Coping With Depression:
What to do, how to help...
Sarah (name has been changed to protect privacy) had it all. She was popular, smart, and everyone seemed to genuinely like her. She was the kind of girl who could easily make friends, get dates, and ace exams, all without batting an eyelash. In the tenth grade, our lockers were side by side, and for a fleeting moment I was catapulted into her world. Suddenly she was paying attention to me, sharing tidbits of her wild weekend as we passed a plastic locker mirror back and forth. Her friends became my friends by proximity, and once in a while would even talk to me without prodding. I was envious of her, but if she knew, she didn't acknowledge it.
Once in a while she would call to talk. But the calls became infrequent and she stopped showing up to school. And when she did, her usually well put-together appearance was disheveled, as if she had just woken up. She looked thin and pale, and had telltale dark circles under her eyes. Her friends would come by her locker to make plans with her, and she would dismiss them rudely, and without provocation. After a month of this behaviour, she was her old self again, talking a mile a minute while rummaging through her locker. This cycle continued well into the year, and by the end of it rumours started spreading that Sarah had had a "nervous breakdown," and she stopped coming to school. When I heard what had happened, I remembered calling her house one night, about two months before. When she picked up the phone, she sounded like she had been crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she snippily replied that it was nothing, then abruptly hung up the phone. A week later, she was acting like the episode had never happened.
We never spoke of this incident, but I suspected something was wrong. We had stopped talking long before the rumours started spreading, and I wanted to call her, but at the time our see-saw relationship was more than I could handle. I chalked it up to moodiness. It would be years later, sitting in a psychology class, when I would realize that Sarah had been suffering from symptoms of manic depression.
Everyone gets the blues. It would be inhuman not to get down once in a while or even feel slightly depressed. The difference between this and severe depression is that the blues eventually subside, while depression can last months or years, and recur without warning. Depressive disorders are mental illnesses that affect the mind, body, and thoughts. Left untreated, these symptoms will get worse with time. The most severe outcome is suicide.
Types of Depression
Major depression: This usually begins in the late teens, but has been diagnosed in children as young as four. People suffering from depression feel lost, hopeless, and alone. They have trouble concentrating on work, studies, and once enjoyable activities. It may occur once or several times in the course of a lifetime.
Dysthymic disorder: Disthymic disorder is a chronic mild depression that usually begins in early childhood. Symptoms typically keep a person from functioning or feeling well. A severe case can also lead to major depression.
Bipolar disorder (a.k.a. manic depressive disorder): This disorder is marked by cycles of highs and lows, sometimes rapid but often gradual. A person may feel depression one day, then mania the other. Left untreated, these symptoms could worsen into a psychotic stage. Children and teens may experience both symptoms at once.
Double depression: A symptom of double depression is alternating between major depression and dysthymic disorder.
Seasonal affection disorder: Depression follows seasonal rhythms, worsening in the winter. The absence of sunlight triggers biochemical reactions in the brain, making a personal feel sluggish, sad, and tired.
Symptoms of Depression
A persistent sad, anxious, and/or "empty" mood Feeling hopeless, pessimistic Feeling guilt, worthlessness, helplessness Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities (including sex) Decreased energy and fatigue, feeling of being "slowed down" Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions Insomnia, early-morning waking, or oversleeping Appetite/weight loss or overeating/weight gain Restlessness, irritability Persistent headaches, digestive disorders, chronic pain Thoughts of death, suicide, or suicide attempts
Symptoms of Mania
Abnormal/excessive elation Unusual irritability Decreased need for sleep Grandiose notions Increased talking Racing thoughts Increased sexual desire Increased energy Poor judgment Inappropriate social behaviour
Some people may experience depression without a change in appetite or sleeping patterns. Therefore, the most common symptoms for diagnosis are hopelessness about the future, difficulty doing things that were easy in the past, difficulty making decisions, feeling worthless/not needed, and no longer enjoying activities that were once enjoyable.
[ Causes, manifestations, how to help. Part II of the article. ]