A significant portion of South Africa’s population, over 25%, experiences depression. Surprisingly, only 25% of those affected actively seek the necessary help. The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) is using the July month to highlight the challenges posed by the stigma surrounding mental illness. And the misconceptions about the benefits and usage of antidepressants, which act as major barriers preventing people from seeking assistance.
Dr. Matsebula, a SASOP member, emphasizes that depression does not discriminate and that everyone is vulnerable to it. Contrary to common misconceptions, depression cannot simply be overcome by “snapping out of it.” It is not a sign of weakness. A result of wallowing in grief or sadness, a lack of positive thinking, or self-pity. Instead, depression is a medical condition that negatively affects brain function due to biological or environmental factors. Several elements contribute to depressive episodes, including genetics, anxiety, early adversity, traumatic experiences, abuse, socio-economic status, loss, bereavement and stress.
Depression manifests as persistent feelings of sadness. And a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, typically lasting for more than two weeks. It affects various aspects of a person’s life, including thinking, memory, motivation, eating, and sleeping patterns. In some cases, individuals may turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.
If you experience any of the following symptoms of depression for more than two weeks, it is essential to seek help:
- Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
- Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed hobbies and activities
- Persistent sad or empty mood
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, and self-reproach
- Insomnia or oversleeping, or early morning awakening
- Loss of appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
- Decreased energy, fatigue, and feeling run down
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs
- Thoughts of death or suicide, and suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability, and hostility
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
- Deterioration of social relationships
Dr. Matsebula advises that once you have consulted with your doctor and have been prescribed antidepressants, you should consider the following to achieve the best results from the medication:
- Allow enough time: Give the medication sufficient time to work before considering stopping them. Generally, antidepressants take between two to six weeks to show full effects.
- Take the full dosage: Follow the doctor’s instructions and take the full dosage without skipping any days or tablets. This ensures that the medication works as intended. The doctor will advise when it is time to decrease the prescription gradually.
- Avoid stopping prematurely: It is advisable to consult the doctor regarding the appropriate time to stop using antidepressants. Stopping the medication too soon, even if feeling better, can lead to a recurrence or worsening of depression.
- Remain persistent: Different antidepressants work in different ways, so your doctor may need to adjust your medication and its dosage to find the most effective one for relieving your symptoms.
To seek help for yourself, friends, family, or colleagues, you can:
- Speak to your general practitioner (GP)
- Contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) at 0800 12 13 14 or send an SMS to 32312, and a counsellor will return your call.
Remember, seeking professional help is crucial in effectively managing depression, and there are resources available to support you throughout your journey to recovery and living a healthy, fulfilling life.