often employed to address these different aspects.
Medications used to treat depression are known as antidepressants. They help to regulate mood and can only be prescribed by a doctor. On average, antidepressants require three to four weeks of regular dosages before the full treatment benefit will be experienced. Even when used regularly, antidepressants are not addictive.
Counselling or psychological intervention can also help individuals cope with life stressors and reduce the symptoms of depression. These sessions focus on teaching positive styles of thinking, managing our emotions and how to deal with the symptoms of depression and day-to-day challenges. Counselling and psychological interventions may also equip people with the knowledge and skills to optimise their mental well-being, identify the early warning signs of depression and prevent further periods of depression.
When and where to seek help
There are many treatment and support options available for people who may be suffering from depression. It is recommended that you seek help once the symptoms begin to interfere with one or more aspects of your life (e.g. withdrawal from friends and social activities, decreased ability to concentrate and make decisions at work etc).
Depression is highly treatable and is most effectively managed through early detection and treatment. The earlier you seek treatment the more effective the treatment will be. Thus, it is preferable to approach your general practitioner once you experience symptoms that concern you, even if you are unsure. If you think that someone close to you may be showing signs of depression, you could speak to the person and encourage him or her to see a doctor.
With early detection and help, you can beat the blues.
This article was sourced from the Health Promotion Board (HPB). For more information on depression, visit HPB's website on mental health issues here.