Across the globe, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, with close to 800,000 people committing suicide each year. What’s worst is that suicide is the second leading cause of death among youths between 15 to 29-years-old.
These are horrifyingly large numbers.
The truth is, college can be a petri dish of stress triggers. Unfamiliar surroundings, academic pressure, new friends and lifestyles, the exhilarating highs and devastating lows of romantic relationships – these can all lead to despair and mental breakdowns if things aren’t going well.
But if you’re going through a difficult period and feeling down, how do you know if you’re really depressed or just experiencing a short spell of blues? How can you recognise the symptoms of depression? More importantly, what can you do if you are truly depressed?
These are all questions that we hope to answer in this article.
Is it depression or are you just sad?
Imagine you’ve experienced a horrible breakup, one that’s punctuated with screams, tears and flying objects. Suddenly, your world comes crashing down like a falling house of cards. Your days are numb and your nights sleepless, interrupted by nightmares and sudden bursts of crying.
Understandably, you feel wretched and sad. But if you’ve been feeling despondent for a while, is it simply sadness or is there something more nefarious going on?
It can be tricky to differentiate bouts of blues and genuine depression.
Here’s what the experts say. Sadness is usually triggered by a specific event or situation. In other words, you feel sad about something. And gradually, when you’ve adjusted and gotten over your loss or disappointment, your sadness goes away and you will start to feel happy again.
Depression, on the other hand, is persistent and consumes every aspect of your life. That is to say, you feel sad about everything. At times, people with depression may not feel sad at all, but instead, experience irritability and loss of interest in things that they used to enjoy doing. While depression can be triggered by a life event or due to several reasons, it can also manifest due to nothing at all.
Can you recognise the symptoms of depression?
A large number of people believe that depression, as well as other mental disorders, isn’t real. The truth is, depression is an actual medical illness. And just as how vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps are symptoms of food poisoning, depression has its symptoms too.
People with depression often experience several of the following almost on a daily basis:
- Persistent sadness, anxiety or numbness
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that they used to enjoy
- Significant weight loss unrelated to dieting, or weight gain due to appetite changes
- Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping more or less
- Loss of energy and physical fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Depression can be on a scale from mild to severe. If you have fewer symptoms with lower levels of severity, you may have some difficulty going about in your daily life but won’t stop functioning completely. Severe depression, however, can be all-consuming and you may cease to completely function and interact with others. Even simple things like getting out of bed can seem like a Herculean task.
Depression is not a weakness or a character flaw
If you have a feeling that you might be truly depressed, understand that it isn’t your fault.
Depression doesn’t manifest because you’re weak, sensitive or a pessimist. Research indicates that a combination of genetics, biology and stressful life events can result in depression, with some people being more susceptible due to biological composition (e.g. size of the hippocampus) and genetic makeup (certain genes influence how well you respond to stress).
Depression isn’t a laziness because you want to lie in bed to play Angry Birds; you’re not getting out of bed because you’re overwhelmed by fatigue and hopelessness, and pulling yourself out of bed seems impossible.
Neither is depression a choice. There is much to be said about the power of positive thinking. But you can’t think away depression any more than you can think away a fever or high blood pressure. They all require treatment and intervention.
How to manage your depression
Remember that depression is a medical illness. And just as how a fever, sore throat or diarrhoea warrants medical attention, depression needs to be treated too.
The first step is always to seek professional help. Most colleges and universities have a counselling centre that you can reach out to for ongoing support. Alternatively, speak to the Befrienders or get in touch with any of these counselling services. Talk honestly about your issues and request for a thorough evaluation. Treatment may include medication (e.g. antidepressants) and psychotherapy (treating disorders of the mind using psychological methods).
There are also other ways for you to help yourself and manage your depression:
- Confide in someone you trust and build a strong support system
- Try not to isolate yourself; instead, join a club and study in groups
- Spend time doing activities that you enjoy (journalling and colouring can help)
- Move about, even if it’s a short walk
- Eat well, because good nutrition can ease your symptoms
- Try to establish a regular sleeping pattern with these techniques
- Accept that you have depression and adjust your goals and expectations, since you may not be able to achieve as much as you usually do
Every day can be a constant struggle, but know that depression can be managed and treated.
Supporting a friend through depression
It can be difficult to support a friend or loved one through depression, especially if you have strong mental health. Here are some tips:
- Be there to listen without judgement and offer your support
- Encourage them to seek professional help and volunteer to go with them
- Help them maintain a regular routine of sleep, meals and exercise
- Offer to do easy tasks like cooking them a warm meal or doing simple household chores
- Propose uplifting activities like having a meal at a nice restaurant, watching a comedy or going for walks
- Avoid statements like “it’s all in your head”, “you have nothing to be depressed about” or “stop feeling sorry for yourself”
Most importantly, be compassionate, patient and persistent. Understand that they may withdraw themselves, so don’t be discouraged if they push you away. Show your concern and willingness to listen. Be gentle, yet insistent.
At the same time, be mindful of your own mood and stress levels. People with depression can be negative, moody and hostile, which can drain your energy rapidly. Offer to help whenever you can but take good care of yourself too to avoid getting sucked in.
Depression is a serious issue that affects millions of lives all over the world. If you are struggling with depression, know that you can recover with the right treatment and support. Reach out to someone today, because your life is worth living.