I Can’t help but think that in recent decades, our society has been experiencing an epidemic of depression. Figures released by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that more than 300 million people around the globe are experiencing an episode of what is referred to as clinical depression.
At some point in our lives, everyone seems to have walked down the path fringed with hopelessness, bad temper, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, negativity, tearfulness, anxiety or nervousness.
Depression is significantly undiagnosed or under-diagnosed. It is not being taken as serious as physical maladies. Depression does not receive, and never has, the same level of attention and weightiness as chronic illnesses.
It is time to start treating depression like the serious medical illness it is. Primary care providers are not well equipped nor do they use the best practices for treating depression as a chronic condition.
We know more about heart failure, asthma and diabetes than we do depression. Almost everyone is aware of the common warning signs of diabetes. Cancer is horrible but so is depression. Just as there should always be a war against high blood cholesterol, certain brain chemicals must also be kept in check. Depression is a truly awful illness, and must be viewed and treated as such.
A few months ago, I went for a medical check-up. The health screening package only included full blood count, renal function test, liver function test, lipid profile, diabetic screening and cancer markers. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine that have been linked to depression are often overlooked. Undoubtedly in many clinical cases, there is a reduction in the amount of these chemicals found in depressed people.
Society must start to raise awareness about depression. There is too much lack of public education about this illness. We rarely hear of the agonising truths about depression.
Many could be depressed without knowing it because the warning signs are only heard of or taught once in a blue moon. With suicide issues being so widespread in the population, it is vital to raise awareness and teach people that when they feel sad, hopeless or lose interest or pleasure in their usual activities, they must seek medical help without delay.
Depression is not necessarily brought on by a difficult event, loss, or a feeling of grief. A note reportedly written by the Korean pop star Kim Jong-hyun (pic) before his suicide has revealed that the public eye was fooled by his smile. If his eyes were looked deeply into, people would have known he was breaking up inside.
Depression is not just about feeling a bit sad. It is a mental illness where sadness usually just shows up and can be unrelated to anything. Thus, it should be treated with behavioural therapies and medication.
Depression appears to be on the rise in teens, new studies state. We must all work in unison to fight against this serious disorder that can take a terrible toll on one’s life.
Researchers must continue to strive to produce a simple laboratory test that measures the endogenous chemicals in depression. The Government should increase resources required in both the urban and rural areas to adequately provide the needed quality mental health screening and services.
Many people’s depression is made worse by the stigma and judgement they get from society. The stigma makes many people feel ashamed to seek medical help, and prefer to hide their symptoms so as not to be categorised as “mentally ill”. Removing the negative stigma associated with depression will save lives.
Let’s build a more humane society to prevent depression.
DR MARYAM ABIMBOLA MIKAIL
Department of Biomedical Science
Lincoln University College Malaysia