The Down Low Let’s talk Clinical Depression!

31 October 2011

The psychology of Islam should ideally serve to enhance the recovery process as well as strengthen the healing mind and heart, for “with every difficulty comes ease.”
[Al Shahr:5-6].

Imagine slipping down Alice’s rabbit- hole, only there are no eccentric colourful creatures awaiting you, just darkness. And the hole that is your own mind.

‘Depression’ is often used as a common term to describe feeling low or under-the-weather. It’s important to know when a low mood is a natural process or when it falls under the diagnosis of Clinical Depression. Depression has been described as a vortex, absorbing your thoughts, rationality and personality - it is one of the more common mood disorders. With Clinical Depression, everyday tasks become difficult to carry out and the world is viewed as a lackluster, bland and meaningless place.

There are many myths surrounding depression: one of which is that the depressed person can simply ‘snap out of it’. This can be the most frustrating statement since a depressed person’s body lacks the hormones to do just this - to snap out of a chronic ‘melancholy’.

Many Muslim communities struggle to cope with mental illness and it is often a ‘taboo’ topic. As with taboo subjects, education and frank discussion can lift the veil of misunderstanding. *Khadeeja, a 29 year old economist from South Africa says, “Months were wasted in obtaining the correct treatment for me. My family were convinced that I was possessed by ‘jinn’ and were seeking alternative treatments for me. After realising that this was not the solution, my next line of treatment was a counsellor. But my counsellor was not geared towards dealing with the ‘medical’ nature of my condition. I later learnt, that at the time I was not yet ready to receive counselling - I was still too depressed.” After receiving the correct medication to help lift her out of a severe depression Khadeeja did return to counselling.

Two of the major features of Clinical Depression (one of which must be present) include: a depressed mood (feeling sad or empty) most of the day, every day for at least two weeks. It may present as irritability in children or adolescents. The second feature is a loss of interest or pleasure in almost all of your daily activities. These major symptoms could be evident by your own account or that of a person observing you. These symptoms need to be present for a two week period or more for the diagnosis to be moving in the direction of Clinical Depression.

Other symptoms could include: significant weight changes, sleep changes (insomnia or too much sleep), loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating and even recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. The last symptom is a huge ‘red flag’ and if this is present, help should be sought immediately.

Many other conditions could account for some of the above symptoms, so if you are experiencing any/many of these it’s highly recommended that you visit your General Practitioner to confirm the diagnosis.

What causes depression?
Although the causes are not completely understood, depression is largely thought to be multi-factoral (having a variety of causes). There is often a genetic component, sometimes an environmental trigger (eg. a stressful life event) and sometimes an environmental trigger that unearths the genetic component (a person who has a family history of depression now dealing with a stressful life event).

On a very microscopic level, depression is thought to be caused by a disruption in the normal functioning of three molecules in the brain: norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine (molecules which allow signals to pass from one part of the brain to another).

Treatment options for depression Once depression is confirmed and the severity assessed, your GP or specialist will present some of the treatment options available to you:

1. Medication - don’t be afraid of it, the drugs are not addictive and they will restore your body’s imbalance.
2. Exercise - it is proven by studies to work wonders in depressed patients.
3. Psychotherapy - Ask your doctor if you are ready for personal counselling with a psychiatrist or psychologist.
4. Support groups - seek out groups that deal with depression and anxiety.
5. A balanced diet - steer away from a great amount of sugar and maintain a healthy well-balanced diet.

It’s important to try to put together a holistic approach to treating depression. Medication is one aspect, a balanced diet is another and counseling to buffer against future episodes becomes important once the mind starts thinking a little more clearly. Regarding therapy, find a therapist that you are comfortable with - this may be a process but do not feel disheartened.

The psychology of Islam should ideally serve to enhance the recovery process as well as strengthen the healing mind and heart, for “with every difficulty comes ease.” [Al Shahr:5-6]. For many depressed women there often seems to be no reprieve, but with perseverance in treatment and all-round balance, depression, like any other illness can be surmounted.

Source :Dr. Ayesha Jacub discusses the taboo topic of Clinical Depression.

Ayesha Jacub (MBBCH). Diploma in Child Health (CMSA).