To continue our theme on mental health awareness, this week’s column will focus on major depressive disorder commonly referred to just as depression.

Depression is a common but serious medical condition and affects 1 in 15 adults per year. These figures have been on the rise particularly post the Covid 19 pandemic. Depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life.

Symptoms of depression can vary from mild symptoms to severe and debilitating symptoms. These symptoms include; depressed mood, loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, poor appetite, weight gain or weight loss, difficulty sleepy, a loss of energy, feeling of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty thinking or concentrating and last but not least thoughts of suicide. These symptoms must have been present for more than a 2 week period and should signify a significant change from the previous level of function of the patient.

There is no single cause of depression. Often depression is due to a combination of factors. Some of the risk factors for depression include the following. Depression is more likely in patients with family history of depression. People will low self-esteem and those who are self-critical are also predisposed to depression.

Other risk factors include; child birth, use of alcohol and drugs. Chronic illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, and cancer can also be a predisposing factor to develop depression.   Environmental factors such as continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.

Depression is among the most treatable of mental disorders. Between 80% and 90% percent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. Before instituting treatment a comprehensive medical assessment is done to exclude medical conditions that can cause depression.

The management involves psychotherapy and some medications. Antidepressants are given to help modify the brain chemistry and alleviate symptoms of depression. Most patients often have an improvement within a week or two.

Psychotherapy is offered by trained psychologists and is the cornerstone of management. There are a number of things people can do to help reduce the symptoms of depression. For many people, regular exercise helps create positive feeling and improves mood. Getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis, eating a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol (a depressant) can also help reduce symptoms of depression.

Depression is a serious and debilitating condition if not appropriately treated. When the diagnosis is made and the right treatment is initiated the majority of patients do recover. It is important that when experiencing symptoms of depression one should seek help from their local doctor or psychiatrist.


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