Our lives are colored by numerous textures of feeling ranging from deep joy to being down in the dumps with many shades of grey in between. It is but natural to feel sad at the death of a loved one, or to be melancholic to be leaving a familiar place or to be upset when we have disagreements with people or get laid off from work.
In fact, there are many instances in life where we feel the blues and this is but natural. However, what is not psychologically healthy is to remain in a perpetual state of dysphoria, which could be described as a “profound state of dis-ease, unhappiness and dissatisfaction,” day in and day out.
According to the DSM V, the following symptoms would help you identify Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) in yourself or a loved one:
- Depressed mood for most of the day, for more days than not, as indicated by either subjective or observation by others
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Low energy or fatigue
- Low self esteem
- Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
- Feelings of hopelessness
If a person embodies having a “depressed mood for most of the day” day after day with two or more other symptoms one can be said to be clinically depressed. Being clinically depressed, in turn, will have negative consequences on one’s health, well being, relationships, work, productivity and bring down the overall quality of one’s life. Research has shown, that high levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been found in the blood stream of people who identified being depressed, this in turn reduces immune function and makes any pre-existing medical disorder worse or may perhaps even create new ones. What we can gauge from this is that depressed people are more likely to be easily stressed and in turn, people who have a low threshold to stress are more susceptible to becoming depressed.
If an individual is in an intimate relationship or has small children their having depression would impact their loved one’s in very harmful ways. There is a progressive diminishing of real interpersonal contact and closeness since the depressed person is no longer present to anything other than overwhelming feelings of sadness. Spouses of depressed individuals report very low relationship satisfaction as depressions gnaws away at the fabric of intimacy where emotional connection, sexuality and simply having fun together is greatly reduced or becomes non-existent. Studies have also shown that children of depressed people have a higher risk of being depressed themselves, as well as having a vulnerability to addictions and exhibit behavioral disorders.
It is extremely harmful to the self and to one’s loved ones to ignore constant negative ruminations and feelings about one’s life, as they could transition from being pathological to fatal, where individuals driven by disturbing thoughts and emotions could end up taking their life. Another alarming point regarding depression is that it has a propensity to recur once a person has suffered from it before. Depression, in essence, is a thinking dis-ease, which is premised on habitual negative thinking, perceiving and evaluating one’s self and the world. This tendency to think pessimistically, in turn, creates neural pathways in the brain, literally grooves in our psyche, which get easily activated when certain triggers are present. Over a period of time, even small mundane disappointments may set off disproportionate feelings of anguish and hopelessness.
Although, ironically, depression is extremely common, with 20 percent of the population suffering from it at any given time; literally, one in every five people experiences depression, it remains, unfortunately, ignored, undetected and untreated. While awareness is increasing regarding the importance of mental health globally, in India, historically and perhaps even to some extent today, psychological issues have been ignorantly stigmatized. Individuals are made to feel ashamed of themselves for having life traumas and upheavals and are marginalized for seeking help. Contemporarily, this is a very unfortunate set of circumstances, as historically in ancient India, dukkha was greatly acknowledged by all philosophical traditions as a profound existential state. Especially, highlighted by the ultimate healer and therapist, Gautama Buddha, who stated that “Life is Suffering.”
If you or anyone close to you is depressed it is extremely important that you seek professional psychotherapeutic attention. While exercise, yoga, mantra, meditation and good nutrition are useful adjuncts and supports, they do not go the whole way in dispelling depression, which is a deep rooted psychological pattern. What the depressed person really needs is a facilitation to cognitively and behaviourally re-frame and dis-identify with negative thoughts and to develop the ability to tolerate distress and work through disturbing affects felt in the body. Depression does not automatically alleviate itself or diminish with family support nor disappear with self-affirmations to be happy, it needs to be confronted and worked through psychosomatically.
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Sonera Jhaveri is a psychotherapist who specializes in:
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