Depression: When Sadness Becomes More Than Itself

depression

Clinical depression is a growing concern in the Western World.  It has become a common debilitating mental disease with one in five persons in the U.K. having had depression at some point in their lives.  It hits all age groups, income levels, and communities.  Its growth is accelerating to the point that it could become one of the most incapacitating conditions in the developed world by 2020, second only to heart disease.

Normal bouts of sadness are natural occurrences.  Death of a loved one, for instance, may cause one, grief.  In a mentally healthy individual, the intensity may last for a short time and taper off eventually to a steady acceptance.  Grief that spirals into clinical depression however will stay with the individual for the long haul and could disrupt his daily functions.

Depression Is a Real Illness

A person with a depressive disorder is truly sick.  Much like a physical illness in which an organ or its system is weakened, so it is with depression of which its compromised organ is the brain.  Diabetes, for instance, is a physical disease that involves the impaired function of the metabolic system to handle the hormone, insulin.  Likewise, the condition of depression involves an impairment of the nervous system manifesting with the imbalance of certain brain chemicals; low production of neurons and nerve cell connections; and impaired nerve cell growth and nerve circuit functions.

Many factors can trigger depression.  Life events can traumatize people into a depression.  Our biological makeup such as genetics and brain chemistry are major factors as well.  Serious medical illnesses such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease can also lead a person into a depressive state.  Some medications used to treat physical illnesses may have depression as its side effect.

The State of Depression Varies for Each Person

The degree, frequency, and length of depressive symptoms are as individualized as the person afflicted by it.  Symptoms vary from person to person with the variety dependent on age, gender, culture, and other factors.  Some people feel only a few symptoms while others are burdened by many.  In addition, there are people, especially children and adolescents, who do not even recognize the symptoms of depression.  Men feel it differently than women and have different coping strategies as well.

Symptoms of Depression

The tell-tale signs of depression include but are not limited to the following:

  • Sad or anxious mood that does not go away for a long time
  • Chronic empty feeling
  • Thoughts of suicide; attempts at suicide
  • Increased pessimism; hopelessness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Decreased cognitive functions.  Depressed person has trouble remembering or making sound judgements or decisions.
  • Physical aches, pains, and other symptoms, such as headaches, palpitations, and stomach aches which do not test positive for any physical illness
  • Feelings of very low self-worth, inferiority, and guilt
  • Chronic reduced energy levels; exhaustion; fatigue
  • Fast weight changes and appetite changes
  • Loss of interest in things previously enjoyed; loss of interest in anything and anyone
  • Markedly reduced libido

Some people may not be aware of their depressed state because symptoms can come gradually to them.  They may have kept themselves busy to avoid feeling sad or hurt.  Eventually the strain does catch up to them and they start to exhibit some of the above symptoms.  Physical pains however without any physical cause may also signal that a person has a psychological issue.

Treatment for Depression

The good news is that depression, even severe cases, can be treated; however, diagnosis and treatment is best at the early stages where recovery is faster.  When you suspect yourself of being depressed, seek professional help as soon as possible.  Expect treatment to include talking therapies with your psychiatrist.  Antidepressant medication may also be prescribed if your situation warrants it.

What You Can Do to Help Yourself

Aside from seeking professional help, there are a number of ways by which you can help yourself feel better.  First thing you can do is take charge of your physical health.  As the mind and body are tied together, whatever affects the body affects the mind and vice-versa.  You can start by:

  • Eating a well balanced diet everyday
  • Beginning and sticking seriously to an exercise program
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and illicit drugs.  These substances just worsen depression.
  • Fixing your sleeping patterns.  Getting a good night’s rest everyday is crucial to your recovery.

Your emotional state needs nurturing as well:

  • Find a trusted friend or family member you can talk to about your issues and emotional condition.
  • Approach depression with a plan.  Write down what you think is causing the problem and the positive ways you can fight your negative state.
  • Join a support group of people with the same problem.
  • Avoid making any major life decisions until you can handle big changes.
  • Avoid piling up more work to perpetually take your mind away from your issue.  You need to set aside time to go over the problem so you can eventually come to terms with it.

stronger than depression

Learn all you can about depression in order to understand the condition better.  The road to recovery may be a shorter path if you simply work positively toward achieving that healing goal.

Emotional Issues in College Life

Girl, at table, having trouble studying

The transition from high school to college is one of the milestones that mark one’s transition from childhood to adulthood.  For emotionally healthy young people, the transition is a challenge, positively met with plans, goals, and tests of their newfound independence.  For those with some emotional instability, the transition may compound brewing stress and anxiety, a crippling disadvantage that may outweigh any educational gains hoped for.  Before a student can take on the more demanding life college brings on, he must be in good physical, mental, and emotional shape to cope with inevitable triumphs and pitfalls coming his way from a new environment.

Common Mental Health Problems in College Students

Stress in college is the overwhelmingly huge trigger for mental health problems that may have been absent, hidden, or controlled during high school.  A May 20, 2013 article in the Guardian states, “Those who do experience mental health problems cite coursework deadlines (65%) and exams (54%) as triggers of distress.  Financial difficulties (47%), pressures about “fitting in” (27%) and homesickness (22%) also contribute to mental ill health.”

Common symptoms of mental illnesses plaguing a significant percentage of college students are:

  • Depression — the most pervasive problem among the other mental issues.  Depression can be dangerous as it carries the high risk of suicidal tendencies.  Depression should not be left untreated.  Students afflicted with depression must be aware of the triggers and symptoms and seek professional help in school if available or outside.
  • Anxiety Disorders — Seventy five percent of people who have had panic attacks, social phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and the like have had anxiety symptoms before the age of 22.  Anxiety can be debilitating when it morphs into extreme worry based on unrealistic perceptions.
  • Eating Disorders — Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are common eating disorders that affect more female than male students.
  • Self-Harm  — Cutting, burning, or banging one’s head for the purpose of inflicting pain are signals of deeper emotional disorders.
  • Substance Abuse — The abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, or recreational drugs is also a pervasive phenomenon.  Even mentally healthy individuals may fall prey to a drug habit when they start using drugs to stay awake for exams or simply to have fun.  The danger of substance abuse is addiction, sexual promiscuity without safety measures, and even sexual assault.
  • Sleep Deprivation — Drugs, depression, or simply a radical change in lifestyle of which college life can bring on, can trigger insomnia.  Bad sleep habits and chronic sleep loss can exacerbate any mental or physical health condition and even dampen coping mechanisms of mentally healthy individuals.  Insomnia is also a symptom of depression and anxiety.  Students need to factor in their sleep as an important necessity, one as vital as food is.

What Parents Should Know

Any adolescent can develop a mental health problem.  The problem is, parents often think these problems happen to other people’s children, not their own.  It is important to ascertain that your child has the emotional and mental capability to weather the ups and downs of being on their own in college.

Studies are showing that the greatest impediment to success in college is emotional instability caused by depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.  For the majority of emotionally challenged students, emotional instability can spell missed opportunities in their academic and social milieu.  For some whose mental health is in a more dangerous or debilitating condition, their lives could be at stake if their issues remain unaddressed.  Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among the college populace.

It is important to catch the first signs of a deteriorating mental health so that symptoms can be easily reversed.  In such a case, communication, lifestyle changes, and treatment must be addressed in order to effect positive changes and boost coping mechanisms.

college mental issues

What Colleges Should Know

Colleges should be sensitive and alert to the fact that one in five of their student population may likely be suffering some form of mental health issue; but, only a rare few of their students actually avail of the university’s counselling services.  In fact, only a handful would probably admit that they are suffering from anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, impulse control issues, personality disorders, substance addiction, or other mental health problems.

In this regard, universities may need to seriously look into their current student services that aim to address mental health problems.  Are counselling services diverse enough to meet differing personal and psychological needs?  Expanding institutional services or creating partnerships and referral services outside the school to include those such as women’s health centres, spiritual or religious organizations, substance abuse clinics, and the like may be of huge help in boosting student morale and health.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Drug-and-Alcohol-addiction-is-destructive-600x448

Substance abuse is perhaps one of the most prevalent health and economic problems facing Britain today.  One in 20 adults (1.6 million adults) are alcohol-dependent and 1 in 100 (380,000) are cocaine or heroin addicts.  These statistics do not yet include the number of adolescents addicted to these substances.

What is Substance Abuse?

The World Health Organization defines substance abuse:

Substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs.  Psychoactive substance use can lead to dependence syndrome – a cluster of behavioural, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated substance use and that typically include a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state.”

Alcohol is a Drug

Drugs are substances that alter a person’s mental and physical condition.  These are either prescribed as medicines or used for recreational purposes.  Those used for the latter are usually chemical substances that change an individual’s mental state so that his feelings, cognition, perceptions, and behaviour are altered from their normal states.  These drugs fall under the psychoactive drug category.

Because alcohol has the same mind-altering properties, alcohol is considered a psychoactive drug.  It is a close relative of crack (street word for cocaine), heroin, shabu, ecstasy, and other mind-altering drugs.  So when we talk of drugs, we refer to psychoactive drugs of which alcohol is very much a part of.

ALCOHOL

 

Understanding Drug and Alcohol Use, Abuse, and Addiction

Not all who use recreational drugs get to abuse it.  Not all abusers are in the state of addiction; although, they may well be on the road to it.  People try out or use drugs for a variety of reasons: some for experimentation; others, because it feels good for the moment; a few for athletic enhancement.  The list is rather long.  There is no specific level one can pinpoint at which using turns to abuse and then to addiction.  For others with high tolerance, their copious use may not have led to addiction yet; while with others, small amounts could well land them squarely in the addiction stage.  Resistance to drug addiction varies greatly from individual to individual.  Genes, mental health, family and environmental situations all play roles in determining one’s risk factors and tolerance.

Signs of Drug and Alcohol Abuse

  • Drug use is causing relationship problems.  One’s behavioural changes and thought patterns while under the influence may be causing serious problems with family, old friends, and colleagues at work.
  • One is under the influence without regard for the high risk situation he may be in like driving, having unsafe sex, or being in unsecured surroundings.
  • Drug use is developing or perpetuating illegal behaviour.  This may range from misdemeanours such as reckless driving and shoplifting to more serious crimes such as rape.
  • Drug use is causing chronic irresponsibility at work, school, family, and other areas of the user’s life.

 

Signs of Drug Addiction or Alcoholism

  • High tolerance for drugs
  • Drugs taken to relieve withdrawal symptoms which may include tremors, anxiety, depression, restlessness, insomnia, nausea, and many more
  • Helplessness or powerlessness in stopping the drug use even if one wants to
  • Total or almost complete abandonment of things one liked to do such as hobbies, socialization, sports, etc.
  • Exhibiting signs of paranoia, blackouts, mood swings, and other serious mental health problems
  • All focus is on drugs—how to get the next fix, how to recover from effects, etc.—to the exclusion of other important aspects in life such as family, friends, career, and the like.
  • High dependency on drugs, physically and emotionally, to get through the day

 

Help for Drug Addiction

One always feels hopeless in the face of such a seemingly insurmountable situation as that of drug addiction.  There is however hope for recovery if the patient and his support group make the effort.  The first step a patient must make is to realize that he indeed has a serious problem and that he is addicted to drugs.

Drug addicts who believe that they do not need help need to be pushed toward treatment, whether they agree to or not.  Drug addiction is not an issue one can simply back off from if the addicted person in question refuses to receive therapy.  Furthermore, drug addiction is a community problem; therefore, it is a concerted effort by family, friends, medical personnel, and even police enforcement to ensure that addicted individuals undergo treatment.