Depression #1 : So much more than feeling down in the dumps

We all feel low from time to time, and this is completely normal and natural – an appropriate response to life’s ups and downs. But what if your mood is so low that you are unable to enjoy yourself or take pleasure in anything; so low that you are unable to work or carry out your usual activities; so low that, in the worst case scenario, you contemplate suicide? These feelings are not “normal and natural”, and people suffering from feelings like this need to get help – fast. Depression is very common, and can be treated in a variety of different ways, with or without medications, to restore health so that people feel better, can get on with their lives and – hopefully – stay feeling well. Nobody deserves to feel so low that they feel ill!

The sickness that dare not speak its name…
So, what’s the problem? Well, people often don’t get the best possible treatment for their depression. Why? One of the most important reasons is that some people don’t like to admit to the way they’re feeling, and don’t tell anyone about it – they may feel as though it is a sign of weakness to feel sad and helpless, or they may feel as though they have no “right” to feel low because they have “nothing to be sad about”. This misguided but understandable reluctance to open up about depressive symptoms can lead to people suffering from depression alone and without any help – and this can be at huge cost to their well-being, the well-being of their families, friends and loved ones and the well-being of society as a whole, not to mention the devastating cost of suicide.

…and that all too often goes un-diagnosed
Another reason people don’t always get the best possible help with their depression is that, despite their very best intentions, GPs and other health care professionals are not as good at spotting and managing low mood as we might wish them to be. This is a real shame, as the thorough assessment of a patient with depression, including not only their symptoms and risk of harm to themselves or others but also their relationships and social situation, is the first step on the road to recovery. Also, patients with depression often also suffer symptoms other than low mood, such as pain or tiredness (the so-called “somatic symptoms” of depression) which can make diagnosis more difficult.

There are many treatment options, including non drug based treatments
Many people believe that the treatment for depression is always anti-depressant medication; and they are often worried that, if they talk to their doctor about their symptoms of depression, they will be given tablets which they think might be dangerous or addictive. In fact, while there are many very safe, non-addictive and well-tolerated drug treatments out there for depression, there are also many non-drug treatments (psychological therapies) which are also effective – a skilled doctor will be able to work with a patient to decide exactly which treatment package is the most likely to help.

Remember – Depression is a Real Illness!
Depression is associated with physical and chemical changes in the brain, which, thanks to improvements in medical technology, can be precisely measured and even seen close-up! It is a real illness, not simply a “bad mood”, and certainly nothing that a person should think they can “snap out of”. True depression is a debilitating and highly distressing condition which affects 350 million people world-wide; however, there still exists a cruel stigmatisation of the disease, and a widespread perception that it is a “sign of weakness” or something that can be willed or wished away. In fact, sufferers of depression have had absolutely no say in the development of their illness; and, if they had, who would honestly choose to feel so intensely sad and hopeless? Until medical science has a completely clear view of the exact mechanisms underlying depression, we will continue to strive for better understanding which will drive even better treatments. Take comfort in the fact that there is help available, and that asking for help is the first step on the road to feeling better. If you or anyone you care about is affected by depression, please see your GP.

This is the first in a series of 4 blogs on the subject of depression. In the next 3 posts we will go in to more detail about the causes of depression, what is actually going on, at a physical level, in the brain of a depressed person, and discussing the various treatment options available. Read on! And please 'like' and 'share' with the people you care about. Thank you!