Everyone feels down from time to time but depression is more than sadness or feeling ‘blue’. It is a common mental disorder which affects males and females, young and old, rich and poor. It is a treatable health condition that is found across cultures.
Depression can affect the way you think, move and speak. It can affect your physical health. It can also affect your ability to care for yourself, relate to others and enjoy life. Young people with depression can fall behind with schoolwork, miss out on friendships and struggle to find the energy to keep up with sports and leisure activities. In adults of working age, depression can make it difficult to concentrate at work, keep on top of finances, care for children, and maintain homes in order. Older people who are depressed may become socially isolated, forget important appointments and lose interest in work and hobbies. Some people with depression experience severe loss of appetite or thoughts of suicide and self-harm which can occasionally lead to death.
It is important to recognise and treat depression early to reduce suffering and prevent worsening of the illness. Despite advances in depression care, many people cannot or do not access help and they continue to suffer quietly and alone, hoping and praying the depression will one day disappear. Without additional support, some suffer for much longer than is necessary and later look back on their lives with regret over the lost months and years. This should not happen anywhere in the world.
Today we have a holistic understanding of health and this means people with depression can be helped by a combination of: medication, social support, psychological therapy, exercise, nutritional therapy and spiritual care, depending on the severity of depression and the individual’s needs and preferences. These treatment options address the multiple factors which are associated with depression, such as resilience. While being highly resilient does not eliminate all risk of depression, research findings from both higher and lower income countries show that building resilience can help prevent and treat depression.
Depression causes suffering and loss for those who live with it and for their family and friends. Depression can also cause death. With modern, evidence-based approaches to tackle depression, no one should suffer in silence without hope. Depression care can be tailored to the individual who should expect to make a good recovery, build resilience against future episodes of depression, have better physical health and enjoy a fulfilling life.
Dr Anne Aboaja MPH MRCPsych , University of Edinburgh, Global Health PhD Network