Yesterday, Guyana observed World Mental Health Day under the theme “Depression: a Global Crisis”. According to the World Mental Health Association, depression is estimated to affect 350 million people. In a study they conducted in 17 countries, they found that on average about one in 20 people reported having an episode of depression in the previous year.
Depression is a serious medical condition with various forms of accompanying symptoms. The condition may manifest itself as feelings of sadness and melancholy, loss of interest in life, shattered self-image, indecisiveness, lack of focus, short span of attention, restlessness, random aches and pains, irregular sleeping patterns, and suicidal tendencies. Anyone with any of the preceding symptoms, or a combination thereof, persisting over at least two weeks, has a reason to worry and should be medically evaluated. According to the WHO, there are currently about 825,000 getting afflicted every year. It can happen to any person, irrespective of age, race, gender, or creed.
There is no specific cause for depression. This makes the prevention that much more difficult as there really aren’t any pointers. Several factors can be responsible including, but not necessarily limited to, environment, genetics, life events, medical conditions, and some thought-processes that can have an adverse effect on a person’s reaction to certain happenings.
While there is compelling evidence that depression runs in the family and that genes have a huge role to play in it, it is not necessary that a predisposed person may actually fall prey to this condition. Some individuals with a form of the disorder have had parents who have suffered some type of depression for several years as well. What is interesting is that it is still indeterminate whether it is the genes or a life event that has been the contributory factor.
It is important to understand ‘depression’ and then react and respond to the affected party accordingly. Many of us mistake a depressed state of mind of an individual to be a case of lethargy, character flaw, less than positive attitude, or a lack of diligence, and react with scolding and destructive criticism. This leads us nowhere but to a dark, narrow alley of despair.
Broadly speaking, depression is classified as a ‘mood disorder.’ The severe form of depression is known as ‘major depression,’ the longer-lasting, chronic form is called ‘dysthymia.’ When the two conditions co-exist, it is referred to as ‘double depression’. ‘Adjustment disorder’ can be defined as a depressive reaction to a specific life event such as a personal loss in life. ‘Bipolar disorder’ is another type of mood disorder that has a strong genetic basis. It involves alternating periods of extreme depression and those of mania, qualifying one to be a manic-depressive.
With depression hitting so many persons, one wonders if modernity has been a double-edged sword, cutting both for and against. While there has been no definitive indication in this regard, it is not too hard to surmise it to be the case. Everyone reacts to adversity in a different way. Some take it in stride; others are consumed by it.
Is the female gender more predisposed to feelings of depression? This is an interesting question and it has been observed now for a couple of decades that globally more women than men become depressed. It is possible that because of the tremendous responsibility placed on women for raising families in the face of all the pressures of the modern world – including extreme poverty as in Guyana – women face more of the “triggers” of depression.
However, intriguingly, suicide – which is the end state of some depressions – is more prevalent among men in Guyana. Obviously there needs to be further investigation. In Guyana, we tend to dismiss depression as just “feeling low”, but from the foregoing we can see it is much more than that. It is high time that it be placed higher on the national health agenda.