Depression, a condition to watch
Three years after Joe bagged a master’s degree in Economics, he’s yet to find a suitable job. He has since given up and will not bother to apply for any job again even if assured of a place. Every day, he sits in his room staring listlessly into space with a cigarette dangling in his lips. Full of self pity and in his own world, he believes he will never get a job no matter how hard he tries.
“There’s no way anyone can make it in this country, especially if you don’t have a godfather,” he would tell anyone who cares to listen to what relatives now describe as his peculiar tales of woe. “One look at me and employers conclude I’m not even suitable for a clerical job,” he would say.
The will to apply for and secure a job is not all he has lost. He does not derive any pleasure in living either. Sometimes he would get so depressed that he would cry out openly that he wished he was never born.
Now Joe is fast losing weight and is forever complaining of different types of ailments. After treating him for malaria fever and typhoid over and over again, one of the doctors called him and simply told him to get a hold of himself as series of tests have not revealed anything wrong with his health. The doctor told him the problem seems to be in his imagination.
For the relatives, they believe Joe is just lazy. Let him get a job and he will become normal again, he’s often told.
But unknown to everyone, including the doctor, Joe is manifesting serious symptoms of a very common but often poorly diagnosed illness – depression.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) depression affects more than 350 million people of all ages, in all communities worldwide and is a significant contributor to the global burden of disease.
It is estimated that over ten million Nigerians could be suffering from depressive illness. Yet, over three quarters of those affected will go unreported and without treatment. The few cases that will get to the hospital on the other hand will not get the right treatment as only the symptoms they are manifesting such as sleeplessness or physical pain will be treated. Although there are known effective treatments for depression, access to treatment is a problem in most countries and in some countries, according to WHO, fewer than 10% of those who need it receive such treatment.
But depressing illness defined as an illness in which the person’s mood goes wild making him feel very low in spirit continuously for a long time is indeed a medical problem that could be treated. Unfortunately, it is not a condition that could be detected through laboratory tests, x-ray, scan or other such diagnostic methods. The doctor can only diagnose it mainly through what a patient describes. Sadly too, it is not a condition well recognized as a medical problem in our society. Not even our medical doctors are adequately trained to recognize the symptoms of depression and offer relevant treatment.
A video produced by “ The Video for patients” series through a grant by Pfizer international describes the symptoms of depression as:
*Loss of interest or pleasure in all activities including job, family life, hobbies or sex.
*Weight loss or gain
*Feeling agitated or slow down
*Lack of energy
*Loss of concentration
*Thoughts of death or suicide.
According to the video, anyone who experiences at least five of the above symptoms (these should include the first two) consistently for two weeks or more is definitely suffering from depression, especially if there is no visible illness of the brain or psychiatric illness.
However, experts say there is just a thin line between an everyday depressive mood suffered by everyone, especially in a crisis ridden society like ours and the serious depressive illness which could lead to a serious break down of health. According to the video, the symptoms listed above must have occurred continuously for two weeks or more to warrant treatment.
Thus am individual suffering from depression will be feeling sad, moody and very low in spirit not just for a brief moment but all day and everyday for at least two weeks and more.
During this period he will just not be interested in anything around him. He’s either losing weight because he no longer possesses the will or energy to eat or he’s gaining weight fast because he has taken solace in food. The individual may also find it difficult to sleep so he wakes up around 3 am and finds it difficult to go back to sleep.
A depressed individual, according to experts also feels agitated easily. He is constantly tensed up “as if waiting for something bad to happen.” In some cases, the individual feels worthless and sees no worthwhile reason to go on living.
“You don’t feel anything you do is any good and (you feel) it is because you are not good. You think even if people tell you (that ) you are doing fine that does not mean anything – in fact you feel that you fooled them somehow because you know you are not really worth anything,” says the video on how worthless some individual depressive patient can feel
Scientists are yet to unravel the cause of depression. The closest explanation by experts on why people get depressed has been through researches which show that the condition could be as a result of the imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain membranes.
What is certain however is the fact that there are some conditions which can trigger off depression in some individuals. It is also known that depression can be hereditary. Studies of twins, for instance, have shown that even when they were brought up separately in quite different families and environments, the tendency to get depressed is very similar. Also, experts say there are certain social factors which may affect the tendency of an individual to develop depression. Says the video:
“If you are the sort of person that doesn’t find it easy to talk to anyone about what really troubles you, if you’ve got three or more children at home and if you lost your parents while you were young… events like these (could) increase the risk of your getting depressive illness. The more stressful they are, the more likely they are to depress you.’
Indeed, certain inevitable events in life have been found to be serious causes of depression. Top on the list are: bereavement, divorce, personal illness or injury, retirement, pregnancy or even festivals such as Christmas or Ed-El -Fitr. Experts say anyone can suffer depressive illness but the good news is that it’s a condition that can be treated and should therefore not constitute a danger to health.