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What is depression?

Today it is common for us to hear people discussing depression and how most people within our communities have become depressed. Whether it is due to the stresses of trying to earn a decent living within a dire economic climate, or because of a family problem that hasn’t been resolved, people have become depressed for a wide range of reasons.

Depression has become a wide and loosely used term. People use it to describe feelings such as sadness, anger, tiredness, lethargy, feeling blue or down, feeling dissatisfied or unhappy.

People can also become depressed for a range of reasons: from feeling incompetent because they cannot find a source of income to support their family, to feeling overwhelmed by their helplessness at the thought of all the global problems we face like global warming and the extinction of our precious wild animals. There are times when people are aware of why they have these feelings and times when they are not aware.

Psychologists and psychiatrists have been educated and trained to understand depression and classify two types of depression that will be explained here as: normal depression and abnormal depression.

Normal depression is experienced by most people at some point in their lives and usually does not last for more than a hours or a few days. For example, someone may become depressed and feel sad when they have been rejected by someone they respect and admire, like a boss or teacher; or they may feel like a failure after doing poorly on an exam. However they are able to feel better with a pick-me-up from a friend or support from a loved one. There general level of well-being is usually restored with ease.

Abnormal depression or clinical depression may be triggered by major life events like losing a loved one, becoming divorced or losing a job. However the feelings of sadness and hopelessness usually last longer than 2 weeks and may be accompanied by changes in mood, motivation, thinking and physical symptoms. People may also have the following symptoms:

  • Loss of motivation, lack of interest and pleasure in previously enjoyable activities
  • Poor sleep or too much sleep
  • Unusual changes in appetite
  • Lack of energy and feeling exhausted for most of the day, and feeling zoned out
  • A person may have thoughts of suicide and death and may even attempt suicide

The above symptoms do not go away regardless of efforts by the individual themself and/or their support system. People with clinical depression usually feel like nothing will help them out of their current state of mind and feel very helpless and despondent.

It is important to note that if the above symptoms persevere for more than 2 weeks, then it is extremely important that professional help from a clinical psychologist. This is because contrary to popular belief, depression cannot “just go away”. It is a serious mental illness that can and does affect everyone, and professional help is needed in order to manage and treat it effectively.