FEELING LISTLESS, JOYLESS AND TIRED, WITH LACK OF APPETITE AND LOSS OF INTEREST, IS HOW MANY PEOPLE SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION DESCRIBE THEIR EMOTIONAL STATE. Yet, how can those affected recognise that they are suffering from depression? How can they determine whether what they are experiencing is a mental disorder or an intense phase of sadness? What is the best way of treating the mental disorder, and what can sufferers do themselves to improve their well-being?
In this article, we answer these questions and more.
Depression – definition
Firstly and most importantly, how can we define the term “depression”? The World Health Organization describes it as a mental disorder.
Depression is in no way a sign of personal weakness, but clearly an illness. It generally does not appear from one day to the next, but rather gradually sets in over time. This makes it all the more difficult for those affected to recognise their depression.
This is particularly the case for individuals who have never before dealt with the topic of mental health in any detail. Almost 9% of the Swiss population suffered from depression in 2017, though the unofficial statistics are likely much higher. An additional 15% reported medium to high emotional strain. Just 6% of the population sought treatment for mental health problems.
This means that only one out of four individuals affected sought professional help. This figure alone shows how important it is to provide more information on the subject. Work to raise awareness is required. It shows that depression is an illness that needs to be taken seriously and that no one should be ashamed of it.
In addition, the World Health Organization expects depression to account for the biggest disease burden in industrialised countries within the next decade, thus overtaking cardiovascular disease.
How does depression affect general well-being?
Depression affects behaviour, emotions and thoughts in equal measure, and thus also has an impact on physical well-being. It therefore robs individuals affected of a high quality of life. One of the reasons for this is that depression triggers a lack of neurotransmitters in the brain.
As is the case for numerous mental disorders, the following also applies to depression. The exact symptoms and courses of the disease vary from individual to individual, as do the causes. In some cases, depression is preceded by stress, often at an emotional level. In other cases, there is no clear trigger.
The duration also varies from person to person. Depression can last for a few weeks or for multiple months. Chronic depression, which leads to long-term strain, can also occur. In most cases, however, the disorder occurs in phases.
How can we recognise depression and distinguish it from a long-lasting feeling of being down?
Low mood and sadness are completely normal feelings that every person experiences in their lifetime. They do not necessarily develop into depression. These emotions last for a limited amount of time and fade when what triggered them has been mentally processed.
In addition, they impact everyday life to a significantly lesser extent than is the case for depression. Those suffering from the mental disorder find it very difficult to switch off from it. Depending on the severity of the depression, the negative thoughts and feelings may be virtually always present and have a significant impact on everyday life.
Which symptoms are indicators of depression?
To classify the severity of the mental disorder into one of these categories, we therefore need to distinguish between main and additional symptoms. Firstly, we need to look at the main symptoms. First and foremost is a depressed mood. Listlessness, joylessness, intense sadness and even feelings of hopelessness may occur.
Some individuals affected, on the other hand, experience a feeling of emptiness inside and are hardly able to feel anything anymore. This symptom is particularly intense in the mornings. Another main symptom is loss of interest. Things that an individual previously found really fun to do are suddenly only minor matters and completely irrelevant.
Learning new things? Keeping up to date with everyday happenings? Asking how friends and family are doing? Affected individuals can’t keep up with all of these things. There is not only a loss of interest, but also a lack of drive – a third main symptom that may be reflective of depression. Everyday things are now a burden, and sometimes even unmanageable.
There is no motivation to do something with the day and be productive. Sometimes even getting out of bed in the morning takes a huge amount of effort. Increased tiredness, also a main symptom, doesn’t exactly help matters.
Despite getting enough sleep, sufferers feel tired and listless virtually all the time. After a certain point, this may also lead to sleep disorders, which leads us to the additional symptoms. Spending as much time sleeping as possible will, at some point, throw the circadian rhythm out of kilter.
Then when it’s actually time to go to sleep, sufferers are no longer able to get some rest and end up tossing and turning. So it’s hardly any wonder that tiredness strikes during the day. Depressed people quickly find themselves in a vicious circle.
Insight into other possible additional symptoms
Numerous individuals suffering from this mental disorder have low self-worth. They feel like they are not achieving enough and haven’t earned any recognition. This results in them avoiding contact with others. They also do not like to talk about their problems. They are worried about boring other people and believe that others deserve help more than them.
This can also be associated with feelings of guilt. Sufferers continuously blame themselves for anything negative that happens around them. The same goes for their own emotional state. They judge themselves, which pushes them even deeper into depression.
Depression also impacts perception, with sufferers focusing on negative aspects. Those affected tend to see things in a negative light. They become pessimistic and even the simplest of things become a mammoth task. Those affected often convince themselves that they would not be able to complete a certain task satisfactorily even if they tried.
Lack of drive, listlessness and negative perceptions of things also have an effect on the body, which is noticeable in facial expressions, gestures and posture. Movements are slower and facial expressions are less varied. Mostly, those affected have a neutral facial expression. However, there are also depressed people who have a particularly strong, almost torturous need for movement.
Those suffering from depression are often more introspective. This may result in them thinking that the smallest of medical complaints could be the sign of a serious physical illness. It is also possible for physical symptoms to conceal mental ones. In such cases we talk about masked depression.
Treatment options for depression
The earlier depression is recognised and treated, the more quickly results will be achieved. This makes it all the more important to take symptoms seriously and seek professional help quickly. Starting treatment early also reduces the risk of chronic depression. Treatment usually starts with psychotherapy and may be supported by medication, depending on the severity.
Depression cannot be healed from one day to the next. Treatment takes time and patients therefore need to be patient. They also need to be committed, because only those who open themselves up to psychotherapeutic methods will be able to overcome the mental disorder.
Psychotherapy is based on the assumption that depression is caused by traumatic experiences that the person affected has never completely processed. These experiences may be significant losses, illnesses or severe emotional stress, which will be worked through during appointments. The psychotherapist will accompany the patient on this journey and guide them in the right direction.
He or she will uncover negative thoughts and patterns and work with the patient to find the causes. These causes will be processed and the therapist will shift the patient’s attention to all of the positive aspects in their life, helping them to adjust their thinking and behaviour patterns accordingly. Another important aspect is learning strategies that make it easier to deal with situations that may promote depression.
Treating depression with medication
The antidepressant is probably the most well-known medication in the treatment of mental disorders of this kind. It is used to treat severe depression, including if the individual cannot open themselves up to psychotherapy. It should be mentioned, however, that patients often only begin to feel the effects of this medication after a few weeks, and these effects are not guaranteed.
Some sufferers respond very well to antidepressants, while others mostly feel side effects. In addition, there is a risk of becoming addicted to the medication after discontinuing it. As such, antidepressants should only be taken under the instructions of the doctor providing treatment.
Health professionals are prescribing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) more and more often. Compared with antidepressants, these medications have much fewer side effects. The way they work is easy to explain. They increase levels of serotonin in the brain, therefore stimulating the release of the happiness hormone and raising the patient’s mood.
For those suffering from mild to moderate depression, natural remedies can be used. St John’s wort products have been proven to be effective here. However, caution should be exercised in terms of possible interactions. For example, these products may impair the effectiveness of hormonal contraception and medication to treat epilepsy and thin blood.
Helping yourself in the fight against depression
Those suffering from depression should absolutely take it seriously and seek professional help. Furthermore, they can also play a role in the recovery process themselves. Setting certain guiding points that help to bring structure into their lives can be very helpful, while having a clear schedule or list of things to do will help to guide them through the day.
This list can also contain things that are a matter of course, such as getting up, brushing teeth, doing household chores and more. Ticking off all of these things will make those affected feel like they have achieved something, creating small senses of achievement again and again. The best thing for sufferers to do is to include times for each point.
It’s important to be realistic here. Cluttering up the schedule with countless things will not help if the majority of those things ultimately end up not being done. This would change the small senses of achievement into feelings of failure. Physical activity should also be part of the daily schedule, as this benefits the body and mind in equal measure. Even going on a small walk each day can help those affected to reduce stress and process stressful thoughts.
Regular meals should also be firmly anchored in the schedule. This is especially important if the depression is accompanied by lack of appetite. Those who do not eat properly will not have any energy, and even vital nutrients will eventually become depleted. This will all lead to even more lack of drive and tiredness.
Place your trust in your coach
No one needs to deal with depression on their own. Are you affected by depression? Speak to one of your closest friends or family members, even if it’s difficult. Make sure you stay in contact with them and avoid withdrawing further. The Vivapp coaches are also here to help and will always be by your side should you need support.
The trained psychologists and life coaches will help you to overcome everyday challenges. From professional to family and personal matters – the experienced experts are here to speak to you about anything that is bothering you. Find your coach now!