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Most, if not all of us, have felt depressed, sullen or sad from time to time. This feeling is usually short lived and dissipates quickly. This feeling is quite different from depression, an illness that affects the body, mind and will of the person. Contrary to popular misconception, sufferers from depression are not weak-minded. In fact, many sufferers are strong willed people who are achievement oriented. They tend to have a perfectionistic personality trait and are excessively self-critical and demanding of their own performance.

Depression is a common health problem. It affects 10% of children, 10% of adolescents, 10% of adult males and 25% of female adults. Antidepressants are very commonly prescribed, second only to drugs that treats heart disease and high blood pressure.

Childhood depression is increasing. More and more young people are suffering from depression. Depression is also affecting children at an earlier age.

The symptoms of depression

The sufferer of depression:

  • Feels persistently sad or depressed (some children may feel irritable).
  • Loses interest in activities, surrounding and people.
  • May lose or gain weight.
  • May have insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
  • May experience slowness in thinking or physical movement.
  • Experiences tiredness and fatigue.
  • Feels useless and worthless.
  • Experiences concentration and memory problems.
  • May have thoughts of dying and death.

The causes of depression

Some causes are:

  • Genetic, where there is a very strong family history of depression.
  • Physical illnesses such as infections, hormone problem, tumours etc.
  • Losses in life, like the death of a loved one, relationship problems, or experiences of failure.
  • Loss of social support.
  • Family problems. In the case of a child and adolescent, marital problem between parents usually contributes to depression.

Depression as a biopsychosocial disorder

The best way to understand depression is to consider it as a biopsychosocial disorder. A person becomes depressed as a result of the interplay of the biological, psychological and social factors in the person life.

Biological factors may include the person’s family history and genetic make-up as well as the person’s physical condition such as the presence of an illness or disorder. A person is at a greater risk of developing a depression when there is a strong family history of depression. Physical illnesses also increase the risk of depression (this explains why people tend to be depressed even after a seemingly minor illness like the flu).

Psychological factors may include the person temperamental traits and life experiences of loss. As mentioned above, perfectionistic personality tends to have a higher risk of developing a depression. People who are rigid and inflexible to the vicissitudes of life are also at risk. Losses of any kind such as unemployment, marriage break-up and death also increases one’s risk.

Social factors may include social isolation, lack of social support, migration to a new country, inability to access resources, hostile relationships, low socio-economic status and poor living condition. All these conditions increase one’s risk of developing a depression.

Using the biopsychosocial approach, it is obvious that no two depressed people are alike. A person who comes from a family with a strong history of depression does not need many other psychological or social factors to become depressed. On the other hand, a person may be very socially disadvantaged and yet does not develop a depression because there is a lack of biological and psychological risk factors.

Some useful suggestions to deal with depression

If you suspect that your child or yourself is suffering from depression, here are some useful suggestions:

  • Seek the help of a healthcare professional who has the expertise to exclude a physical disorder and advise you about treatment options such as medication and/or therapy.
  • Have a balanced diet to make sure that the nutritional needs are met.
  • Exercise to improve the depressed mood.
  • Reduce stress in your or your child’s life.
  • Increase recreational time to unwind and relax.
  • Practise relaxation exercise to put the nervous system back to equilibrium.
  • If you are a drinker, reduce or stop the consumption of alcohol which is a depressant.
  • Be kind to yourself. Don’t be upset with yourself because you cannot snap out of your depression.
  • Surround yourself with relatives and friends who can help you.
  • Do not be ashamed to lean on others. This is the time you need to be dependent to get better.
  • Stop all illicit drugs including marijuana.
  • If you are taking prescribed medication, check with your doctor to make sure that it is not causing the depression.

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