By Henrylito D. Tacio
Recently, the public was saddened by the untimely death of a young actor who was reported to be suffering from depression. News reports had it that he “fell off from a residential building.” But it wasn’t stated “whether the actor accidentally fell off or he really did jump from the building.”
Whatever the reason, depression is for real. “Some years back, the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) considered the Philippines as having “the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia.”
In a recent privilege speech, Representative Rida Robes of San Jose del Monte, Bulacan lamented that depression is “becoming as prevalent as the common cold in the country, affecting around 3.3 million Filipinos.
Alarmingly, only one-third of these depressed people seek professional help, according to the Department of Health, which recognized it as “a serious health condition.”
The UN health agency estimates more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. It is the leading cause of disability for people ages 15 to 44 and more women are affected by depression than men.
Not just ‘being in the dumps’
Depression is a serious medical illness that involves the brain. It’s more than just a feeling of being “down in the dumps” or “blue” for a few days. It’s a kind of feeling that do not go away. They persist and interfere with a person’s everyday life.
Depression doesn’t discriminate. Researchers and historians have speculated that a number of famous individuals suffered from depression. In fact, the Holy Bible records the depressive symptoms of such men as Job, Moses, Elijah, David, and Jeremiah.
Hollywood actor Harrison Ford, known for his roles in Star Wars saga and Indiana Jones adventures, suffered from depression in his youth and would sleep long hours; he would often miss his class and have trouble keeping up with his studies.
“I am not crazy,” said a man who has the problem. “It’s not contagious. No, I just can’t pull myself together. It’s not just a phase or a bad day. It’s a daily struggle. It’s not my identify. I will get better in time. I need people to be patient and understanding, not patronizing and harsh.”
The American Psychiatric Association (APA), in its website, symptoms of depression vary and they include: feeling sad or having a depressed mood; loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed; changes in appetite (weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting); trouble sleeping or sleeping too much; and loss of energy or increased fatigue.
Other symptoms are as follows: increase in purposeless physical activity (examples include hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others); feeling worthless or guilty; difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions; and thoughts of death or suicide.
“At its worst, depression can lead to suicide,” the United Nations health agency points out. “Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.”
Hollywood actor-comedian Drew Carey had tried to commit suicide twice by taking large doses of sleeping pills and has always been mad at the world. At the early age of 8, his beloved father died and left him completely alone; whenever he would not be with his friends, he would rapidly become depressed and use food and alcohol to help him fight the disturbing feeling he had inside.
Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate or severe. “An individual with a mild depressive episode will have some difficulty in continuing with ordinary work and social activities but will probably not cease to function completely,” the WHO states. “During a severe depressive episode, it is unlikely that the sufferer will be able to continue with social, work or domestic activities, expect to a limited extent.”
Depression in Filipinos
Depression among Filipinos is very hard to detect. “In the Philippines, many people still think that depression is not an illness, but something that one eventually snaps out of, and that’s the reason so many people who are suffering from depression feel embarrassed to seek help,” said Senator Grace Poe, who filed a resolution on the increasing incidence of suicide and depression in the country.
More often than not, Filipinos equate depression with feelings. “People confuse depression for normal sadness,” Dr. Randy Dellosa, a psychiatrist, was quoted as saying. As a mental health disorder, it is different from sadness or grief. The death of a loved one, loss of a job or the ending of a relationship are difficult experiences and most people describe themselves as being “depressed.”
“But being sad is not the same as having depression,” the APA says. “The grieving process is natural and unique to each individual and shares some of the same features of depression. Both grief and depression may involve intense sadness and withdrawal from usual activities. They are also different in important ways.”
Until now, the causes of depression are not fully known, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Some experts, however, believe that depression is most likely due to a combination of some factors.
Biochemistry may play a large part. “Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression,” the APA points out.
Another is personality. “People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more likely to experience depression,” APA claims.
Genetics is another risk factor. Studies have found that close relatives of patients with depression are two to six times more likely to develop the condition than individuals without a family history.
Amy Tan, one of the most-read authors among Asians, believed that her grandmother and her mother suffered from depressions. She also suffered from this as a child because every time her mother became upset with her present life and surroundings, they would move house.
Unknowingly, many prescription drugs can affect brain chemicals and trigger depression. These medications include certain types of drugs used for acne, high blood pressure, contraception, Parkinson’s disease, inflammation, gastrointestinal relief, and other conditions.
While no one really knows what causes depression, there are foods that can trigger depression, research done by this author showed. Take the case of high fructose corn syrup – or any processed sugar – which reacts negatively with serotonin — the happy hormone and excessive amounts in the body is also known to decrease energy and leave a person feeling fatigued.
Eating foods high in sodium may also lead to depression, health experts claim. Some studies claim that too much salt leaves a person feeling bloated and lifeless, plus it throws off the neurological system which can lead to depression. The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 milligrams or less per day.
Some people believe that alcohol can help them forget sad moments of their lives. But that’s not true. Alcohol, medical science says, is a depressant and that’s all there is to it. The more alcohol they drink, the more they need – which will leave them feeling extremely depressed over time. “If you’re going to drink, we suggest limiting yourself to one or two drinks on occasion to prevent depression from sinking in,” one doctor suggests.
One of the best ways to fight depression, according to some researches, is by consuming the right diet. It has been seen that consumption of foods rich in B vitamins (avocado, sweet potato, banana, black beans, asparagus, and watermelon, to name a few) has a positive effect on the mood of a person.
Doctors suggest that those who are feeling depressed should start eating apples, legumes, fortified cereals, malunggay and other green leafy vegetables, along with vitamin C-rich food items like calamansi juice.
Selenium has long been renowned as a cancer-fighting food. However, very few are aware of the fact that a diet rich in selenium can help people fight the symptoms of depression, too. They can get it from seafood, poultry, mushrooms, sea vegetables, and wheat.
More than 50 percent of a person’s brain is made up of fats. Health experts say the right kind of fats, if consumed in appropriate amounts, can help it in running smoothly. Omega-3 fatty acids – which can be found in seafood, like salmon, tuna or mackerel fish, along with nut oils – are the ones that have been associated with boosting the mood of an individual and driving depression away.
An episode of depression typically lasts about six months if untreated, but sometimes it lasts for two years or more. “Episodes generally tend to recur several times over a lifetime,” says The Merck Manual of Medical Information.
Meanwhile, there are effective treatments for moderate and severe depression. Health-care providers may offer psychological treatments such as behavioral activation, cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy, or antidepressant medications.
“Health-care provers should keep in mind the possible adverse effects associated with antidepressant medication, the ability to deliver either intervention, and individual preferences,” the WHO says.
Different psychological treatment formats for consideration include individual and/or group face-to-face psychological treatments delivered by professionals and supervised by therapists.
“Psychosocial treatments are also effective for mild depression,” the WHO says. “Antidepressants can be an effective form of treatment for moderate-severe depression but are the first line of treatment for cases of mild depression. They should not be used for treating depression in children and are not the first line of treatments in adolescents, among whom they should be used with extra caution.”
Pointers to combat depression
Do you happen to know someone with depression? The WHO shares these tips:
• Make it clear that you want to help, listen without judgement, and offer support.
• Encourage them to seek professional help when available. Offer to accompany them to appointments.
• If medication is prescribed, help them to take it as prescribed. Be patient; it usually takes a few weeks to feel better.
• Help them with everyday tasks and to have regular eating and sleeping patterns.
• Encourage regular exercise and social activities.
• Encourage them to focus on the positive, rather than the negative.
• If they are thinking about selfharm or have already intentionally harmed themselves, do not leave them alone. Seek further help from the emergency services or a health-care professional. In the meantime, remove items such as medications, sharp objects and firearms.
• Take care of yourself, too. Try to find ways to relax and continue doing things you enjoy.