Everyone has down moments when we feel blue, sad or empty but if these feelings have taken hold of your life you may be suffering from depression. It is natural to feel down when you lose your job, a loved one or a long-awaited contract you thought would change your finances. Yes it is natural to feel down when your man dumps you or your wife deserts you or you lost a political ambition or you are unable to pay your children ‘s school fees.
There are myriads of reasons why people feel down but it is necessary not to allow sadness and despair to take root and become dangerous to our existence.
Depression is a serious medical illness and it affects all age groups and gender. It is characterized by negative thoughts, moods, behavior, specific changes in eating and sleeping. Depression can lead to suicide if left untreated.
Stories abound in the media about people who commit suicide and those around them claim they had no inkling that such people are suicidal. A popular figure was reported to have committed suicide on the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos some time ago. He drove himself to the bridge, packed his car and jumped into the water. While I was in the University, a fellow student committed suicide by tying a rope to the ceiling fan in his room. We were members of the same fellowship on campus and he was in his final year. There are lots of people moving around in the society harbouring suicide thoughts fueled by depression.
There are different types of depression. Major depression is characterized by a combination of symptoms which interferes with the ability to work, sleep and enjoy once pleasurable activities. Dysthymia is a recurrent minor depression. It is less severe but usually longer lasting. Bipolar disorder or manic depression is very severe and said to be hereditary. It is characterized by dramatic/rapid mood switches. Symptoms include hyperactivity, little or no sleep, impulse behaviour, inappropriate elation, anger and irritability.
The symptoms presented by depression depend on gender or age group.
Men suffering from depression are likely to experience fatigue, low energy, irritability, anger to the point of inflicting pain on others, sleep problems, loss of interest in work, engaging in risky behaviour, alcohol /substance abuse and suicide.
Depression occurs much more in women compared to men and is more often due to heartbreak. However, women recover faster and are less likely to commit suicide. Depression in women may also be due to menopause or child birth. The symptoms in women include eating or sleeping too much, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, anxiety, heavy feeling in arms and legs, dependent personality, trouble getting to sleep, weight loss and suicide attempts.
Depression in teens and young adults may not be easy to recognize. Some may appear sad while others may appear unbelievably cheerful. However, irritability is a predominant symptom. Others include hostility, grumpiness, problems in school, change in weight, less concern for safety, risky or suicidal behaviour, anger, substance abuse, unexplainable pain or aches.
Depression in children is mostly ignored because it is less easy to recognize. But it is becoming quite rampant because child abuse is on the increase in the society. Depressed children usually become withdrawn, resume old habits like bedwetting, regress in their performance in school, may gain or lose weight, have low self-esteem, are irritable, bored, anxious, have frequent complaints of physical problems such as headaches and stomachaches.
Parents need to take time out for signs of depression in young children which at times may be due to sexual abuse or bullying. Parents with kids in boarding schools do really need to take note.
PREVENTION AND TREATMENT
Isolation fuels depression. Find someone you can always unburden your heart to when faced with life’s challenges. No man should be an island unto himself. Surround yourself with your loved ones instead of withdrawing into a shell when life’s struggles knock you down. Discussing your problem with trusted loved ones is quite therapeutic. This probably is the reason suicide rate is lower among women because they tend to ‘gist’ about their problems with their friends.
Secondly, make lifestyle changes. If you notice your job has a depressive effect on you prayerfully seek another. Keep negative people at bay or cut them off completely. Some people hardly have any positive word to say. No words of encouragement proceed from their mouth to others. Be far from such people. Also, get out of any abusive (verbal or physical) relationship you might have found yourself, exercise more and eat healthy foods.
It is also important for you to build emotional skills. Learn how to recognize and express your emotions but if you are unable to do this on your own, seek help from mental health professionals.
It is my opinion that the main antidote for prevention and treatment of depression is FAITH. Depression is a disease of the mind so you can prevent or treat it through empowering your mind positively. Only faith in God and His words can give you such power. You will certainly face challenges in life that make you feel sad, despair, worthless or hopeless but faith in God will prevent the negative feelings from taking root.
Parents of young children, teenagers and young adults should endeavour to be more observant of their wards to determine their emotional state. The so called ‘acting up’ may be signs that your child is experiencing depression and is crying out to you for help. Do whatever you can to ensure he/she open up to you and seek professional help if you can’t handle it on your own.