Do you know that one of the most common mental illnesses in Singapore is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), commonly known as depression?  It can happen to anyone from all walks of life. The most affected ones are usually young adults and the elderly .
How do we know we have depression?
Everyone can feel sad or ‘blues’ when bad things happen. However, not all feelings of sadness point toward depression. In most cases, people may experience a short-term depressed mood but overcome and recover from it without the need for treatment. On the other hand, people with clinical depression can struggle with the symptoms for weeks, months or even years.
Signs and symptoms of depression
- Persistent sadness, feeling down or gloomy almost daily for at least 2 weeks
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, such as socialising with friends and family
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Insomnia. For some people, they may sleep more than normal.
- Feeling restless and easily agitated
- Unable to focus and think clearly, thereby becoming indecisive
- Feelings of worthlessness and resignation
- Recurrent thoughts of death 
If you have most of the symptoms, please get help immediately. Having friends and family to listen to you and ask concerned questions can make a difference. However, sometimes, the support from loved ones may not be enough for more severe cases of depression . Hence, it is better to seek professional help.
Treatments available for depression
There are 2 types of treatments, medication and psychotherapy, that are readily available in many medical centres.
1- Antidepressant medication:
Antidepressants are a popular treatment choice for depression because they can reduce symptoms. There are a number of antidepressants available that work in slightly different ways and have different side-effects .
Most antidepressants are generally safe. However, in some cases, young adults may experience an increase in suicidal thoughts or behaviour when taking them. If you know someone who has suicidal thoughts when taking an antidepressant, get immediate help .
To get the best results from an antidepressant:
- Be patient
- Take your antidepressants consistently and at the correct dose
- See if the side effects improve
- Explore options if it doesn't work well
- Consult your doctor first before making any changes to your medicine consumption
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs
It refers to a range of treatments that can help with mental health problems, emotional challenges and some psychiatric disorders.
It aims to enable clients to understand their feelings and what makes them feel positive, anxious or depressed. These can equip them to cope with difficult situations in a more adaptive way. Anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by their problems and unable to cope may be able to benefit from psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy is sometimes called a ‘talking treatment’ because it uses talking rather than medication. Some forms of psychotherapy last only a few sessions, while others are long term lasting for months or years.
How to cope with depression?
Besides medication and psychotherapy, there are a few healthy living habits that can help you get through difficult situations in life. These include:
- Learning to relax (hanging out, music, hobbies)
- Better time management
- Making a problem list
- Exercise and keeping fit
- Have an interest or hobby
- Taking a break (vacation, staycation)
It is important to remember that healing takes time. Your mood will eventually get better, but it may not improve immediately.
How caregivers can best provide help?
Most caregivers feel powerless because they don’t know how to help an elderly person with depression. However, they are many ways they can help:
- Listen in a supportive manner. Give positive reinforcement to them for sharing their thoughts and remind them of their positive qualities
- Encourage loved ones to seek help. Even by accompanying them to their appointments will make them feel supported
- Maintain a stress-free environment. Having a routine to reduce stress from the elderly can greatly help depressed elderly 
How to help a suicidal person
- Do not get involved physically if a person is distressed and threatening
- Ensure the person is not left alone, especially when the risk of suicide is high
- Try to involve other close friends (with the sufferer's agreement)
- Seek professional help such as Samaritans of Singapore and hospitals
- Discourage sufferer from alcohol and narcotic drugs
- Ensure the person does not have ready access to some means to take their life
- Encourage the person to talk and listen without judgement
- Be polite and respectful
- Don’t deny or minimise the person’s feelings
- Try not to give advice, just hear him/her out
- Give reassurance of a favourable outcome for the person
Remember, depression is not something you need to live with. It is also important to note that there is nothing stigmatising about seeking help for depression.
It can be treated if you seek help early. If you are open to seek help and improve on your mental health, talk to a mental health professional today.
Dr Ng Beng Yeong obtained his medical degree and underwent postgraduate training in Psychiatry in Singapore. He furthered his studies in Organic Psychiatry and Neuropsychiatry under a scholarship at the Maudsley Hospital, UK.
Read more of Dr Ng Beng Yeong's QnA here.
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