Most of you reading this probably have some idea about what depression is. But our experience of talking to people has shown us, we’re not always sure of what Depression definitely looks like and how to identify it. So we’re going to make this easier for you.
Depression is not just one thing, it is many things happening all at once in different combinations for each one of us. And so when psychologists form a diagnosis they look at it 3 different aspects of our life- our genes, our psyche and our social life. Looking at our genes basically means getting to know we have a genetic vulnerability to develop depression and a history of depression in our family or close relatives.
The next is to focus on our psyche, it concerns itself with the kind of personality we have, how we perceive the world, how we deal with our failures or success, our attitude towards others, are we introverted or extroverted, how adaptive we are, our emotional intelligence etc. and these can vary in different situations.
This is also where the social aspect of depression comes in, are you someone who has faced multiple traumas in your life? Have you grown up in a tense family environment? Do you on a daily basis work or live in a stressful environment? Does your environment allow you freedom of expression or choice? How is the quality of your relationships? Have you recently moved to a new city? Are you losing your friends or partner? Do you feel connected to those around you? Do you feel valued?
All these three aspects of our life can alone or together lead to a mental illness like depression. Now let's meet 3 clients our psychologists came across, all diagnosed with depression but all had different stories. Their depression was very different from each other’s but just as valid.
Ritu (name changed), a 19yr old college student whose problems first began with academics. She was finding it difficult to study, having no motivation for most things and was barely able to concentrate or retain much information in her mind, be it from books or her interactions with people around her. There was no one in her family who had gone through this before. She slowly began losing interest in things she enjoyed, basic daily tasks became a burden and negative self-hating thoughts began taking up her mind. In therapy, she discovered how her family was not supportive of her studies and her father kept comparing her to her elder brother. As a result, she began losing confidence in her abilities and self-doubt was the only thing left.
Danish (name changed), a 45yr old, father of two, first noticed something was wrong when he began putting on a lot of weight and kept waking up in the middle of the night, anxious. He realised he was unable to keep up with work and even began losing all motivation. He noticed how he began thinking of skipping work more and more feeling like he could not contribute much and just wanted to stay in. Slowly, he began drinking alcohol to sleep better and slogged through work without any heart in it. He shared that he’d seen his father go through something similar after his retirement and was worried he was going to end up like him. As he started coming for therapy, he also shared that he often wonders what his purpose if not his job and shared he often had thoughts of ending his life.
Kanika (name changed), 28yr old marketer has moved to a new city to start her dream job. She shared how this job was a promotion from her previous one, she had been doing well for the past 7 months, she was fitting in and felt competent at work but no matter how much she achieved, ever so often she found herself overcome with extreme sadness, she found herself crying without reason, thinking she's not good enough and felt guilty for not being grateful for all she had achieved. In therapy, we learnt how behind her achievements, there were traumas in her past she hadn't dealt with and how even in her success, she worried if she did not keep doing her best, she would fail.
So what are the symptoms of Depression?
The truth is, depression could come from anywhere. One source is not more valid than the other. In fact, most experts now believe that more than anything, depression is a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances around us. It is a way our mind is telling us that something around us is not okay and needs to be attended to.
There is no right and wrong kind of Depression but there are some signs one must look out for. The moment you find yourself losing interest in things you once liked, the moment you find yourself out of motivation to do most things you once could, know it might be time to reach out for a consult. Another hallmark of clinical depression is sadness that is ever present and overtakes most aspects of your life. Where once, things excited you now no matter how much you try, they fail to uplift your mood.
Any drastic changes you experience in your mood which seem out of the ordinary, changes in eating or sleeping habits, sudden drops in energy are also reliable signs. And most importantly, these can hit you even if everything in your life is going as it should be. So don’t ignore these signs thinking what do I have to be sad about. If these signs last more than 2 weeks, mental health professionals are required to give a formal diagnosis.
Depression is not a personal flaw, it is a scientifically proven disease. It is episodic in nature i.e. it can reoccur even if someone has gotten treatment for it before. All research now shows how people who are facing Depression have biochemical changes in their brain, where we find levels of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine decrease. When it comes to treating depression, there is therapy and medication in form of antidepressants. Research has shown that people taking both medication and therapy have better outcomes than someone who is just taking medication. Every day, we see many people dealing with mild and moderate forms of depression with therapy, small changes in lifestyle, exercise and tons of support from their loved ones.
We understand the story of depression can sound very bleak but there is a silver lining. We’ve made enough progress understanding it, that it has become one of the most treatable mental health concerns today. So reach out to a mental health professional now and find out how to help yourself or a loved one who you see is struggling.