Reach out. Now.

Anyone can suffer from Major Depression, which is an illness just like any other physical illness. And seeking treatment promptly is the key

By J. R. Ram
  • Published 17.06.18

Depression in young people is a difficult terrain to traverse. As a matter of fact, coping with depression is difficult for everyone, but it is more so for young people. There is usually a denial or lack of acknowledgement that young people can get depressed. For many years, it was thought that children and young people are actually incapable of feeling depressed.  

When depression afflicts the young for the first time, it is incomprehensible for them — what is happening and why they are not feeling their usual self. For friends and family members, it is often difficult to spot or suspect that someone is experiencing depression, as we are all outsiders when it comes to other people’s pain.

So, it is important for all of us to know what depression is and how one can identify the illness. If we can identify or suspect someone is suffering from this illness, it is easier to reach out.

Depression is a widely used term. ‘I am depressed’ can indicate a range of feelings as we tend to use the word loosely. Transient misery and feeling disappointed is not the same as suffering from the clinical syndrome of depression, which is an illness and it is labelled Major Depressive Disorder by mental health professionals. Major Depression is a much deeper malaise which affects functioning in our daily life and cannot be wished away.

For example, a bright student may find he has lost energy and motivation to study and hang out with his friends. He has little energy in pursuing activities he used to enjoy and snaps at his parents when they try to find out why he is behaving the way he is. These feelings last for weeks and slowly creeps up to engulf our whole being. So, Major Depression is an illness, which affects not only how we feel but also how we behave. It lasts longer than just few hours or a few days.

Unfortunately, depression or Major Depression is a very private illness. People suffering from it often lack words to describe how they are feeling, because they are in an unknown mental zone. In my experience, young people soon realise that no one likes being around someone who is depressed. So, they try to either hide it with a smile or simply stop socialising as they feel they can no longer be a part of the crowd.

Some young people, more boys than girls, try to lift their mood with drugs and alcohol. Usually a friend suggests trying a bit of alcohol or drugs to lift the mood and the fact is, on a short term, people feel good after taking drugs and alcohol. This method appeals to some of us. Nothing is worse than suffering from the heavy burden of sadness and misery, and taking illegal substance or alcohol provides relief. This then becomes a habit and for some, an addiction. At extremes of depression, people may also think of or attempt self-harm or suicide.

How would you know if you have depression?

Some of the indicators are:

Being moody and irritable — easily upset, or tearful.

Becoming withdrawn — avoiding friends, family and regular activities.

Feeling guilty or bad, being self-critical and self-blaming — hating yourself.

Feeling unhappy, miserable and lonely a lot of the time.

Feeling hopeless and wanting to die.

Finding it difficult to concentrate.

Not looking after your personal appearance.

Changes in sleep pattern — sleeping too little or too much.

Feeling tired.

Not interested in eating, eating little or too much.

Suffering aches and pains, such as headaches or stomach aches.

Feeling you are not good-looking.

If you have all or most of these signs and have had them over a long period of time, it may mean that you are depressed.

What causes depression?

There is no specific cause for depression. It is usually caused by a combination of factors, rather than any one single cause. Depression seems to be linked to chemical changes in the part of the brain that controls mood.

Negative personal experiences can be a trigger. These include family breakdown, the death or loss of someone you love, neglect, abuse, bullying and physical illness. You are more likely to suffer from depression if you are under a lot of stress, have no one to share your worries with. 

Depression may run in the family and can be more common if you already suffer from physical illness or difficulties.

What can you do if you are suffering from depression?

You can try some of the things listed below to see if it helps you feel better.

Simply talking to someone you trust, and who you feel understands you, can lighten the burden. It can also make it easier to work out practical solutions to problems. For example, if you feel unable to do your homework, letting your family and teachers know can be helpful for you to get some support to complete your work.

Try to do some physical activity and eat healthy food.

Try to keep yourself occupied by doing activities, even if you feel you do not really enjoy them.

Try not to stay all alone in your room, especially during the day.

Don’t overstress yourself and allow for fun and leisure time.  

When should you get more help?

Many young people will get better on their own with support and understanding. If the depression is dragging on and causing serious difficulties, it’s important to seek treatment. Seeking treatment and help for depression does not mean the person is ‘weak’ or ‘mad’. Anyone and everyone can suffer from an illness and Major Depression, too, is an illness, just like any other physical illness.

Psychological treatment or counselling and medication — both have an important role in treatment of this condition. It is best to talk to a family physician first for advice, who can then direct you in the appropriate direction. Delaying treatment for depression makes recovery prolonged and difficult. Therefore, seeking treatment promptly is the key.

Dr Jai Ranjan Ram is a senior consultant psychiatrist and co-founder of Mental Health Foundation ( Find him on Facebook @Jai R Ram