The word ‘depression’ can imply many things. It is commonly used as a synonym for sadness. In the broader sense though, depressed people suffer from sluggish moods, lack of sleep and appetite.
Moderate to severe depression lasts for weeks, months, or a year and hinders one from getting on with life. The good news is that depression is treatable. One should undergo a thorough medical check-up and get a proper diagnosis from a trained physician.
Of late, there has been an increased awareness about the growing number of children under the age of 12 suffering from depression. Many professionals believe the ailment underlies a variety of behavioural problems in children. These include bedwetting, tantrums, truancy, fatigue, academic failure, acts of delinquency, hyperactivity and psychosomatic problems.
Depressed children rarely express joy or pleasure, often have a soft, monotonous voice, lack a sense of humour, and rarely laugh. They may suffer mood swings and disturbed sleep patterns. They may be tearful, irritable, and long for support. Some become detached and aloof, while others appear overtly anxious.
Rather than complaining of sadness, children may report physical ailments (headache or stomach aches). They may not feel like doing anything, lose interest in sports, and their performance in school might see a gradual decline. Depression may manifest in many ways but the most important symptoms are sustained sadness (lasting for more than two weeks), lack of interest in life, no enjoyment of pleasurable activities, irritability, and anxiety. The person may also complain of fatigue, inability to sleep, and a decrease in appetite. If these early symptoms are neglected, depression can progress to a state where the person stays in bed for most of the time, refuses to interact with anyone (including family members), cries frequently and worries excessively.
Stressful life events, such as the loss of a parent, divorce in the family, failure in exams, marriage (later in life), can play a role in the onset of depression. Other causes may include neglect, abuse, bullying or physical illness. Depression can also be triggered if changes take place faster than one can cope.
Depression is more commonly seen in older people. This may be due to lowered financial freedom, social isolation, loss of spouse, or prolonged physical illness in this stage of life. Depression, more common in females, may be attributed to certain genetic factors.
Management of depression rests primarily on the awareness of the individual and the family. Due to the personal-social-occupational dysfunction the condition causes, management of the ailment should be started at the earliest possible juncture. Diverse approaches are available in the form of pharmacotherapy, cognitive therapy, behaviour therapy, interpersonal therapy, supportive therapy, family therapy and group therapy. However, the most important aspect is psycho-education i.e. educating the individual and the his or her family about the nature of depression and course to be followed.
One can help oneself. Simply start by talking to someone you trust, and who you feel can understand and can lighten the burden. It can also help to work out practical solutions to problems. Here are some points to remember:
. Talk to someone who can help
. Keep as active and occupied as possible, but don’t overstress
. You are not alone — depression is a common problem and can be overcome in its entirety.
Parents must remember that it can be very hard for young people to put their feelings into words. Friends and family can help with patient, empathetic handling of the situation.
The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity and Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at hthorizons@h industantimes.com, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’