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By: Yethu Mtshali

Main-image Depression

If you follow my column weekly you may have realised that the topics are influenced by what I’ve recently experienced. I could be moved by something one of my crazy friends did or by a conversation I had with a six-year-old stranger. This week is no different and I hope that you can learn as much from this as I have.

Recognising the gravity of the subject, I’ve taken my research seriously and will offer you a few sites which I found useful in case you wish to learn more.

Whatchu talkin bout?

Depression is the general name for a group of medical conditions also known as depressive disorders. It is often caused by a combination of environmental, psychological and genetic factors. It affects your mood, thoughts and physical functions. Depression is not that bout of sadness that you feel when you wake up and realise that it’s Monday. It is an illness which could last for weeks, months or years if left untreated.

Signs and symptoms

Someone who suffers from depression often feels overwhelming sadness, self-loathing, guilt and irritability. They may experience a change in their sleeping patterns (insomnia or oversleeping) and appetite. A loss in mental and physical energy is a common symptom which often results in a loss of interest in daily activities. Major depression, dysthymia (mild depression) and bipolar disorder (manic depression) are the most common depressive disorders. These differ in symptoms and causes.

Whatchu gon do about it?

As overwhelming as depression may seem, it is treatable. It is important to be diagnosed by a medical professional but diagnosis can only happen once you recognise the symptoms and seek medical attention. Having a strong support system of friends and family is a significant part of recovering from this condition which is generally fuelled by isolation.

Change can be a difficult process but it’s important to make a few changes in your lifestyle to help you on the road to recovery. Moderate your sleeping pattern (stick to 8-10 hours) and exercise regularly. Maintaining a balanced diet will naturally lift your mood. Try to actively challenge negative thoughts instead of entertaining them.

It’s important to seek professional help; you may even be prescribed medication upon further examination. Help isn’t just for people who can afford R500 for an hour with a psychologist. Fortunately, organisations like the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)  exist and assist people from different backgrounds with mental health problems.

The dos and don’ts of helping someone who is depressed

DOS

•If someone reaches out to you be there for them, even if it is just to hear them out. It takes a great deal of courage for someone to open up about their condition.
•Encourage them to seek professional help.
•Constantly check up on them and encourage them to take part in everyday activities with you like taking a walk to get bread and milk.

DON’TS

•Don’t underestimate the gravity of the situation or expect them to just snap out of it. This is an illness. Illnesses need to be treated.
•Don’t take their emotional state personally. When they are extremely angry or irritable, they are often influenced by the illness.
•Don’t try to fix them. The road to their recovery is one that you have limited reign over. It starts with them.

Frustrated by an illness that he cannot “see”, a friend of mine told me that he would rather have cancer than continue to suffer from something which he often describes as an empty black hole. “The doctor says I’m sick but I don’t believe that I am, Yethu. I don’t look sick.” Below is an image of CAT scans which shows the difference between normal brain activity and brain activity of someone who is depressed.

Brain Depression

I responded with “You are sick. This is an illness. It doesn’t leave an inflammation or a bruise but I believe that you’re sick. I also believe that you will get better.”