(Reading this may enable you to save somebody’s life. Thank you for reading.)
Our mind is the driver of our body. Just like our body, it can fall sick, too. When it is sick, we should also seek treatment. Minor problems can resolved with simple counselling by a counsellor, friend or family member. If the disease worsens, you may need the help of your family doctor.
Sometimes the illness is more serious and chronic, thus requiring your family doctor to refer you to a specialist. A psychiatrist is a specialist in the illnesses of the mind. Just like the specialists of other disciplines, they have special medicines, tools and ways to help you overcome the illnesses of your mind. Most illnesses of the mind can be effectively treated, though some may need more intensive and prolonged treatment.
A psychiatrist is not a doctor of the insane. They are specialists of illnesses of the human mind and only a small percentage of their patients are truly insane. Thus, consulting a psychiatrist does not mean that you are insane. This myth that constitutes a negative social stigma must be dispelled so that those who require such helpful expert service are not dissuaded from doing so.
At some point of time in our life, our mind may not be as strong as it used to be. We may feel sad, lonely or depressed. These are normal reactions to loss, life’s struggles, or injured self-esteem. Nevertheless, these feelings shouldn’t last too long. They should not prevent you from leading a normal life. If it lasts longer than two weeks, perhaps it is time to consult your family doctor.
This ‘feeling down disease’ with a prolonged sense of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness is depression. It is a common illness with 300 million people affected worldwide. Depression is more than the usual short-lived mood fluctuation or emotional responses to challenges in our everyday life.
Depression can be long-lasting with moderate or severe intensity, thus becoming a serious health condition. The affected person may suffer great mental suffering and function poorly at work. The overwhelming suffering could possibly lead the sufferer to suicide. About 800,000 people take their own lives every year and suicide is the second leading cause of death in people between 15 to 29 years-old.
The American Psychiatric Association reported that depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults in any given year. And one in six people will experience depression at some point of time in their life. Depression can strike at any time, but on average, it first appears during the late teens to mid-20s.
Women are more likely than men to experience depression. Some studies show that one-third of women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime. Thus, depression is a very common illness of the mind. People with depression often think, “Nobody understands the feeling inside me” or perhaps they may be so depressed that the thought of seeking treatment doesn’t really arise. Often they just don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes, they may be so overwhelmed by their nihilistic thought of ending their life.
Sadly, many people around them or people whom they talk to, may not recognise that they are having depression, as the signs and symptoms of this disease are often masked. A depressed person may be ‘smiling’ while lamenting about his miserable feelings.
In Cambodia, the writer of ‘Stories of life in a changing world’, Maanvi Singh appropriately captioned his article with this title, ‘Some said that Cambodians never have depression’. This may appear true to a Westerner who is unfamiliar with the Cambodian Khmer culture, belief and expression. Indeed, there is not even a direct translation for the word ‘depression’ in the Cambodian Khmer language. A depressed Khmer may say ‘thelea tdeuk ceut’, which literally means “the water in my heart has fallen”. Such use of metaphors is a norm among Asians.
About 50 percent of people with depression never get it diagnosed, or treated. Sadly, the diagnosis is often missed, even by doctors, especially the young and inexperienced ones. Unless one has a high index of suspicion that prompted one to probe deeper into these sufferers’ subtle leads, it is easy to miss this ‘shy’ disease. Recognising the signs and symptoms of depression is the key to unlocking this disease.
Sometimes, knowing something about depression, recognising it and advising the sufferer to seek treatment may be life-saving. Be on the lookout for the following symptoms of depression among relatives, friends or colleagues:
People with depression display a low energy level. They appear sluggish and physically drained. They lose their concentration, thus displaying difficulty focusing on the things they do. They don’t care anymore about their usual hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. Indeed, they have lost their ability to feel the joy and pleasure of living.
They just feel helpless, hopeless and worthless. Often they are restless, easily agitated, and short-tempered. Everything and everyone seems to get on their nerves.
They may have difficulty sleeping and often wake up in early hours or they may be oversleeping and repeatedly late for work. They may not eat, or eat excessively leading to drastic change of weight. Often they are preoccupied with a strong feeling of guilt, criticising harshly about their perceived faults and mistakes. Sometimes they have multiple physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.
To them, life may have lost all its flavour and meaning, to the extent that there may not be any more reason to live on. Thus, they may be suicidal. Be on the lookout. Someone’s life may be in your hands!
My next column will be on ‘Living healthy to 120, a reality.’ Don’t miss it.
Dr. Victor Ti, MD, MFAM (Malaysia), FRACGP (Australia), Dip P Dermatology (UK), Dip STDs/AIDS (Thailand), Dip. AARAM (USA), LCP of Aesthetic Med.(Malaysia) is an experienced expat specialist generalist (Family Physician) of BH Clinic, Phnom Penh. As a specialist generalist, he is skillful at diagnosing all general diseases, excluding the sinister ones. Apart from the general diseases, Dr. Victor is also known for his skills in skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, minor surgery and aesthetic medicine. He can be contacted via email [email protected] Tel: 023900446 or Whatsapp: +60164122977