Your Health Matters

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column is the first in a new series penned by the doctors of the Little Current Medical Associates titled Your Health Matters.

Learning About Depression

by Dr. Meikleham

In January it is common for people to feel a little blue. Often this is blamed on the holidays being over, or on the shorter colder days, often with little sunshine. But when does sadness become the more serious condition we know as depression?

Depression is a common mental health condition, affecting up to one in five of us in our lifetimes. Other than feeling sad most of the time for a few weeks or longer, depression has many physical symptoms. Sleep disturbance is common. This can be not able to fall asleep or stay asleep. However, for some, excessive sleep can be the problem. Another common symptom is a loss of interest in usual activities, such as going out with friends and family, sports or spending time doing leisure activities.  Patients with depression may feel guilty about things in their lives. In older adults, this can present as a feeling of worthlessness. A lack of energy is a common symptom in all age groups. Difficulty concentrating, such as difficulty with school or work is often reported. In older adults, this can be mistaken for loss of memory and must be distinguished from it. Loss of appetite is common and weight is seen in more serious cases. However, in some people, eating too much and weight gain can also be seen. Patients may also experience anxiety and seem agitated, or the reverse can be true, and the patient may be withdrawn and much quieter than usual. Depression can affect people of all ages. 

Depression can be mild to severe. It can limit a person’s ability to function at home and at work. Many people feel that there has to be a “reason” why they are depressed, but for many depressed patients a specific trigger, such as the loss of a loved one or of a job, cannot be identified. There is a family history in many people with depression. It is not uncommon for depression to co-exist with anxiety or substance use. In fact, some people try to self-medicate their symptoms of depression with alcohol or drugs.

The most serious consequence of depression is suicide. From the feeling that life is not worth living, or that your loved ones would be better off without you, it can be a short road to actively attempting to take your life. Suicide is a leading cause of death next to accidents in the under 40 age group, although it is present in all age groups. 

The good news is that much can be done to treat depression. The first thing is to recognize that what you are feeling or what you are seeing in a loved one may be depression. Reaching out for help, or bringing a loved one to see a health professional can be that most important first step to getting help. As health professionals, we will take a history and may order labs. Depending on the situation, counselling and medications may be recommended. In the most serious cases, where there is a serious risk of suicide, admission to a hospital may be required. If your loved one will not see someone, it is still worthwhile talking to a health care provider for tips about what to look for and how you can be of assistance. Locally, help can be found at your doctor’s office, the emergency department and at your local mental health clinic. Online resources have been developed to help patients with depression but are not meant as a complete stand-alone treatment program. A common recommendation is “Bounce Back” which is an online resource intended for people aged 15 and older (BounceBackOntario.ca). It is a skill-building program run by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) which also has a website with good, reliable information on a number of mental health topics. If you feel you or a loved one is depressed, there is help. Reach out! 

For more information, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association at cmha.ca.