Changing the conversation around depression
Cases of depression are on the rise, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). By 2015, the number of people around the world suffering from depression reached 322 million, up 18.4% since 2005. These figures are based on reported cases – the actual figure would be higher if it weren’t for the stigma surrounding depression, which is under-diagnosed worldwide.
Acknowledging depression as a disease
“Depression is a disease, much like diabetes or high blood pressure. It’s a chemical reaction, and not something that you can just ‘get over’. One of the biggest challenges in tackling the high incidence of depression is that people don’t recognise the symptoms in themselves,” explains Graham Anderson, CEO of Profmed.
The results from the 2017 Profmed Stress Index reveals that 10.09% of respondents had taken off from work due to stress-related illnesses over the past six months, an increase from the previous year’s 9.7%. The Stress Index is an effective way of gathering data to help Profmed understand the evolving issues facing graduate professionals. This data can then be used to develop informed educational programmes to help people manage their stress and general levels of health.
Recognising the signs in colleagues and loved ones
When dealing with a colleague or someone you are close to and whom you suspect may be suffering from depression, encourage them to seek treatment, as they would for any ailment.
“A qualified, clinical psychologist best makes a diagnosis of depression, and there is no need to get a referral from a GP first before seeking out help,” says Anderson.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), symptoms of clinical depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex.
- Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness and self-reproach.
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping.
- Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain.
- Decreased energy, fatigue and feeling run down.
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs; may be associated but not a criterion for diagnosis.
- Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts.
- Restlessness, irritability, hostility.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions.
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.
- Deterioration of social relationships.
“Clinical depression affects mood, mind, body and behaviour. Research has shown that 20% of the population will develop a depressive disorder during the course of their lives, and nearly two-thirds do not get the help they require,” says SADAG on its website.
Left untreated, depression is a gateway to further health problems, and also the leading cause of suicide. However, treatment can alleviate the symptoms in over 80% of cases.
How you can support someone who is depressed
1. Take them seriously
Don’t minimise their feelings by saying ‘Chin up’ or ‘This too shall pass.’ Acknowledge what they are saying and validate their feelings by giving an appropriate response, such as ‘This must be difficult for you to deal with’. They need to know that the emotions, or sometimes, the lack thereof, are a real issue and not to be swept aside.
2. Listen to them
While you may be tempted to deep-dive into their issues, what your colleague or friend needs most is a safe place to air their thoughts and feelings. If they do feel like sharing, ask them open questions, like “What do you find helps you feel better?”
3. Respond to any hints of self-harm or talk of suicide
According to the Medical Research Council, there were 6,133 deaths by suicide in South Africa in 2012 – the most recent statistic available. Men, in particular, are at a higher risk of suicide, with 14 men dying from suicide every day in South Africa. Save the number of the Suicide Crisis Line to your contacts (0800 567 567).
Lastly, take care of yourself. It can be tiring to support someone who is dealing with clinical depression. Set boundaries and monitor your own emotional well-being, and seek out support for yourself if you feel overwhelmed.
“Depression can be managed,” says Anderson. “Between a clinical psychologist, a psychiatrist and prescribed medication, you will find the right treatment plan for what you are experiencing.”