Depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness. It’s a condition that sometimes goes undiagnosed. If left untreated, it can lead to severe repercussions like self-harm and suicide. If you’re diagnosed with depression, it’s important not to lose hope. In this article, we share some tips on how to fight depression to make your situation better.
What is depression?
Depression is not just characterised by feelings of sadness. Everybody feels sad once in a while. What makes depression different is when the feeling of sadness and hopelessness lingers on. No matter what you do, the feeling just doesn’t go away, to the point that it affects your interest in activities, work and your quality of life.
A wave of sad emotions may arise due to the loss of a loved one, relationship issues or financial difficulty. This is normal. But depression sets in when the emotions never seem to go away, and you can’t seem to focus on anything else. If this feeling of sadness continues for more than two weeks, you might have depression.
6.3% of the Singaporean population have suffered from depression in their lifetime, an increase from 5.8% in 2010. This is a rising figure, but Singaporeans are also starting to seek help early and learn how to fight depression.
It is almost impossible to treat depression on your own. If you suspect that you or a loved one might be experiencing depression, get medical treatment.
By identifying the issues early, you’ll be able to learn how to fight depression and get better outcomes from the treatments.
How to fight depression: signs and symptoms
How do you tell the difference between an episode of sadness and depression? The key thing here is to keep track of the duration of the episode of sadness.
We’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of 10 signs to look out for:
- Prolonged sadness — depressed mood for an extended period
- Irregular sleep — difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite — drastic weight gain or weight loss
- Inability to focus — problems with concentration or thinking
- Irritable behaviour — feeling easily agitated or restless
- Inability to feel joy (anhedonia) — loss of interest in activities you enjoy doing
- Self-loathing and guilt — feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt
- Fatigue or tiredness — loss of energy, tired most of the time
- Suicidal thoughts — feeling helpless, give up on life
- Body aches and pains — headaches, aching muscles
If you experience or notice someone checking five or more of these symptoms almost every day for two weeks or longer, you, or that someone might be suffering from depression.
Keep track of all the potential signs and symptoms.
|Changes in appetite|
|Inability to focus|
|Anhedonia(loss of joy)|
|Self-loathing and guilt|
|Fatigue or tiredness|
If you see multiple checks across five or more rows over two weeks, you should seek help from a mental health professional immediately.
If the situation starts to worsen before two weeks, you can always seek help earlier. There are many mental health hotlines in Singapore, operated by volunteers and counsellors who will be able to provide advice on how to fight depression.
Alternatively, you can also reach out directly to hospitals or medical clinics for help and treatment.
How to fight depression: what are the causes and risk factors?
It is hard to attribute a single cause or event to depression. Like most mental illnesses, depression is not as straightforward as physiological illnesses. The causes and risks that can lead to depression are incredibly varied.
The onset of depression is usually due to a combination of biological, psychological, social and environmental factors. Every individual who suffers from depression will have a different combination of causes and risks. This varies from person to person.
We take a look at some of these factors and how they can contribute to your risk of depression.
Did you have an uncle who suffered from depression? A parent? Perhaps a distant cousin? Research has shown that depression could potentially run in the family.
A research team in the UK identified a specific gene — 3p25-26 — that is present in more than 800 families with recurrent depression.
Studies have also indicated that up to 40% of people suffering from depression can trace it back to genetic links. So, you’d have a higher chance of suffering from depression if someone in your family has it.
The odds increase if someone in your immediate family suffers from depression. If you have a parent or a sibling who suffers from depression, you are three times more likely to suffer from the same condition. This can be due to hereditary or environmental factors that have a strong influence. A person who grows up with someone with depression may be more susceptible to the mental disease. You may learn to mimic that person’s behaviour under certain conditions, especially when you are young.
2. Personality traits
Certain people may be predisposed to suffer from depression. If you possess a specific set of personality traits, you may be more susceptible to the condition.
Personality traits tend to be lifelong, unchanging characteristics that define you as a person. Your personality affects the way you interpret events and handle stress. If you’re unable to handle stress well, you may be more likely to fall into depression.
This may stem from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. From a biochemical standpoint, people who suffer from depression tend to have lower levels of neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine are chemicals in your brain that affect your mood. If you do not produce enough of these chemicals, you may face difficulty in processing stressful events or deriving pleasure from enjoyable activities.
Other existing mental health conditions can compound the risk of depression. These conditions may not be full-blown and might even go undetected. Anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance addiction can also lead to depression.
To illustrate this, let’s look at someone who has obsessive-compulsive traits. As a perfectionist, they set incredibly high standards for themselves. This leads to constant disappointment which could destroy their sense of worth. In such a situation, the risk of depression is much higher.
3. Stressful events
Most of the time, depression stems from one or multiple stressful events. It is rare for someone to fall into depression without any external factors. Usually, stressful events like the loss of a loved one, unemployment, financial difficulty or relationship problems can lead you down the path of depression.
Initially, it may start as a natural emotional reaction to the event. However, as time goes on, the emotions remain, and you may spiral into a pit of despair and hopelessness.
There may be other factors that prolonged the emotion of sadness, but these feelings were first triggered by stressful events.
4. Lack of support
Even with a genetic disposition, associated personality traits or an onslaught of stressful events, you can still avoid falling into depression. Bouts of episodic sadness can lead to full-blown depression when there is a lack of support from friends, family and your social circle.
Being dismissive of a person’s feelings when they have depression is one of the worst things you can do. By telling a person that they are solely responsible for how they feel, you’re telling them that they have no other options.
Snap out of it. It’s just a state of mind. Get over it. These messages imply that if you don’t do it yourself, you’ll never get out of depression. This deepens the sense of hopelessness and helplessness that depression sufferers already feel.
A strong social support system can help diminish the risk of depression. Having people close to you that you can readily talk to about feelings, issues and problems can keep depression at bay.
Getting help for financial problems, having friends to bring you out for activities and spending time with family can help you manage stress effectively.
How to fight depression: what are the available treatments?
Since it’s difficult to identify the root cause of depression, there is no single cure for the condition.
There’s a full spectrum of treatments for depression, and the best course usually involves a combination of all of them.
Every person will require a different approach to treatment. Here are the different types of treatment for depression.
This is probably one of the first forms of treatments you’ll seek as a person with depression: getting counselling from counselling therapists.
In the first stage of depression treatment in Singapore, the therapist will usually start with understanding your issues, and helping you work through them. This is done by learning about the factors leading up to depression and identifying methods to cope with emotions.
Sometimes referred to as ‘talk therapy’, counsellors will listen, provide feedback and formulate coping strategies that will be adjusted as the sessions progress.
At this stage, no medication is prescribed yet. Counselling sessions are considered to be a short-term solution, usually lasting up to 6 months. They tend to address present and recent issues and can be very effective in treating mild to moderate depression.
Not to be confused with psychiatrists, counsellors may or may not be medically qualified. Counselling therapists may have extensive certification and experience, but not all of them are qualified doctors.
If you wish to take the first step in overcoming depression, here is a useful list of counselling centres and hotlines for you to call to set up an appointment.
|Association of Women for Action & Research||Block 5 Dover Crescent #01-22||1800-774-5935 /6779 7137|
|Care Corner (Mandarin)||8 New Industrial Road #06-03||1800 353 5800|
|Counselling and Care Centre||Blk 536 Upper Cross Street #05-241, Hong Lim Complex||6536 6366|
|Eagles Mediation & Counselling Centre||177 River Valley Road #05-19 Liang Court||6788 8220|
|Fei Yue Community Services||Blk 604 Choa Chu Kang St 62 #01-53||6563 1106|
|Mount Elizabeth-Charter s Helpline||Mount Elizabeth Hospital 3 Mount Elizabeth||1800-738-9595|
|O Joy Care Services||5 Upper Boon Keng Road #02-10||6749 0190|
|Raffles Counselling Centre||Raffles Hospital, 585 North Bridge Road||6311 1222|
|SAGE Counselling Centre||1 Jurong West Central 2 #06-04Jurong Point Shopping Centre||63541191|
|Samaritans of Singapore (SOS)||10 Cantonment Close #01-01 (Multi-storey HDB carpark)||1800-221-4444|
|Shan You Counselling Centre||Block 5 Upper Boon Keng Road #02-15||6741 0078 (Mandarin)6741 9293|
|The Seniors Helpline||1 Jurong West Central 2, #06-04 Jurong Point Shopping Centre, Singapore 648886||1800 555 5555|
|Singapore Association forMental Health (SAMH)||Blk 69, Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, #01-365||1800 283 7019|
|Tsao Foundation||298 Tiong Bahru Road #15-01/06, Central Plaza||6593 9500|
|Wings Counselling Centre||179 Bartley Road||6383 5745|
For more severe cases of depression, counselling may not be enough. However, you can seek help from medical practitioners or reach out to hospitals, clinics or clinical psychiatrists to get a course of medication for your depression.
The most common medication would come in the form of antidepressants. Doctors would usually prescribe these to counter the effects of depression. There are various types of antidepressants, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ drug that can cure all forms of depression.
Antidepressants balance chemicals in your brain. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters and they affect your mood and emotions. Some people may respond better to certain types of antidepressants than others. The antidepressants are prescribed based on the specific symptoms displayed by each individual.
Medication for depression does not take effect immediately. It usually takes one to three weeks before you begin to notice the effects of antidepressants. It is important to complete the recommended course, which usually lasts at least 6 months, to prevent your condition from recurring when you stop.
The recommended course of treatment largely depends on weighing up the benefits of the antidepressants against the side effects. If you have severe depression and antidepressants are working, treatment will often be continued. If you have mild depression and antidepressants do not work and cause side effects, continued treatment will not be recommented.
3. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
This treatment is reserved for severe cases of depression and other mental health conditions like bipolar disorder. ECT is highly effective for the relief of depression. ECT will produce substantial improvement in approximately 80% of patients with severe and uncomplicated depression.
ECT is typically used when other treatments, including medications and psychotherapy, haven’t worked. It is also used for patients who require a rapid treatment response, in view of their severe conditions such as being at high risk for suicide.
ECT is a procedure, done under general anaesthesia, in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, and intentionally triggering a brief seizure.It seems to cause some chemical changes in the brain that can reverse symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions.
The treatment may sound a little extreme, but it might be the best way to save someone who is severely depressed and not responding to other treatments, and at high risk of suicide. A single session of ECT may not completely cure you of depression. It is generally considered to be the last resort for extreme cases where suicide presents a problem.
ECT usually comes with some other forms of maintenance like medications and therapy. This is to ensure that the effects of the treatment can take hold and prevent future relapses.
4. Psychological treatments
Psychological treatments are both safe and effective, but they can only work if a patient is willing to share their thoughts and feelings openly. Patients need to be able to articulate their problems and readily describe their experience.
The process of psychological treatment is sometimes referred to as ‘ventilation’, as it requires the patient to vocalise and ‘vent’ their issues extensively. The therapist administering the treatment is usually medically trained, and would therefore complement psychological treatment with medication.
There are many different types of psychological treatments that can cater to differing degrees of depression. Some of these types of therapy include interpersonal psychotherapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a good option if you’ve been battling with depression for your entire life. It is a long-term treatment that can help you reframe the way you perceive things. It can help you change the negative mindsets you have about specific situations or events and improve the overall quality of life.
Other ways to fight depression
If you find that these treatments are too invasive or expensive, there are other alternative methods to fight depression.
The most effective way to overcome depression without medical or professional help is to try to effect a change in lifestyle.
Here are some things you can try to improve your symptoms of depression.
- Spend time with family and friends
- Take care of yourself by adopting healthy lifestyle changes
- Talk to someone and share your feelings
- Keep a journal to track your thoughts and emotions
- Engage in an activity that you enjoy