Depression – Should I be concerned?

The everyday use of the word depression usually refers to a passing state of emotion, perhaps a moment of sadness, pain or exhaustion. The key difference from the illness of clinical depression is that the feelings pass naturally and people continue being fully engaged in day to day activities. When depression is used to describe an illness the implications are much different.


Mild clinical depression can be characterized by a low-grade but persistent sadness, the inability to feel happy, or a low level of energy and interest. Severe clinical depression can be so incapacitating that an individual is unable to get out of bed for weeks or months at a time or is in such great emotional pain that he or she is driven to commit suicide. According to the World Health Organization, depression will be the fourth most debilitating disease in the developed world behind heart disease, cancer, and traffic injuries by the year 2020.

Depression affects people from all cultures, socio economic levels, and all ages.  Depression is the fourth leading cause of disability and premature death in the world. Unfortunately most people who experience clinical depression do not seek help.

How Common Is Depression?

Depressive episodes are very common. World wide, one in ten people will suffer a clinical depression in any twelve month period costing some $4 billion annually in health care and lost income in Canada alone. Women are almost three times more vulnerable to experiencing a major depression than
men, unfortunately both men and youths are not exempt from the web of the disease. Surprisingly, although many lives have been sacrificed to this disease, fewer than half of the suffering
men, women, and children recognize the symptoms and seek help.

What Symptoms Will Help Me Recognize Depression?

Men tend to report depression as anger and irritability, while women focus on sadness and excessive guilt. Often initial complaints are physical. Such as persistent sleep disturbances, appetites and energy changes, abdominal pain, Gastro Intestinal upset, Irritable bowel, generalized body pain and headaches. A depressive mood usually passes with time and distance from the triggering event. Here is a list of symptoms that if they persist for more than 2 weeks in the absence of an event may be cause for concern.

  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns (either sleeping too much or too little)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • loss of interest in work, hobbies, family members or friends
  • feelings of uselessness, hopelessness or excessive guilt
  • A preoccupation with failure/s or inadequacies
  • A loss of self-esteem
  • Thoughts that are negative and difficult to “turn off”
  • Agitation or loss of energy
  • Lack of sexual interest
  • Tendency to cry easily
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts, and in rare cases of depression, feeling a loss of touch with reality (psychotic depression); hearing voices (hallucinations) or having strange ideas (delusions).

 What Causes Depression?

The etiology of clinical depressions is most likely several factors including complex genetic factors and environmental stressors. We know that prolonged emotional stressors, alcohol or elicit and prescription drug use, psychological, physical or sexual abuse contributes to the changes in brain chemistry seen in clinical illness. In an individual who has a high genetic predisposition to a depressive disorder, little or even no environmental stress may provoke a depressive illness. In an individual with a low genetic predisposition, a major stressor may or may not provoke a depressive illness. Individuals with first degree relatives (i.e., parents, siblings, and children) with depression are more likely to be at risk for experiencing clinical depression themselves.

How Can I Treat Depression?

So few people who suffer from clinical depression will seek medical attention. This is thought to be in part due to the fear of the stigma of mental illness. It may be rooted in the shame of ‘not being able to cope’ and the odd belief by people suffering that they are to blame for their depression and must endure the struggle.

It is not uncommon for people to try to cope on their own while feeling their mood “slipping” or “dropping,” until it reaches a point that feels intolerable. People struggling with depression may also find themselves to be much more sensitive to comments from others, engage in negative self-talk and get little or no relief when loved ones and friends try to cheer them up or offer support.

The length of a depressive episode is influenced by the person’s ability and willingness to get treatment. The more we learn about and take responsibility for our own mental health the better equipped we become to promote and maintain good health in ourselves and others.

Treatment of mild depressions can begin with a quick assessment of balance in your life. Do you have a balance between work, play and family? Or are you overloaded in one area to the detriment of the others. Stress and feelings of depression are reduced when stress management techniques are practiced, establishing balance and time out in a busy demanding life’s key, adhering to good sleep, hygiene, exercising, getting adequate hydration and maintaining good nutrition is a great start to taking care of yourself generally and particularly if you struggle with feelings of depression. Massage therapy is effective in staying in touch with your body, releasing muscle tension and promoting the flow of blood and energy. Meditation or guided imagery can be an effective tool to increase awareness of the tension in your body and learn to manage these feelings which reside throughout your body.

Homeopathic remedies can assist with sleep and mild mood disturbances. In moderate cases of depression a variety of counseling approaches are effective. In more severe cases medications are required to re-establish a healthy brain bio chemistry.

In most depressions, a combination of relaxation techniques (exercise, yoga, and guided imagery), building balance into your day to day life, counseling and medications are the best approach.

Essentially this is a Bio Psycho social Model; Bio (treating the biology), Psycho (looking at how we think, feel and behave), Social (looking at how we exist and interact within the world around us.

Don’t suffer alone and in silence. Depression is a treatable medical illness not a character flaw. There are hundreds of stories of survival.
Check out the internet, your local library, the local hospital out patient department
or your mental health center.

Overall, be gentle with yourself and spend time with the people you love

Written by: Lisa West, MSW
Clinical Counsellor

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