Down and Out?


Do you ever feel overwhelmed with the daily grind? or find yourself losing control over aspects of your life? Stress is a feature of today's busy lifestyle but can easily manifest as anxiety and then depression. Left unrecognised it can perpetuate negative feelings and become destructive. Before long, relationships and work can fall victim to inadvertent and damaging behaviours.

Depression is common and will affect as many as 1 in 4 of us during our lifetime. It may be triggered by events and/or a susceptibility to react to the world around us, secondary to our genetic or physiological make-up. Typically, there are many physical features, and contrary to common belief, feeling low in mood is rarely, if at all, the only symptom. Sleep can become broken or erratic, particularly waking early in the morning and struggling to fall back to sleep. There may be a loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss, or sometimes a tendency to over-eat (comfort eating). Mentally one can feel low, constantly fatigued, absent-minded, and have difficulty concentrating at work. There is usually a loss of interest in what we would normally enjoy doing, and difficulty in looking forward to simple pleasures. Irritability, low self-esteem and loss of Libido are other common features.

If any of these symptoms feel familiar and persist for more than 2 weeks it would be worth talking to your doctor. If you would like to check if you are depressed, a useful and validated questionnaire is the 'PHQ-9' which you can find online.

Depression can run in families. However, due to the sensitive nature of the condition, we are often unaware of the diagnosis in others and even ourselves. Organic causes are less common in depression but may be the result of a low blood count, nutritional deficiencies and Thyroid disease. Depending on your signs and symptoms, your doctor may consider arranging some blood tests.

The good news is that depression is treatable, and if mild to moderate, likely to respond well to 'talking' therapy, which may include CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). A good self-help CBT programme can be found on www.moodgym.anu.edu.au or your GP may decide to refer you to a psychotherapist. Changes in lifestyle are crucial to improve the chances of recovery and maintaining mental health. The focus should be on: a healthy diet, optimising your nutritional requirements (plenty of fruit and vegetables), regular exercise, stress management and a reduction in alcohol intake. Recreational drug use may also be responsible for triggering depression and can often be overlooked. Another treatment currently 'en vogue' is Mindfulness which can be incredibly helpful and need only take a few minutes a day. I would recommend 'Headspace' which is available as a mobile App.

In moderate to severe depression, antidepressants can be helpful to get your life back on track. Antidepressants are not addictive and help to correct the chemical imbalance that may be causing the symptoms. They can take 4-6weeks to work and are generally used for a minimum of 6 months.