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Depression. It seems like every Monday morning I get a new bout of it, with recurring symptoms. Every morning my alarm goes off until Friday afternoon at about 6pm when suddenly, I’m good as new, until Monday morning comes round again that is, and I’m back feeling the blues for another week.

Everyone gets down occasionally, sometimes you have a good reason, other times you’re down for reasons unbeknownst even to yourself, but you’re still down. And then we all moan and bitch about being depressed until we snap out of our mood and carry on life as normal.

Because everyone, at some time, feels like this, people brush off when someone is actually suffering from depression like it’s no big deal. People tell them to snap out of it, toughen up, get up out of bed and move on. The fact that depression is a real psychological illness which needs actual care seems to elude a lot of people, because “depression” is just something that everyone feels on occasion. If you let it get the better of you, then it’s a sign of emotional weakness, not a disease.

But the facts are that depression is a serious disease. In fact, “depression is one of the most common health conditions in the world,” which, if left untreated, can seriously alter the sufferer’s quality of life. Depression has even been found to be more damaging to your long-term health and well-being than chronic illnesses such as arthritis and diabetes. Therefore, our preconceived stereotypes of what is a “depression sufferer” need to be reassessed – and pronto.

Lasonda Wilkins-Hines, a licensed social worker specializing in depression, rationalizes that this stereotypical attitude of depression is seen with African-American’s especially because; “We come from a culture where we need to be strong as African-American women and it’s been passed down for generations that you suck it up or you talk to the pastor.” Psychologist Dr. Yolanda Brooks agrees, stating; “Black women tend to present themselves to society as strong, resilient human beings… you can trace this dynamic back to slavery, when a woman had to pretend she was okay when she was actually suffering inside.”

This social stigma is particularly relevant to African-Americans – of the nearly 20 million Americans who suffer from depression each year, African-American women are affected more than any other group! In 2009, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that only 12% of African-American women receive treatment for their depression, which, sadly, but perhaps tellingly, is the number one cause of suicides in this country.

Reading the case this week of the mother, LaShanda Armstrong, who drove off a pier, killing herself along with three of her four children, it struck me how isolating depression can be. The psychologist’s and police officers who spoke of the tragedy claimed that none of the woman’s family or friends noticed any depressive symptoms, and she hadn’t said anything to them, but clearly, there was something going on, as she could think of no other avenue out, but suicide. Relatives and friends of the woman have said she was a “good mom…. she just needed a helping hand,” but (at least from what has so far been reported), no one thought to seek professional help for her. Maybe because they didn’t know what symptoms to look for.

Dr. James Bolton, a Consultant Psychiatrist lists some common symptoms of depression to look out for in your loved ones and urges people to seek help, for, “it can be helpful for people to talk about their problems and offload. It isn’t always easy to do but there’s a lot to be said for the ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ proverb.”

1. Physical changes

Dr. Bolton believes that sudden shifts in sleep patterns are a strong physical symptom of depression. “Finding it difficult to get off to sleep or waking up during the night, or too early in the morning are all potential physical signs,” he says. Also take notice of other physical changes; most notably, when someone starts losing their appetite and losing weight, libido and an interest in sex.

2. Mood Swings

In terms of personality change some people might be angrier than others and some might be more risk taking. However, as even a bad day at work, or a lot of traffic on the drive home can alter your mood, Dr. Bolton notes that mood changes may be only depressive symptoms when these changes are new. He says, “in terms of our personality we will all have a fuse of a certain length. So we will all get irritable under certain circumstances. But when someone is suffering from depression they find that their fuse is much shorter. They’ll fly off the handle at people quite close to them that they normally wouldn’t get angry with. Also, things that they can normally tolerate and cope with will make them lose control.”

3. Fracturing relationships

Dr. Bolton notes that people with depression find it difficult to recognize what is happening to themselves and thus, become difficult to live with, especially if their partner is trying to help them, for they don’t recognize the problem. They begin to put in less time with their friends and family, and become increasingly moody.

If anyone you know looks like they are suffering from depressive symptoms, help them out. Don’t wait for another tragedy like LaShanda Armstrong and her children to occur before we acknowledge that depression is a serious illness.

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