You’ve been sad for a while now. At first you think it’s just a phase, you lose interest in everything, don’t want to eat, are forgetful and lack motivation. According to World Health Organization research, updated in April, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. “Depressive episodes could be mild, moderate or severe in intensity based on the nature, extent and duration of the symptoms,” says Sameer Malhotra, director, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi. “In severe episodes you can develop extreme behavioural changes from a high phase of mania to a low phase, become deluded or encounter hallucinations where you can’t stop listening to negative voices in your head.” Biological symptoms include weight loss, disturbed sex drive, a loss of appetite and interrupted sleep. To some extent, a healthy lifestyle can help prevent depressive symptoms, says Dr Malhotra. “Follow a regular sleep-wake schedule, do regular exercise, have a nutritious and balanced diet, engage in creative hobbies and stay away from drug and alcohol abuse,” he says.
You have to understand that clinical depression has nothing to do with merely feeling sad and it’s not possible to “snap” out of it. Healthy activities might help you not fall into the vortex but you need medical intervention to come out of it. “It is an illness caused primarily by biological factors, a neurotransmitter imbalance, and can affect anyone,” says Samir Parikh, director (department of mental health and behavioural sciences), Fortis Healthcare, Delhi. The first step is to consult a psychiatrist who would assess the condition and provide anti-depressant medication as required. “Along with medicines, counselling or psychotherapy is also essential for the patient to change their patterns of thinking and manner of coping with stressful conditions,” Dr Parikh says. In the latter, the family’s involvement is mandatory. “You need to understand your loved one’s condition, not be overly critical and guide them to the right mental healthcare expert.” If any of these symptoms are severe enough to affect your day-to-day activities and relationships, or if you have suicidal thoughts, you need to consult a psychiatrist, says Madhuri Singh, consulting psychiatrist, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai. “The longer you hold back, the more time it’ll take you to recover,” she adds. Be mindful and if a few of these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, don’t put off that visit to someone who can help.
Doctors say sometimes the patient himself or herself can know they are suffering from depression, though usually it’s the family members who see the signs.
You have no interest in anything
You used to love going to the movies, reading books, spending time with friends, but lately you have been dragging your feet, without any drive or motivation to do anything. You don’t want to go anywhere, do anything, can’t concentrate and don’t take initiative. “Depression is a mood disorder that affects one’s emotions, thoughts and behaviour,” says Dr Parikh. “A loss of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed, inability to feel joy or pleasure or inability to concentrate or make decisions is excessively common,” he adds.
Your sleep, sex drive and eating habits are disturbed
Skipping meals because you’re not hungry? Or starting to make excuses to avoid sex with your spouse? Or spending time tossing and turning at night? Depression affects your sleep, desire to eat and sexual appetite. “You might sleep and eat too much or too little,” explains Dr Parikh. Or you might drink too much alcohol. It’s your body’s way of saying you need help. “Look out for any changes in your day-to-day routine,” he says. “Changes in sleeping or eating patterns, in your participation levels in social interactions, irritability or withdrawing from family and friends, all signal depression.”
You are fatigued, all the time
Your body aches and pains, you feel lethargic and drained out even at the thought of completing small tasks like buying grocery or calling someone. You find it hard to dress up in the morning, do your daily work, have started to keep unkempt and are unable to enjoy the things which once you normally liked. A feeling of tiredness pervades everything, all the time. “Signs of depression include a low mood, desire to cry, sometimes cry while talking, inability to sleep well, feel and look drained out,” says Dr Singh.
You feel worthless and guilty
You suffer from low self-esteem, decreased confidence and have a lot of negative thoughts. You’re convinced that you are worth nothing and lose motivation and zeal. You feel overwhelming guilt about something. You might imagine turning into a destitute or have catastrophic ideas like getting killed or getting grave physical ailments, says Dr Malhotra. “Try to counter these pessimistic ideas by logical, positive ones,” he says, adding that it’s essential to surround yourself with family who can help reinforce a positive image in you.
You feel suicidal
Over 800,000 people die by committing suicide every year, according to WHO data. If you feel you have thoughts of ending your life and they persist over a few days, it’s an instant alarm bell. “Expressing thoughts about death or ending one’s life must be taken very seriously and not ignored as a gimmick to gain sympathy or attention,” says Dr Parikh, adding that family members or friends should look out for such signs and raise an alarm immediately. Thoughts of death and suicide are very common among people suffering from depression. You feel helpless and hopeless since your body is experiencing a neurotransmitter imbalance, he says. Immediately consult a psychiatrist. Such people should not be left alone, for there’s a slight chance they might go through with their thoughts.