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Depression: the warning signs

By Faeza
23 July 2015

Signs indicating that you are physically unwell are easy to identify – a rash, broken bone or twisted ankle can quickly be diagnosed and treated. But, when it comes to mental illness, matters are a bit more complex.

One in five South Africans suffer from some form of mental illness, and yet only 25% of those people are getting the care they need. This is because mental illness is widely misunderstood, stigmatised and even feared.

Depression is a form of mental illness where one feels severely hopeless and sad. Denial and depression go hand in hand; people are quick to deny or hide their struggle due to the negative stigma surrounding it.

But depression is not something to be ashamed of, and with one in six South Africans suffering from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems, you are not alone. Depression is a very real chronic illness, and like diabetes and cancer, it can be treated and managed.

Despite the number of people suffering from depression, it is still a widely taboo subject. So taboo in fact, that many would rather suffer in silence than admit to needing help.

“In South Africa 60% of suicides are due to depression,” says Deepa Jaga from Metropolitan’s health division. “This is an alarming statistic given that depression is a treatable disease.

“As a country we need to break the stigma and normalise this disease, encouraging people to speak out when they are not feeling like themselves. If you suspect a family member or friend is suffering from the disease, reach out and help them to get the treatment they need, before it is too late.”

In honour of World Mental Health Month this coming October Deepa provides advice on how to identify the warning signs that a loved one could be suffering from depression in the infographic and below:

  • They seem overwhelmed with life: Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and a generally bleak outlook on life can indicate that emotionally, someone is struggling.

  • They are constantly tired and feel physically drained: Those suffering from depression experience a number of emotional and physical changes, which can result in fatigue, exhaustion and general sluggishness. Sleeping patterns may also be affected by depression, whereby the sufferer oversleeps or struggles with insomnia.

  • They are unusually sad: It’s normal to feel down from time to time, especially if you’ve received some bad news, had a set back or lost a loved one. But, if someone experiences intense feelings of despair or sadness and it is starting to affect their work, family and social life, then they may be suffering from depression.

  • They have unexplained aches and pains: Physical symptoms, such as headaches, back pain and aching muscles can accompany depression. Take these as a warning sign that something else could be amiss.

  • They have been acting recklessly lately: Excessive alcohol consumption, substance abuse, reckless driving and even compulsive gambling are signs of escapist behaviour, and suggest that there might be a deeper issue. Instead of scolding a loved one for their self-destructive behaviour, understand why they are acting out and see if you can help them.