Depression in our midst

 
 

This month World Mental Health Day has highlighted the issues of depression and suicide. Aly Aziz examines the issue further.

We’ve all felt ‘the blues’, been ‘in a rut’ and had an ‘off day’. Slice it up any which way, it boils down to a bad feeling, a feeling that sometimes takes days to shake. It could be a fight with a friend, or the assignment you worked on all night and didn’t go well. Whatever the ‘trigger’ for that ill-at-ease feeling, most people go through an emotional and psychological gutter, but eventually bounce back in a few days, ready to again tackle the challenges of life.

However, for some, that emotional and psychological decline is not temporary. It can be endless, with recovery seeming hopeless. For some, it gets to a point where it interferes with appetite, sleeping habits, concentration, social interactions, even libido and sexual performance. They begin to show signs of clinical depression.

Depression – what exactly is it? Depression or Major Depressive Episode has a strict definition in psychiatry with specific signs and symptoms. The basis for a diagnosis is persistent low mood, or loss of interest or pleasure in activities for at least a two-week period.

There are many symptoms that have been linked to depression. Significant weight change without dieting, a change in appetite, sleeping too much/little, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness, excessive/inappropriate guilt, inability to concentrate and naturally, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide are all potential indicators of depression.

Many of the symptoms of depression are significant because of their detrimental effects on daily living, but it is recurrent suicidal thought that is truly a ‘red flag’ for anyone to be concerned about.

Huge amounts of scientific research have found a strong link between depression and suicide. It has been stated that two-thirds of people who take their own life have a history of depressive illness. Frustrating for health care professionals is the fact that depression and suicide rates are rising in Ireland.

It has recently been reported that, “Ireland has the fastest growing rate of youth suicide in the world and almost one in four suicides occur among those aged between 15 and 24. It was also noted that since 1945, the overall rate of suicide in Ireland has increased dramatically. However, suicide is preventable, yet the rates continue to increase.

So what is being done about this? It is generating a lot of attention politically, it is a high priority fiscally, and is near the top of the agenda of public health officials. The short answer: they are working on it.

Ireland has the fastest growing rate youth suicide in the world

That may be a step in a positive direction, how ever many people still wonder: how do I know if someone is considering suicide? There are specific signs to look for in any person at risk of intentionally taking their life. The most obvious indicators are self-isolation, pondering over, or threatening suicide and changes in social, sleeping and personality habits. There is considerable overlap between the signs of suicide and depression – mainly due to their close relationship.

Becoming isolated and withdrawn from friends and family is one of the primary indicators, as is a loss in interest in schoolwork or activities the person enjoys. Starting to, or increasing the use of alcohol and drugs for no reason can also indicate depression.

Change in sleeping habits (sleep during the day, stay awake at night), along with any major change in personality including a greater tendency towards recklessness are also perceived to be suicidal tendencies.
Naturally, there is a clear overlap of signs of suicidal behavior with the indicators for depression above.

What can one do if they notice a relative or friend with signs of depression or suicidal intentions? Instinctively, many people assume that bringing up the issue is the wrong way to approach it. They are wrong. Talking may be the only way to confirm what the person really intends to do and the latest research confirms that there is no added risk of the person acting on suicidal thoughts if it is openly discussed.

On the contrary, talking about such feelings and intentions may allow the other person to explore why they are feeling the way they are and may be a crucial first step in that person getting help.

Both depression and suicide are serious issues facing young people in Ireland, especially during their college years. It may be natural to think that you will never be exposed to either, but the fact is that one in twelve of us will have some signs or symptoms of depression during our lives. Keep your eyes and ears open to the signs. You could save a friend’s life just by listening.

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If encountered by a relative or friend who is considering suicide, try to remember the following points:

  • Take the time to listen and let the other person know you are listening.
  • Don’t offer quick advice and say that “everything is going to be alright.”
  • Don’t promise to keep your conversation secret; instead let them know that this it is very important to share this with a medical professional.
  • Encourage the person to talk to a health professional for more help. If they won’t and you believe their life to be in danger, talk to someone for them. When a friend’s life is in danger, breaking their confidence is okay.
  • Never debate about suicide with them, it may only add to their feelings of guilt and hopelessness.
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