Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a common mental disorder characterised by a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It can negatively affect how you feel, think and act. An estimated 1 in 16 Singaporeans (6.3%) suffer from the disorder, and people with medical co-morbidities have a higher risk of developing depression. While it is common for people to experience low mood from time to time, if the feelings don’t go away after a few weeks and you find that these feelings are getting in the way of your normal day, then it may be that you are experiencing depression. Fortunately, depression is treatable. Although treatment may take time to work, many people will start to feel better with medication, psychotherapy, or both.
Mild forms of depression cause a constant low mood that minimally affects your daily life. If not paid attention to however, symptoms of depression can get worse and affect you more significantly. You may have trouble going about your normal day-to-day activities and even have thoughts of suicide. It is thus important to seek help when you notice yourself experiencing depression.
The symptoms of depression can vary from mild to severe, and can include the following:
Symptoms usually occur nearly every day and last longer than two weeks. In many, they are severe enough to cause difficulties or disruptions in day-to-day activities. It is also important to rule out various physical conditions which may at first seem to mimic depression (e.g. hypothyroidism).
Depression can affect anyone – and the exact cause of depression is often unknown.
Several factors do play a role in depression:
Myth: “Depression isn’t a real illness”.
Fact: It has real symptoms and is a medical condition that can get worse without proper treatment. It can be treated in different ways.
Myth: “Other people have it worse than you, you can’t be having depression”.
Fact: Other people’s suffering does not make us suffer less or take our own pains away. Depression is not a weakness or simply a bout of the "blues".
Myth: “You will be dependent on antidepressants”.
Fact: Antidepressants are not addictive like substances such as alcohol or nicotine. However, it is possible to have discontinuation symptoms if they are stopped too quickly. It is best to obtain the guidance of your doctor if you are thinking of stopping your medication.
Just like there is no single cause for depression, what helps to improve one's mood varies across different people as well.
Here are some methods that you may find helpful:
Unhelpful habits and substances that affect our bodily functions and chemical balance can also contribute to worsening depressive symptoms. As such, consider avoiding habits/substances such as:
If you find that trying different methods results in little improvement in your mood, speak to a professional such as a doctor about what you are experiencing.
If you feel very depressed with thoughts of harming yourself/others or taking your own life, let a doctor know as soon as possible. For urgent assessment, visit the nearest A&E or the Institute of Mental Health's Emergency Services. You may also call a 24-hour hotline for support, such as the Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) Hotline (1-767) or the Institute of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline (6389 2222).
Remember that depression can be treated, and you can feel better.
In addition to your mood and symptoms, your doctor will ask other questions, such as about life events, relationships, and the nature of your work, to understand you and your difficulties better.
Your doctor may also require tests, such as blood tests, to guide treatment.
Psychotherapy:A form of ‘talking therapy’ to treat depression
Antidepressant medication may be recommended in certain cases. Common antidepressants include the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These help to correct the level of brain chemicals such as serotonin or norepinephrine.