Each year the World Health Organization (WHO) brings awareness to a different topic in observance of World Health Day. This year on April 7, a light will be shown on the darkness of Depression.
Depression is defined by WHO as an illness characterized by persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities normally enjoyed, accompanied by the inability to carry out daily activities for at least two weeks. While we all have our ups and downs and our bad days, clinically diagnosed depression is hallmarked by consistent feelings for two weeks straight that is having a direct impact on all other areas of your life and wellbeing. Mental health is intertwined with physical health.
Common symptoms can include a decrease in energy levels, appetite and/or concentration; dramatic increase or decrease in sleep amounts; restlessness; extreme indecisiveness, feelings of worthlessness, guilt and/or hopelessness; and in most severe cases, thoughts of self-harm or even suicide.
Depression can happen to anyone, at any stage of life and is not a sign of weakness or deficiency. According to WHO, the number of people living with depression increased 18% between 2005 and 2015. It is the largest cause of disability worldwide, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. Sadly, over 800,000 people die worldwide by suicide each year – one every 40 seconds.
The good news is that depression is treatable. As with most things, the hardest step is the first one – to accept, assess and address the situation and be prepared to make adjustments, including to expectations.
If you are having prolonged symptoms of depression, early identification and treatment are key. Talk with a trusted confidant and find professional help. You are not alone. Just like with any service, you may not find the right fit at first, but keep looking to make the right match.
Although you may not feel like it, maintaining regular, healthy habits as much as possible is very beneficial in tackling depression:
- Make an effort to keep connected with friends, family and regular activities.
- Stay with a regular schedule for eating and sleeping – and make sure to get enough sleep.
- Exercise consistently – even with short walks that maybe, eventually, turn into longer ones.
- Avoid or restrict alcohol.
- Try to avoid, or at least limit, stress, which can negatively enhance symptoms.
If you have concerns about a friend or family member who you think may be depressed, showing you notice, care and want to help can be an enormous sense of support.
- Offer help without judgement. This can be difficult, as we all think we are being helpful with opinions, but what they need most is unconditional support.
- If they haven’t already done so, encourage them to seek professional help – and to find the right match for their needs and personality.
- Help them to set up regular healthy eating, sleeping and exercise schedules, as well as everyday tasks.
- And don’t forget to take care of yourself. Too often a caregiver’s health can suffer in the efforts of helping others.
Whether you are the one who is suffering or are the one supporting a friend, the most important thing to remember is to be patient. Depression doesn’t happen overnight and it won’t go away quickly. Recovery takes time, determination and the willingness to accept help from others.
Be honest with yourself and our medical professionals, who are trained to recognize signs of depression. They may ask questions that seem unrelated to your stated reason for the urgent care visit. Being open and forthright helps them to help you with the first steps towards the proper care, resources and healing you deserve.