Depression, Awareness and Coping: Know depression, No Stigma

October 21, 2014

By: Anna Agoncillo and BreakDStigma
Image Credits: Mateus Lucena via Flickr
Understanding the Big D
1 in 17 people in Singapore languished Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) at some point in their lives (Institute of Mental Health, 2013). Despite its prevalence, only a few people seek help because they are afraid of the social stigma or labels that can be placed on them.

We as human beings fear the unknown. Hence, the lack of adequate knowledge on mental illnesses lead to increase in fear, negative sentiments, and social stigma.


This is why, it is very important to educate society and heighten awareness about how serious depression is. Understanding depression will help build a more empathetic and supportive environment wherein depressed individuals will feel safe to share their experiences and seek treatment.

Myth #1 - Depression is not a real illness.

Many people may think that depression is ‘imaginary’ and that it happens only in the person’s head. No! Depression is a real illness that affects a person’s thoughts, physiology and behaviour. Just like any other clinical illnesses, depression is highly treatable and is most effectively managed if it’s detected early. Some treatment options include counseling from qualified professionals, pharmacology, other forms of psychotherapy or a combination of the aforementioned. You can't think yourself into depression - it is a real illness that cannot be thought or wished away.

Myth #2 - Depression is something that you can snap out of.

Depression is not a switch that you can turn on or off whenever you wish to. Choice implies a sense of will and decision. Hence, much like cancer, without proper treatment, depressed individuals are unable to recover on their own.

Myth #3 - Depression is a sign of weakness.

Contrary to popular belief, depression is unrelated to someone’s strength or character. It’s a combination of biological (i.e., genetic predispositions and neurological imbalances), social (i.e., dysfunctional family) and psychological factors (i.e., stress) (Psychology Today, n.d.). Depression is a real handicap! If more people understand and accept its serious nature, more depressed individuals will dare to speak up and seek treatment without fear of being labeled as weak, incompetent or dangerous. 

Myth #4 - Depressed and mentally ill people are dangerous. 

According to the National Survey conducted in 2009, 50% of the Singapore population felt that they should be protected from people with mental illnesses because they felt the mentally ill pose a danger to them (Chong, 2007).

However, the mentally ill are rarely dangerous or violent - these are just extreme media portrayals. People with depression have it in them to be as capable as everyone else. All they need is for us to support and believe in them. They are equally as artistic, intelligent and fit for work. They should not be discriminated due to their mental illness.
Depression is more than just feeling sad. It affects your overall functioning negatively. Also, it is experiencing prolonged feelings of sadness and emptiness that doesn’t seem to go away no matter how much you try.

Coping with Depression

1. Accurately identify whether you have depression or not. Seek help if necessary. 

The health professionals will rule out whether it’s a side effect from medication, brought by other medical conditions or substance abuse or solely depression itself. Individuals with depression experience five or more of these symptoms that persist for two weeks or longer (Health Promotion Board, 2013): 

–       Fatigue
–       Recurring thoughts of self-harm and death
–       Low energy or mood
–       Uncontrollable bouts of crying
–       Excessive sleep or loss of sleep
–       Loss of appetite
–       Sudden weight loss/weight gain
–       Loss of interest or pleasure in all or most activities once deemed pleasurable, including sex
–       Inability to function in daily living activities
–       Inability to meet social/work commitments
–       Poor concentration or memory
–       Irritability, agitation or psychomotor retardation noticed by others
–       Feelings of guilt and anger

2. Acknowledge what you’re going through.

Start your healing processes by acknowledging that it exists. As Sun Tzu once said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”

3. Build your support system.

Seek professional help and genuine support from friends, family, support groups, and other health professionals. They shall guide you, strengthen you and be with you in every step of the way.
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4. Challenge your negative thoughts.

Negative thoughts are irrational thoughts that shall be destroyed. Break this vicious pattern by keeping track of it (e.g. have a thoughts diary). Surrounding yourself with positive people will help you challenge your negative thoughts.

 5. Take good care of yourself.

Having a healthy body will speed up the process of recovery. Remember to have 6-8 hours of sleep every night, adequate exposure to sunlight, regular exercise and a healthy diet. Eat foods like banana, brown rice, and spinach to help you decrease anxiety, boost serotonin and improve sleep (Smith & Segal, 2014).

6. Keep yourself busy by doing the things you love.

Don’t waste your time and effort to things or people will only bring you negativity and stress. Instead, invest your energy to the hobbies and social activities that make you happy. :)

Parting thoughts

Depression and other mental illnesses should be taken seriously, just like any other medical conditions such as cancer or diabetes. They need genuine support, care and positive belief from the people around them to turn their life around.
“Never underestimate the difference YOU can make in the lives of others. Step forward, reach out and help.”~ Pablo
The fight against stigma is a daily, ongoing battle. We have to make a conscious effort in understanding depression and mental illnesses. Furthermore, we have to extend the awareness to our family, friends and the community.


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References
Chong, S. (2007). Mental health in Singapore: a quiet revolution? Annals-Academy of Medicine Singapore, 36(10), 795. Health Promotion Board. (2013). Understanding Depression. Retrieved on October 16, 2014 from http://www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/10210 Institute of Mental Health. (2013). Latest study sheds light on the state of mental health in Singapore. Retrieved on October 16, 2014 from http://www.imh.com.sg/uploadedFiles/Newsroom/News_Releases/SMHS%20news%20release.pdf Psychology Today. (n.d.). Causes of Depression. Retrieved on October 16, 2014 from http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/depression/causes Smith, M. & Segal, R. (2014). Dealing with Depression. Retrieved on October 16, 2014 from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/dealing-with-depression.htm

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