Each year on 7 April, the World Health Organisation casts a light on an important global health concern in order to raise international awareness. This year, the focus of World Health Day is depression, a mental condition and mood disorder affecting over 300 million people worldwide.
What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that can be categorised as mild, moderate or severe, and can affect how individuals feel, think and behave. It is often caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain but may also be brought on by stressful life events, medical problems and faulty mood regulation.
Many describe the condition as the constant state of feeling sad. For sufferers, it is a daily battle against self-destructive thoughts and behaviours, often accompanied by low energy, listlessness and a negative self-esteem.
Although commonly diagnosed and treated, a negative stigma continues to linger around mental health challenges and depression. In many circumstances, sufferers remain undiagnosed and untreated due to a lack of resources, treatments and trained healthcare providers available to offer help.
The link to suicide
In severe cases, depression often leads to suicide, which is sadly one of the chief causes of death globally among young people between the ages of 15 and 29. Many young people are dealing with stressful life events that may trigger depression. Many factors may contribute to its development in adolescence, including issues with self-esteem, peer and academic problems.
Statistics suggest that at least one in four South African teens have attempted suicide. More than two-thirds of these individuals are believed to suffer from some form of mental health disorder such as depression.
It is important to realise that depression can be successfully treated. There is no shame in facing real-world problems and seeking help in order to regain your life. It is important to recognise the signs of depression before it is too late.
Know the signs
If you suspect that you, or a loved one, may be battling depression, it is important to identify the symptoms and seek medical attention. You may be dealing with overwhelming feelings of sorrow and hopelessness, often accompanied by mixed emotions including apprehension, outbursts of agitation or anger, and a loss of interest in normal activities that may have once been pleasurable, such as hobbies or sports.
Physical symptoms may also include changes in appetite, trouble concentrating or sleeping, and a general feeling of despondency. If you find that these symptoms are negatively impacting your everyday life and your ability to function and work, or if you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek medical help right away.
Recognise these signs in your children and family members. Lives can be saved by paying attention to the subtle behavioural changes in your loved ones and recognising the need for help.
Natural solutions for depression
Stay active and seek help to fight depression. Exercise and participating in outdoor activities will help to stimulate your brain and body to release endorphins – the ‘feel good’ hormone.
Choose healthy, unprocessed foods to gain the necessary vitamins needed to fight off depression. Proteins, leafy greens and wholegrain foods will help to restore your body’s levels of Vitamin B and folic acid – two vital components needed to improve your physical and mental health.
Lack of sleep, insomnia and daytime tiredness are all common signs of depression. Ensure that you get quality night time sleep – at least 8 hours per night. Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol to help promote better sleeping patterns.
Therapy and talking about your problems are powerful tools to help unburden those who face depression. You may want to contact your local doctor who will assess you and run blood tests to rule out any other medical conditions.
You may be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a diagnosis, treatment and possible therapy for depression. Modern medication is also available to successfully help treat sufferers. Depression does not need to be a life sentence; but you do need to take the first step and seek the help you need in order to fight this devious illness.