Reclaiming life

By 2020, depression will be the second biggest health problem world-wide (WHO). Photo: Meta-Man/flickr

 

BY VICTORIA KLIMANSKAYA

Depression is the leading cause of disability in Australia. Each year, almost 800,000 Australian adults will experience a depressive illness. According to recent review highlights, one in four women and one in six men will suffer from depression at some stage in their lives. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that by 2020, depression will be the second biggest health problem world-wide, behind heart disease.

The World Health Organisation estimates that depression affects 121 million people worldwide. In the 10 higher income countries surveyed, an average of nearly 15 per cent of the population had suffered from depression at least once in their lives. By contrast, people living in low to middle-income countries reported an 11 per cent likelihood of having had the disease. WHO also considers depression to be the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide.

Australian GPs reported depression as the fourth most common illness that they dealt with in their practices, and is particularly common amongst women. Females are set up biologically to amplify internally their negative life experiences. They are prone to it psychologically too. Women ruminate more over upsetting situations, going over and over negative thoughts and feelings, especially if they have to do with relationships. Too often they get caught in a downward spiral of hopelessness and despair.

These shocking facts immediately lead to two questions. What exactly causes depression – and why do a large number of Australians, living in a secure and stable first-world country, go through the stages of the illness?

Dr James Dugley, from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, currently works as a Staff Specialist Psychiatrist. He says depression is the leading cause of suicide in Australia, yet often goes unrecognised or treated. That tendency means both physical and psychological symptoms require professional treatment.

It is therefore difficult to estimate the number of non-fatal suicide attempts in Australia, since many attempts remain unreported or are recorded as accidents. In the 2011 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 0.3 per cent of men and 0.5 per cent of women (0.4 per cent of the sample overall) reported that they had made a suicide attempt in the previous 12-month period. Based on this data it can be estimated that around 65,000 people make a non-fatal suicide attempt each year in Australia.

According to Dr Dugley, depression can affect anyone from any educational or socio-economic background. Everyone from Michelangelo, Isaac Newton and Winston Churchill, to Adriana Xenides, has suffered from the debilitating disorder.

He himself knows this first-hand. As a child, he experienced symptoms of depression, constantly worrying about his parents dying at a young age and fretting about his schoolwork. Moving into adulthood, he continued to lack self-esteem and constantly worried about what might go wrong in his life. Today, he gets depression patients to feel good again by working to change reflexive, habitual, negative thinking.

According to Dr Dugley, depression is caused by a diverse range of factors, spanning from family or interpersonal conflict, bereavement, job loss, major life changes, to drug and alcohol abuse. Factors can also stem from within the individual – previous negative experiences, personality traits (such as perfectionism), medical illness or treatment, or family disposition, can all have an influence.

“We have shown that depression is a significant public health concern across Australia and is strongly linked to social conditions,” says Dr Dugley.

Depression creates both mental and physical symptoms which can vary from one person to another. Symptoms may change throughout the day, but are usually worse after waking up in the morning.“Common symptoms include such feelings as hopelessness, unhappiness, tension, anger, fear, [and] the loss of confidence,” Dr Dugley says. Physical symptoms, such as tiredness, sleeping problems, and headaches, play an important part in the considerable prevalence of depression.

While it might sound almost inconceivable, it has been found that the tendency to become depressed is inherited. It does not, however, guarantee that depression is inevitable because of your genes. While you can inherit a tendency for depression, still you can never get depressed if you’ve developed proper coping strategies. If two people who have the same exact genes faced the same problem then one of them might get depressed and the other might not if their coping strategies are different.

“I always try to inform my patients about the methods that can be used for getting over depression naturally without the use of medication,” says Dr Dugley. He tries to persuade his patients that any depression is not endless. In his opinion, many people think of suicide while being depressed because they think that depression will never end. If they were told that within one month depression will disappear they will never think of committing suicide again but instead they will keep checking the calendar every now and then waiting for this day to come.

Dr Dugley is concerned about common behaviours in Australia which are associated with depression. Any level of anxiety may increase drug and alcohol abuse, recklessness and taking unnecessary risks (for example driving fast and dangerously), school or workplace absenteeism or physical health problems such as fatigue or pain.

“Understanding the patterns and causes of depression can help global initiatives in reducing the impact of depression on individual lives and in reducing the burden to society,” says Dr Dugley.

Often these behaviours are difficult to live with and cause significant concern to close family and friends.

After years of practice, Dr Dugley learned to identify potential victims of upcoming depression, or latent sufferers. After asking about personality types that might be at risk of depression, the specialist replied that a lifelong warrior, perfectionist, sensitive to personal criticism, someone with low self-esteem, self-critical, unassertive, negative, shy and socially-anxious can be affected by the illness.

After reading this, it is absolutely normal and logical to think of possible solutions for such important issue and possible ways to reduce the considerable prevalence of depression in Australia.  According to Dr Dugley’s opinion, medication is the first thing that Australians usually think of in order to cure depression. “But taking prescribed antidepressants may contribute to your feeling even more out of control – the drugs are doing ‘whatever’. There may well be already enough in your life that makes you feel powerless,” he says.

Our own body is very capable of producing the very best and safest natural antidepressants.

Dr Dugley promotes natural treatments that can help people to deal with depression now and prevent relapses in the future. “Go for a massage or reflexology, for a brisk walk or a cycle ride (at least 30 minutes, three times a week). Also, aerobic exercise increases feel-good hormones (endorphins) in your body,” advises Dr Dugley. He suggests going swimming regularly, joining a yoga or meditation class, doing something creative, and not giving yourself a hard time.

Some people become depressed just because their lifestyles invoke depression. “In such a case depression is no more than a message sent to you by your mind asking you to change this horrible lifestyle you are living. Getting over depression in this case is just a matter of responding to this message,” continues the specialist.

If you are currently depressed you must resist the urge to form new negative beliefs and you must even take an additional step to fight the negative thoughts that lead to these negative beliefs.

Dr Dugley thinks that depression can be really tough and knowing how to help someone with depression is a skill that each of us needs. “Many of the methods people use to help their depressed family members or friends never tackle the real problem and that’s why they are not effective,” conjectures the psychiatrist. He indicates that to help people with depression, you need to give them hope by busting their false beliefs about themselves and about life one by one.

Surround yourself with positive influences. If you are depressed, avoid negative people who can cause your symptoms to worsen. Instead, hang out with people who are happy, positive and can offer you support. Get enough sleep, seek behavioural therapy, cut out bad habits and pursue some form of mind and body activity. These are some steps from Dr Dugley, to stop depression without medication.

The specialist also recommends trying natural supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, St. John’s wort and SAM-e which can be very effective in treating depression.

During times of sadness and melancholy it is often a good idea to remind yourself of inspirational people who have achieved great things, overcoming adversities and difficulties.

“If you feel like you have given up on yourself, aim to help and give to others. Maybe you could consider donating your time to help charities and sign up for voluntary work. The act of giving is an effective way to attract rewarding experiences back into your life,” concludes Dr Dugley.

Though it may feel like a long, uphill battle, remember that seeking professional help and trying different treatments are the best things you can do when it comes to dealing with depression.

LINKS AND INFORMATION:

If you suspect you (or a friend or loved one) are depressed and you’re unsure where to go for help, check the Yellow Pages under “mental health,” “health,” “social services,” “suicide prevention,” “crisis intervention services,” “hotlines,” “hospitals,” or “physicians” for phone numbers and addresses. In times of crisis, the emergency room doctor at a hospital may be able to provide temporary help for an emotional problems, and will be able to tell you where and how to get further help. On the Internet, go to:

Lifeline: http://www.lifeline.org.au/

beyondblue: http://www.beyondblue.org.au/index.aspx?

The Sydney Clinic: http://www.depressionet.com.au/resources/hospitals/sydney_clinic.html

Wesley Mission Hospitals: http://www.wesleymission.org.au/centres/hospital/

Just Ask Us: http://www.justaskus.org.au/browse/health-well-being/depression-and-anxiety-self-help-material

”Who can help you?” : http://au.reachout.com/find/getting-help/who-can-help-you

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