M.I.A.W. Day 5: Depression

Depressed man sitting on steps in dark corridor

To finish off Mental Illness Awareness Week, we will be talking about depression. Contrary to what some people believe, depression is a real medical condition that requires treatment and attention. It is not simply a downturn in a person’s mood, and it is certainly not a sign of weakness.

Also known as clinical or major depression, it is a disorder that causes people to feel extremely sad or hopeless over a long period of time. It has a wide variety of symptoms, which include feelings of worthlessness, loss of interest or pleasure in favourite activities, and suicidal thoughts, among others.

It can also affect a person’s physical health, as it can cause a decline in a person’s energy, psychomotor impairment (such as slowed speech and body movements), physical aches and pains, insomnia, and changes in weight. Furthermore, it can decrease appetite as well as hinder thinking and decision-making skills.

Like many other mental illnesses, the causes of depression remain unclear, though it is widely believed that both biological and environmental factors play a role. For example, chemical imbalances in the brain of substances such as norepinephrine have been linked to depression. However, the death of a loved one, social isolation, or an oppressive upbringing can also lead to depressive thoughts.

Certain groups of people are considered to be at higher risk of experiencing depression. They include:

  • Youth (particularly those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender)
  • Older adults: resulting from the loss of a partner or a dwindling social circle, also from dementia or being confined in care homes
  • Women: twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression as men, largely because of life-cycle changes, hormonal changes, higher rates of childhood abuse or relationship violence, and social pressures
  • People with substance abuse issues: some substances like alcohol, heroin and prescription sleeping pills lower brain activity, increasing the risk of depression
  • People with chronic illness: resulting from a decline in quality of life
  • People from different cultures: different cultures have different ways of dealing with depression

Other types of depression include seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, which is associated with lack of daylight. This type of depression is particularly common in the wintertime, and is believed to affect between 3% and 5% of Canadian adults.

Postpartum depression is another type, which mostly affects women who have recently given birth. It is often linked to rapid hormonal changes, though other factors, such as sleep deprivation, personality, and family history, can also influence symptoms. Postpartum depression can also be experienced by men who have recently become fathers as well as new adoptive parents.

Treatment tends to take the form of counseling and medication. In turn, counseling can be delivered through cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which involves coaching to break the negative thinking and action patterns caused be depression; or interpersonal therapy (IPT), which addresses social interaction when personal relationships have suffered as a result of a person’s depressive state.

The best way to get treatment if you feel like you are experiencing depression is by approaching your doctor. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) offers a Mood and Anxiety Program, with both outpatient and inpatient options, for persons who have been referred by health specialists. In addition, Ontario’s Mental Health Helpline can be reached at 1-866-531-2600, and its website also offers chat and email services.

Please feel free to share your story with us by commenting on this blog post (anonymously if you wish) or on its related Facebook post. Your story could make a difference to someone.

Sources: Canadian Mental Health Association (B.C. Division), DepressionHurts.ca.