DEPRESSION can happen at any time in a persons life. Teenagers, and even young children, can be affected but it is not always picked up until later in life. This is according to Philippa Manning, the director at the Pietermaritzburg Mental Health Society, a non-profit organisation that deals with depressive disorders and mental illness. Manning says anyone can suffer from depression in a mild or major form, and those with other pre-existing medical or mental diagnoses are at high risk of experiencing depression as well.“Depression can be serious and life threatening, and if untreated, it can intensify to suicidal thoughts and plans. Medication and counselling is still considered as the best combination for treatment. “Depression can be caused by many things: stress; anxiety; experiences of loss (death of a loved one); profound debt or relationship problems; unemployment; isolation etc. With major depression, it could be a due to a life situation or a chemical imbalance in the brain for various reasons. If you see the signs of depression, is very important to talk to a professional, get a diagnosis, and get treatment. General Practitioners are usually the first to diagnose.“Support is a vital part of the treatment as medication alone does not attend to the actual life experiences a person may be suffering from. “Support from friends and family is so important so do not keep your mental health issue a secret out of fear and embarrassment (stigma). “Counselling from a professional psychologist or psychiatrist, or a social worker or qualified counsellor, is a vital part of the healing,” said Manning. Manning encouraged families of those who may be suffering from depression to try and get their loved one to seek professional assistance as sometimes the person is unable to do this for themselves: “People with depression are often misunderstood and incorrectly judged as resistant to getting help or unmotivated to change. “As an organisation we are able to assist people to get assessed for medical treatment and provide ongoing support, so that those suffering with depression do not feel isolated. “As a non-government organisation, we can link with other services and hopefully find some practical solutions to relieve some of the causes of the depression. People with depression often cant afford to go to doctors but they can afford to contact us,” she said.The society also renders services to those with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as intellectual disabilities. Manning said many members of the public are not even aware that they render a service to people suffering from depression.Ayanda Mavundla, from Caluza, was diagnosed with depression in 2017. She told Echo that being diagnosed was a blessing in disguise for her because she got a chance to fully be herself after the experience.“Depression really affected my decision making and self esteem. Before I was diagnosed, I knew nothing about depression and I never thought I could be diagnosed with such. At that time, I was not feeling well because of dizziness and I was admitted to hospital. “When I got to hospital they ran all kinds of tests. After that a psychologist came to see me and she transferred me to a psychiatric hospital where I got professional help. It took me about two weeks to find my voice again but, with the help of therapy and psychiatry, I managed to have my voice again. “At first I was so ashamed that I had been diagnosed with depression. I did not even know what I would tell people until I fully recovered. I was put into treatment for three months and I got back to my normal self. What I have learnt from my experience is that there is nothing to be afraid of; depression is just a phase and treatment is very effective. You just need to seek help as soon as you see the signs,” she said. After recovering from depression, Mavundla wrote a book about her experience, Rescued by Depression, which was launched in July last year. Last November she established a non-profit company called A Pome Mental illness Advocacy. She believes that there is still a lot to be done to teach people about depression.Physical exercise is also regarded as an important way of dealing with stress. According to Slondile Nene, who is a gym instructor at Curves, going to gym is not only about getting fit and healthy: “If you are at the gym you forget about everything that is happening around you. You focus on your breathing, posture and on your goals set for a workout. When a person exercises, the feel-good hormones (endorphins) are produced. A person feels good, happier and positive about things when she/ he is at the gym. When a person is going through a harsh emotional state, it is very important to get involved in an intense workout so that they push themselves and release those emotions. “As personal trainers, we also build a solid relationship with our clients because we give them a platform to confide in us and offer advice where we can,” she said. What it is depression? There are a number of mood disorders that classify as depressive disorders but what these disorders all have in common are feelings of sadness, emptiness, or an irritable mood, accompanied by physical and mental changes that have a negative effect on an individual’s ability to function in their daily lives. Each individual depressive mood disorder may have its own unique causes and triggers. However, generally depressive mood disorders are thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, physiological, temperamental and environmental factors. For more information contact the PMB Mental Health Society at 033 392 7240.