Depression Awareness Week 2016

Depressed young businessman sitting wet under rain

I have been invited to attend the annual Comedy for Depression benefit, which takes place later this week and is headlined by one of my favourite comedians, Stewart Lee. The purpose for the night is to raise money and awareness for the charity Depression Alliance. I would like to use this as an opportunity to take a closer look at the psychological symptoms of depression.

So what is depression and why is it often so hard to spot it?

Let’s travel to China, one of the four great ancient civilizations of the world (together with ancient Babylon, Egypt and India) and look at their commonly known theory of ‘Yin-Yang’, which is based on Taoism (observing the natural world and manner in which it operates). The direct meanings of yin and yang in Chinese are bright & dark sides of an object. The philosophy uses the theory to represent a wide range of opposites: hot & cold, fast & slow and down & low. It also includes the feelings of happiness & sadness.

There are times when we feel sad, hopeless or simply ‘under the weather’, which are all different elements of life. Usually, we are able to shake these feelings off and move on looking on the brighter side of things. Depression can be quite different, forcing us to foster these feelings for weeks or months at the time, not allowing them to pass and crippling our everyday lives.

It is hard to spot depression as there are many different symptoms of the illness, which can be emotional or physical; these are some of the most common:

  • tiredness and loss of energy
  • persistent sadness
  • loss of confidence and self-esteem
  • difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • avoiding company and becoming isolated and lonely
  • being unable to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable
  • undue feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • difficulties with going to sleep and having restless nights
  • finding it hard to function in every day life
  • change in appetites
  • mood swings
  • loss of sex drive
  • physical aches and pain
  • thinking about death and suicide
  • self-harming

If you have experienced any of these nearly every day for two weeks and more, it might be time to talk about them with your local GP.

The stigma associated with depression and anxiety is complex, and it is not uncommon for people to blame themselves, but the illness can affect anyone during the course of their lives. I’m extremely saddened to say but I have lost couple of good friends to severe forms of depression, and learnt along the way about the importance of spotting the signs. Also, getting help early can be vital (although sometimes may still not be enough). Thankfully, majority of people can lead a healthy and active lives with the right support and treatment.

According to the new report published by the Global Corporate Challenge, poor psychological health has overtaken back problems as the leading workplace health issue. Out of the 14,734 surveyed people (34 companies / 67 countries), a staggering 39% fell into the worst category for psychological wellbeing, which puts them at risk of depression. That’s four in ten employees. One of the big underlying problems here is stress, which used to be the domain of senior managers but now affects everyone. While the outlook may appear bleak, the good news is that businesses can turn these statistics around. The widely used stress management and employee assistance programmes offer great help without the fear of judgement. Also, the fast growing in-house wellbeing programmes can contribute towards motivating employees across the board and provide the best opportunities to reach staff – especially those who are struggling the most. According to the research, the most successful approaches are those that don’t stigmatise or create resistance.

This seems like a good place to share some tips for people suffering with depression and anxiety, courtesy of Paul Cornish, an illustrator and science communicator from Cardiff:

  • stay active – the NHS advises that exercise and socialising can improve your mood; make the effort to keep in touch with friends and family; take up a sport, join a gym or ease yourself into exercise by taking a short, 20 minute walk every day
  • don’t drink too much alcohol as it could make you feel more depressed and for some people, alcohol can become a problem
  • have a routine: try to get up at your usual time and stick to your routine as much as possible (this include regular meetings at work)
  • face your fears: don’t avoid the things that you find difficult, facing up to them will make them easier to cope with in a long run
  • know the symptoms: as well as emotional or mental symptoms, there are also physical symptoms to depression of which many are unaware; depression can cause you to have a difficult sleeping, or to have more sleep than usual; you may feel tired, lose your appetite, or eat more than usual; you may have physical aches and pains, and you may find yourself moving more slowly than usual
  • talk to someone: if you don’t feel comfortable talking to family and friends there are other ways to reach out for help: Depression Friends In Need or Haleh’s Counselling Room

Let’s look out for each other, make a real difference and most of all – stay healthy.