Tue | Oct 23, 2018

Michael Abrahams | If someone you love has depression

Published:Monday | September 17, 2018 | 12:58 AM
Abrahams

Depression affects millions of us. Unfortunately, many persons afflicted with the condition are undiagnosed, and a significant proportion of those who have been diagnosed are not treated. Reasons for the absence of treatment include denial, stigma and being unable to afford psychotherapy and antidepressant medication.

Depression is often difficult for those diagnosed with it to understand, and is even more perplexing to their family and friends who do not have the disorder. Public education on this matter is very important. Social well-being is a critical component of heath, and if persons with depression have people who do not understand the disorder in their space, these persons may unintentionally cause them harm.

First, please understand that people who are depressed do not choose to be afflicted. It is not a choice, but a genuine feeling of having a low mood. Do not tell them to ‘snap out of it’. Not only is this an unrealistic command, but it adds to their frustration.

Depressed people do not want to be depressed. They would snap out of it if they could, but it is not as easy as that. Telling a depressed person to snap out of it is like telling someone having as asthmatic attack to breathe normally and stop wheezing, or telling someone in the middle of an epileptic seizure to stop shaking. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Telling them that they ‘have nothing to be depressed about’ does not help either. Some people have experienced trauma that causes depression as one of its sequelae, but you may never know. In fact, some trauma has been so severe that, in an effort to maintain sanity, the brain might repress all memory of the events, so that the person may not even be able to recall them. However, there is still a record of the trauma in their unconscious, where it continues to wreak havoc.

In addition to this, someone does not have to be traumatised to suffer from depression. For example, some people are genetically predisposed. And this is why it can be so frustrating to deal with. A person may be depressed and have no idea why, and this adds to their distress and torment.

Please understand that depression is a real medical disorder, not merely a feeling of sadness. There are diagnostic criteria, and it can present with varying levels of severity. It has been researched extensively, and the bottom line in all this is that achemical imbalance in the brain causes a person’s mood to plummet. Treatment is required.

Do not tell people to pray away their depression or that having faith will take care of it. There is no harm in praying for someone you love who has depression. They may even feel a little better. But prayer or faith has never been proven to be effective cures for depression. And please do not blame it on demons either.

Comments such as these have the potential to plunge people of faith into even further depression. When they are told that they need to have more faith, it can be very frustrating for them, because even the most faithful can be afflicted, and there is no credible evidence that demons are the cause of depression.

Also, be aware of the concept of triggering. If a contributing factor to a person’s depression is trauma, physical or emotional, conversations relating to that trauma can trigger survivors, and cause their depression to worsen. For example, if childhood sexual abuse is a contributing factor to someone’s depression, something as simple as looking up at the television during the news, and hearing a report on child abuse, can cause their depression to spiral out of control. So please be mindful of the topics of the conversations you engage in with these people, unless they choose to talk about them with you.

Unfortunately, like many other disorders, depression can be fatal. It can cause people to make choices that are not in their best interest, placing their physical health and lives at risk, and it is the reason for most suicides.

If you hear someone with depression speak about taking their life, take them very seriously. There are often warning signs before a person commits suicide, and if those around them are not astute enough, these signs can be missed.

Depression is real. Do not scoff at it. You cannot see it like a tumour on someone’s skin. You cannot hear it like the wheezing of an asthmatic. You cannot smell it like a festering abscess. You cannot feel it like the irregular pulse of a person with a cardiac arrhythmia. You cannot measure it like a hypertensive’s blood pressure or a diabetic’s blood sugar. But it is real.

- Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.