By Dr. Farah Akram.
In current times, it’s not uncommon to feel upset and stressed just watching the news headlines. And where previously the word depression was taboo, it is now frequently and openly thrown into conversations.
“I am so depressed because of work politics.”
“I haven’t had a moment to myself because of my kids. I’m getting depressed.”
“Did you read that book/watch that movie? It was so sad…I am so depressed, I don’t know how I will recover.”
While it is good that we are accepting depression as an actual health condition, it is even more important to KNOW what depression is, to UNDERSTAND how it can disrupt life, to DIFFERENTIATE with temporary sadness and to REALIZE it can be successfully treated.
The truth is mental health disorders are always tricky to work out. And depression has so many vague symptoms and different presentations that it is one of the most complicated diagnosis. Generally, a diagnosis is made if 5 of the following symptoms are present for a prolonged duration of over 2-3 weeks (remember- it varies person to person)
- Sadness or depressed mood most of the day or almost every day
- Loss of enjoyment in things that were once pleasurable
- Major change in weight (gain or loss of more than 5% of weight within a month) or appetite
- Insomnia or excessive sleep almost every day
- Physical restlessness or sense of being rundown that is noticeable by others
- Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or excessive guilt almost every day
- Problems with concentration or making decisions almost every day
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plan, or suicide attempt
You just answered “no” to all of the above. That’s great. May you all stay healthy. However, don’t discard this list because oftentimes people close to us are suffering from depression in silence. For many sufferers, talking about their feelings is too difficult, sometimes they just don’t have the strength or interest in being able to speak out or don’t know whom to speak with. This is where you can help… STEP IN AND HELP OUT, but please be kind and considerate while you are doing it.
Depression is more common in people with health conditions like cancer, heart disease, skin conditions but depression also leads to more physical ailments or exacerbates existing illnesses. There is evidence that many changes occur in the brain, resulting in changes throughout the body – fatigue, decreased immunity, chronic pain, sleep disturbances. These changes lead to more negative consequences on one’s physical health. And when one is not physically healthy, it starts to take a toll on the mental and emotional health. Vicious vicious cycle.
How can you help? There’s a list of things you can do actually.
- Don’t tell them to get over it or be grateful for what they have. Many sufferers feel guilty for not being able to do just that and hearing it from their loved ones isn’t going to be helpful.
- Be positive. Give them hope for a full recovery. Share positive conversations and experiences. Remind them of their positive achievements. Just surround them with genuine positivity and happiness. However, be careful that you don’t make any false promises and declarations at this stage. This can only hurt them more. Be realistic.
- Get them professional help. It doesn’t matter how influential you are and how many articles you have read on google. If you are not a trained psychologist, please get professional medical advice. It is very easy for friends and family members to become focused on few certain aspects of an illness while other aspects might be deteriorating fast. A professional assessment can make all the difference in terms of treatment plan and duration. And please don’t let societal pressure convince you otherwise.
- Exercise. As I explained earlier, depression and physical illness are related. Therefore it would make sense that improving physical health can also improve mental health. Just doing stretches regularly can help!!
- Pray. Maybe the one suffering from depression cannot be thankful for what they have, but you can. Be grateful for your health and pray for the health of those around you and don’t lose faith.
Depressed people walk a dark lonely road. Let’s hope they all find a person who will act like their streetlight to guide them to happiness.
May Allah guide us to all that is good and right. Ameen.
Dr Farah Akram. May Allah guide us to all that is good and right. Ameen.