Depression – Put back the zest in your life!

Let’s start with the core construct – what is health? The constitution of the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.”


People in general strive to be healthy. This is true at least as far as the physical component as per the WHO definition of health is concerned. People are very aware of the importance of preventing or managing chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes because of the known impact it may have on longevity and quality of life. But the state of complete mental wellbeing is often ignored because we just don’t know anything about mental wellbeing or because of the stigmatisation associated with mental health issues. One of the most common and unrecognised mental health conditions is depression. Although nearly 10 % of the adult population in South Africa may suffer from clinical depression at some point in their life, only 25% of these people sought help for it.

Depression is a mental illness that negatively affects your mood and therefore your quality of life. The important message is that awareness of depression needs to be increased as the condition per se is a serious health condition that needs to be treated. Depression has an impact on how you will feel, the way you think and how you act. With depression you may be physically healthy, but you may have just lost the zest for life. It can also lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems that can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and decrease their ability to function at work, at school and at home. It may come in bouts and be recurrent or persistent and manifest with moderate or severe intensity.  Depression must however be distinguished from periodic mood fluctuations and short-lived (less than two weeks) emotional responses caused by challenges in everyday life.

The symptoms of depression can vary depending on the type and severity of the depression. It may be mild but can be very severe. Typically, due to the negative impact on mood, patients with depression feels sad with sometimes bouts of crying for no reason or just feeling “empty” for most of the day and every day. Patients with depression have no motivation to do anything, not even to get up from bed in the morning and with a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that was once enjoyed. They may just feel chronically tired and find it difficult to concentrate. There may also be a change in sleeping pattern in that patients wake up in the early hours of the morning unable to sleep again.

On the serious side of the spectrum, patients may even feel that life is not worth living and even toy with ideation of ending it all. If these symptoms, does not matter how mild, persists for two weeks, the patient must consult with a family doctor.

Recognise the symptoms of depression early in yourself, or family or friends, to seek medical attention. It is treatable but because  depression have many causes, i.e., it  may run in the family or it can  be caused by many things including continuous stress, feeling lonely, or changes in your social circumstances, it needs to properly investigated in each person with symptoms of depression to seek the underlying cause and level of the illness to get to the correct diagnosis and to customise a treatment plan for each individual with his or her unique circumstances. For this, the support of a team of clinicians including the family doctor, a clinical psychologist and sometimes a psychiatrist, the condition will be managed like any other chronic condition and will restore inter alia the zest in the patient’s life.

As a closing note, an interesting finding published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows the researchers concluded that a “Positive affective well-being (i.e., feelings of happiness and enjoyment) has been associated with longer survival and reduced incidence of serious illness.” “Affective” in this context refers to “mood” and suggests that positive emotions have a direct effect on our health and wellbeing. Positive mood has been linked to less stress, optimism, extraversion, happiness, and success in general. To further quote the author: “We have previously shown that positive well-being and enjoyment of life are predictors of longer life. Older people who report greater enjoyment are less likely to die over the next five to eight years than those with lower enjoyment of life.” This research therefore suggests that enjoyment of life and a positive mood (a positive affective wellbeing) contributes to better health in general, to lesser functional decline and therefore a lower incidence of disability as persons get older.

Dr Martin de Villiers MBChB (Stell) DOM(Stell) FCFP(SA) MBL is the Medical Director at Medwell SA – The Home Health Care Specialists. 

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