Depression: Friend or Foe?

Believe it or not, depression or pathological sadness does not exist simply to make our lives more difficult that it already is.  Depression, like most other disorders, has its function and it has its purpose.

Depression is simply the mind’s alarm system telling us that something is not right in our life.  I compare depression to fever.  Fever is the body having elevated temperatures, chills, overall weakness and tiredness, palpitations, and sometimes headaches.  Are fevers the sickness themselves?  The answer would be ‘No’.  Fevers are only signs that something is wrong with the body; either a virus or bacteria have invaded the system, or the body lacks a certain chemical or nutrient, or an organ is not functioning properly.  Likewise when someone experiences fever, it could be a sign that the person is experiencing anything from minor tiredness (fatigue) to serious organ failures.  Whatever it is, fevers work as alarm systems signaling that the body is in a disturbed state.  It sends a signal to the person to slow down and to have oneself checked.  The same goes with depression.  I call it the ‘Fever of the Mind.’

When someone you know is sad or suffering from any form of depression, rest assured that there are underlying problems involved.  Be it a biological cause, a cognitive cause, a social cause, or even a spiritual cause, the feelings of sadness is a gauge that should tell the person: “Hey, wake up man, you have to change some things in your life.”  Be it in your work and sleep patterns (biological), your thinking and perception about situations (cognitive), your relationships (social), or your belief system (spiritual), depression demands to the owner greater coping and healthy changes in one’s life.

Here are some tell tale signs that one is depressed (DSM-IV-TR):  1. Check out for appetite changes whether the person is eating too much than they normally do or whether the person’s appetite seems to disappear.  2.  Check out sleep patterns whether the person is experiencing symptoms of insomnia (difficulty in sleeping) or hypersomnia (oversleeping).  3.  Observe whether the person is tired most of the time, even right after a good night’s sleep (fatigue).  4.  Observe the person’s manner of speaking whether they speak positively about themselves or pessimistically (low self-esteem).  5.  Check out whether the person experiences blank moments or periods of ‘spacing-out’.  I believe these episodes are used for day-dreaming and fantasizing.  6.  Depressed people usually exhibit overt feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in life.

If you observe any of these symptoms in your friends and love ones, give them at least 2 weeks to 2 months to recover.  Let’s not be too hasty in labeling or associating people with serious clinical conditions.  However, if the symptoms do last for more than 2 months, then make sure that appropriate measures are taken.  Remember that depression, like fever, is an alarm system when something is wrong.  Even mild depressive states can signal concerns as little as failing a quiz in school or serious life-threatening issues such as suicide ideations.  So don’t hesitate, consult a psychologist or your physician if you have any questions or concerns.

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