Understanding the Unique Symptoms of Depression and How to Manage Them Effectively
Published | 6 min read
Depression is a crippling disorder, but there are effective ways to alleviate the symptoms. Learn more about the ways to cope with this mental health condition
Being unhappy and feeling down at times is normal, but when you start feeling hopelessness and despair as if you’re in a “black hole,” you may be experiencing symptoms of depression. Depression is more than just sadness as a response to the struggle you’re facing in life. It can also change how you function daily.
Recognise the symptoms of depression and learn how to manage them effectively here.
What is Depression?
Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that can affect our lives profoundly. Apart from affecting how we feel and make decisions in life, it also impacts our daily activities such as working, eating, and sleeping.
Life is like a roller coaster. Everyone has good days and bad days. However, it becomes a problem if one continues to feel down and cannot snap out of it. A person is suffering from clinical depression if negative thoughts persist for two weeks or longer. Depression gets worse if left untreated. Fortunately, depression can be managed, and improvements are often seen in a matter of weeks with proper treatment.
Sam Ng Teck Xian, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician at Eu Yan Sang says, “TCM believes that depression is caused by emotions affecting the three organs – the liver, heart, and spleen.”
“Most depression sufferers have long-term life and work pressure, or experience negative life events, emotions that cause body system and viscera dysfunction, resulting in Yin-Yang and imbalance in Qi and blood over time,” he adds.
While depression usually affects adults, children and adolescents are also susceptible. Depression can also present in older adults with other medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart diseases and Parkinson’s disease, worsening their existing medical conditions.
What are the Symptoms of Depression?
Depression varies from person to person. Nonetheless, there are some common signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Feelings of helplessness and/or hopelessness
- Anger and irritability
- Obvious changes in appetite or weight
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Frequent thoughts of suicide
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Slower thinking, speaking and bodily movements
- Unexplained back pain or headaches
- Sleeping disorders, either loss of sleep or oversleeping
- Trouble focusing on tasks or remembering things
While the abovementioned observations can happen to anyone around us, these symptoms are so severe in people suffering from depression that they affect their daily lives, from work to social activities or relationships.
What are the Common Types of Depression?
Depression is a broad classification of a growing list of disorders. Depending on the underlying factors and what defines or triggers them, here are some common types of depression and their respective signs and symptoms:
- Persistent depressive disorder is depression that lasts at least two years, regardless of severity.
- Perinatal and postpartum depression can affect women during pregnancy or after delivery. This condition is more serious than the “baby blues” that many women commonly experience after birth. Mothers suffering from depression may have difficulties taking care of themselves and caring for their babies.
- Psychotic depression is when a person has severe depression coupled with a psychological disorder, such as delusion (i.e., the feeling of worthlessness) or hallucination. Individuals suffering from psychotic depression can get angry easily, make little sense in conversations and have poor life habits.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterised by the onset of depression during winter when daylight hours are shorter. This type of depression generally goes away when summer approaches. Symptoms of SAD include social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain. However, SAD is uncommon in tropical regions as daylight hours are rather constant throughout the year.
- Bipolar disorder, while it is a condition that warrants its categorisation outside depression, it deserves our attention here as individuals who suffer from it experience oscillating episodes of major depression and mania.
Persons suffering from depression often do not realise it or are in denial and do not seek help. They may need to be strongly persuaded by family members and friends to consult a psychiatrist and take treatment for their condition.
What Can You Do to Feel Better?
Factors causing depression can be genetic, biological, environmental, psychological or any combination. Understanding the underlying cause of depression is crucial to formulating the most effective course of treatment. The earlier treatment begins, the more effective it will be. Clinically, depression is usually treated with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. If these treatments fail to bring the symptoms under control, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and other brain stimulation therapies may be considered. For some people, certain herbal and dietary supplements can help with depression.
Antidepressants are the most common type of medicine that is used to treat depression. They can help to improve mood or reduce stress by making the brain release certain chemicals. Antidepressants take 2 to 4 weeks to achieve their desired therapeutic effects. However, other functional aspects such as sleep, appetite and concentration may improve before the person’s mood starts to show a positive change. A course of treatment typically lasts around 6 to 12 months. It is crucial to complete the treatment to achieve the best outcome.
Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” can also help people with depression. Trained therapists can help patients establish new ways of thinking and identify and change inaccurate perceptions of themselves. Psychotherapy may involve family members to achieve better results. It can also be conducted in a group setting with people with similar disorders. Patients usually make significant progress after 10 to 15 sessions of psychotherapy.
Brain stimulation therapies
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is considered when medication and psychotherapy fail to alleviate the symptoms of depression. This painless procedure is rapid and effective. However, it can cause side effects such as confusion, disorientation and memory loss.
Sleeping well naturally helps combat depression. Rooibos tea can help alleviate stress and anxiety levels by improving sleep quality. Consumed in southern Africa for centuries, this beverage has become a beloved drink around the world. Rooibos tea is caffeine-free and a good alternative to black tea.
St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a flowering plant containing hypericin, hyperforin, and flavonoids that can potentially help ease the symptoms. It is available in many forms, such as tablets, capsules, teas, and topical creams. However, you shouldn’t take it with some prescription drugs or antidepressants.
Ginseng reduces stress, which contributes to depression. This medicinal root is effective in protecting the nervous system. Studies also suggested that the active ingredients of ginseng possess antidepressant effects. Ginseng is a very versatile ingredient in Asian cuisines. You can also enjoy the health-promoting goodness of this root in savoury soups, soothing beverages, or capsule form for convenience.
“The main treatment of depression in TCM are Chinese medicine prescription and acupuncture. However, patients should consult a qualified Chinese physician to have their treatment,” explains physician Ng.
He adds, “patients can also participate in social activities, do regular exercises, such as running and swimming, for 30 minutes a day, and sunbathing. These can help restore the balance of qi and blood. Taking deep breaths can also help improve the mood.
Depression may be debilitating and takes time to treat, but as we develop a deeper understanding of this disorder and find better ways to treat it, there is no reason to give in to it. While medication and psychotherapy form the backbones of depression management, TCM fills the gap by reducing stress levels and improving sleep. Together with a healthy diet and regular exercise, depression can be more manageable.
- HelpGuide. 2021. Depression Symptoms and Warning Signs. [Accessed 20 September 2021].
- AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSOCIATION. What is Depression? [Accessed 20 September 2021]
- National Institute of Mental Health. Depression. [Accessed 20 September 2021]
- National Institute of Mental Health. 2017. St. John’s Wort and Depression: In Depth. [Accessed 20 September 2021]