Can't shake off the blues? You could be suffering from depression. Delia du Toit finds out the facts
It's normal to be down in the dumps after a break-up, or to shed a few tears after a big fight with a friend. But if the sadness or sense of devastation hangs around for days on end, you may be suffering from depression. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), nearly a quarter of SA's youth have experienced a sense of hopelessness at some point. Even more frightening is that 19% of teens have considered suicide, while 17% have actually tried to kill themselves.
But how do you identify depression, either in yourself or someone close to you? And what can you do about it? THAN THE BLUES Depression is extreme sadness over a long period of time and is often accompanied by feelings of worthlessness, says Beverley Marcus, a Joburg-based clinical psychologist who specialises in working with teens. Michelle Adams* (19) says she felt 'down' for almost two months, for no obvious reason. 'I didn't even think I could be depressed, just that I was sad. Maybe because young people think depression is something that happens to adults. I tried to hide my feelings from everyone, but I finally told our school counsellor because it just became too difficult to handle.' Michelle had, by this time, started cutting herself and was thinking about committing suicide. 'I was scared of dying, but I didn't know what to do anymore or how I could change my sad feelings.' The counsellor told her parents, which terrified her, but she says she's grateful he did. 'I thought my mom would be mad that I was thinking of killing myself, or maybe think I was crazy. But she really helped me a lot after that.' Michelle started seeing a psychologist, and a year later, is much better. She still goes to therapy. 'It just helps to tell someone how you feel.
If you get it out sooner it can't bottle up and become too much to handle.' GOING C Depression doesn't mean you're mad. 'Genetic factors, family or peer relationships, struggling with schoolwork, social pressures and underlying rage could all trigger depression,' says Beverley. Michelle admits that she prefers not to tell people she was depressed because of the stigma of craziness attached to it. 'But really, it's not true - it could happen to anyone.
I think if we talk about it more, then maybe people would stop thinking that. I became depressed because of the stress of matric exams and deciding what to do after school.' Depression is not gender specific, but since girls often find it easier to express their feelings, it may appear they're more prone to being depressed, says Beverley. 'Guys are usually taught that they should be brave and not let on if they're having emotional issues, so they may feel they can't talk about it when they're sad.' But it's necessary to tell someone what's going on in order to get help. Talk to a counsellor if you don't want to tell your friends. A CRY FOR " If you think someone who looks sad all the time is just being overly dramatic - don't, says Zane Wilson, director of Sadag.
Beverley agrees: 'Even if someone appears to be looking for attention, there is often an underlying reason that needs to be worked out by a professional. Always take it seriously!' If you suspect a friend may be depressed, approach your buddy in a non-threatening way.
You could start by saying you've noticed he or she doesn't seem quite okay. 'If anyone you know expresses any suicidal thoughts, you need to tell a responsible adult immediately,' says Beverley. 'It's a myth that talking to someone who feels suicidal will cause them to commit suicide. The opposite is true,' explains Zane. GETTING HELP If you think you may be depressed, find an adult you can confide in and discuss what you're feeling, or ask for a session with a psychologist. ^ 'Teens often feel that nobody understands them, but therapy sessions can help you feel more understood,' says Beverley.
Do it as soon as possible - although depressed teens have mostly the same symptoms as depressed adults, they have added anxiety and are more likely to act on impulse and > harm themselves, says Zane. Don't be embarrassed about it. Depression is not as uncommon as you think, and you don't need to suffer alone. Think about it this way: you go to a doctor when your body feels sick, so why shouldn't you go to a psychologist when your mind is in trouble? *A/ame has been changed ^•w™ USEFUL CONTACTS • Sadag: Call 0800 567 567 (toll free, 8 am-8 pm daily) orSMS 31393 and a consultant S you back. '.: 0861 322 322
THE SYMPTOMS Beverley says you should get help if you experience: • Extreme sadness • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness • Decreased appetite • Trouble sleeping • Low energy levels • Poor concentration • Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide. HOW TO HELP Sadag suggests you say the following to a friend who may be depressed: • You are not alone in this. I'm here for you. • I understand you have a real illness and that's what causes these thoughts and feelings. • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help. • When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour or minute -whatever you can manage. • You are important to me. Your life is important to me. 1 Tell me what I can do now to help you. I am here for you. We will get through this together. HOTLINE CtubX has a 24-hour advice line, lust call 0861 GO TEEN/ 0861 46 8336