I’m sure that most of us, at some point in our lives, have felt down in the dumps about something or other. Sad, blue, and depressed are just a few of the words we have for feeling out of sorts about the world. You might have broken up with someone, lost a job, or any number of things could have happened to throw you off balance.
Normally we humans are a resilient bunch and bounce back pretty easily. Some things, like a broken heart, may take longer to recover from than others, but sooner or later you’re back on your feet ready to take on the world again.
But there are some people who don’t find it as easy to snap back from what we would consider the normal setbacks of life. While others may find it relatively simple to recover from these episodes, these few face a horrible struggle to resurface from under the weight of what they perceive as their failure.
Even worse is that some don’t even need a reason to fall into that state we would normally associate with the fallout of misfortune. Imagine walking along one day and everything is just hunky dory; the sun’s shining, birds are singing and all’s right with the world. The next day you wake up and everything’s the same except for you.
All those things that brought you joy the day before are meaningless. You can’t see ever being content again. No matter how much people say they love you, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make a difference to you if the sun is shining or there is a hurricane outside your door.
In really simplistic terms I have just shown you the difference between being depressed and suffering from depression. In the former it implies that you are feeling down for the moment. The latter is a permanent state of mind from which escape seems impossible.
People who suffer from depression don’t normally lose their will to live; instead life ceases to interest them. They can become so withdrawn that they lack even the motivation to care for themselves and get out of bed. Clinical depression, the name given to this ailment, is rapidly becoming the leading cause of disability in the world. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2020, only heart disease will cause more people to suffer.
Aside from the above-mentioned lack of motivation, other symptoms of clinical depression include high levels of anxiety, low self esteem, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, restlessness or inertia, fear of failure, and feelings of guilt. According to diagnostic criteria, when any three of the above are combined with a depressed mood lasting more than a couple of weeks, a person is considered to be clinically depressed.
Sometimes there are obvious causes of depression. People who have suffered from a long-term physical illness that has affected their abilities are highly susceptible to depression. Anything that has the effect of radically changing the manner in which you lead your life seems to be a potential cause.
Men who have worked all their life can very easily slip into depression upon retirement when they find themselves without a job to keep them busy. Faced with all that time to fill and nothing to do for the first time in their adult lives can be very intimidating. There is nothing so bleak as waking up in the morning and facing the prospect of long hours of nothingness.
Men also tend to identify themselves with their employment far more than women. Our society labels them the breadwinner, the one who is responsible for providing for the family. When that role is taken away from them, they are left with no definition of self, and this increases their chances of suffering from depression.
Sometimes there can be more than one cause, or a combination of causes, that contribute to a person’s depression. People who were abused as children can suffer from depression when they finally start to deal with the variety of issues that arise from the incidences of abuse. Single mothers who have spent years living with the anxiety of raising their children on tight budgets with no support find the accumulation of stress can induce depression.
While all of the above are obvious examples of cause and effect, recently there have been more and more cases of depression appearing for no apparent reason. Like the recent upturn in the number of cases of anxiety and stress-related ailments, depression sometimes appears to be caused by societal forces.
Since both high stress levels and anxiety disorders are symptoms of depression it could be a case of one leading to the other, the stress of trying to get by leading to an anxiety condition which in turn causes the depression. Whatever it is, more and more people who supposedly lead full and active lives are becoming clinically depressed.
Currently there is no cure for depression; the so-called anti-depressants only serve to mask the feelings of grief. They also block all other feelings and emotions. So while you may not be suffering form the sadness generated by depression, neither do you experience any pleasure. Combine this with some rather serious side effects inherent in most of the current meds (diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, and others), it’s hard to know if the treatment is better or worse than the condition.
Aside from the long term clinical depression, there are also shorter-term variations that seem to be dependent on very specific circumstances and situations. Seasonal depression and cyclical depression hit only for short terms, but have the same effects as full blown depression.
Seasonal depression that hits when the light starts vanishing in the fall in temperate climates is actually one that is fairly common and treatable. Although there are expensive light therapies that one can undergo, it can also be treated at home by sitting under a grow light bulb use for indoor gardening for about twenty minutes a day. That seems to replace the vanished sun that caused the depression.
Others have what’s known as rolling or cyclical depression. This seems to affect creative people, like artists and musicians, more often. As artists usually identify themselves so totally with their work, if they enter a dry spell where their muse has deserted them, they become despondent.
This type of depression becomes a vicious circle where the less they are able to create, the more they doubt their abilities. The more they doubt their abilities, the less chance they have of creating, and the more they doubt their abilities. It’s more than likely that this cycle is what gave rise to the myth of the artistic temperament.
It is interesting that this sort of depression usually hits an artist when they have just completed a work. They may bask in the glory of having finished something for a short while, but then they start to worry about what to do next. You’re only an artist as long as you’re producing new work is what so many of them will believe.
Depression is an insidious and little understood mental illness with each individual’s reasons for descending into that state as unique as the person. Drugs can provide some relief for individuals but are not a solution by any means as they only address the symptoms. If, as in the case of a survivor of abuse, there are specific issues that can be addressed and resolved, therapy can play a significant role in helping the person suffering from depression recover.
But in far too many cases there is no specific cause, and while a therapist provides some succour, a patient pretty much has to live on his or her own with symptoms of the disease seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. There is no magic formula or miracle cure that will make a person better, no matter what anyone says.
When the anxiety and stress of day to day life have gotten too much for your system to handle, and you are so overwhelmed that even getting out of bed seems like too much of an effort, it’s hard to have hope for a brighter future. As more and more people succumb, perhaps we will begin to realise that there is something inherently wrong with the way we live our lives. Let us hope, for the sake of those without hope, that we don’t wait too long.