Caption: Sadness or depression, how would you be able to tell which was affecting you? Dr Poon Shi Hui, Consultant, Department of Psychiatry, Singapore General Hospital (SGH) explains the difference. (iStock photo)
"It is normal to experience a low mood (sadness) when faced with disappointments and defeats, but this should not last more than a few days, or become so overwhelming that the individual is incapacitated with negative thoughts," says Dr Poon Shi Hui, Consultant, Department of Psychiatry, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.
"However, if the negative emotions – such as hopelessness and worthlessness – persist and last more than two weeks, you may be suffering from depression," adds Dr Poon.
Related article: Top questions on depression answered by our psychiatrists
Signs and symptoms of depression
- Feeling down, sad or empty most of the time and over an extended period
- Losing interest in daily activities
- Gaining or losing significant weight – more than a 5 per cent change in body weight in a month is considered significant
- Losing sleep or sleeping excessively
- Feeling tired nearly every day
- Feeling pessimistic, worthless or guilty
- Can't concentrate
- Thinking repeatedly of suicide
Depression, Dr Poon explains, is a mental illness that requires not only professional help but also support from family and friends. Asking someone who is suffering from depression to "snap out of it" or "don't think so much" about the unhappy things in their lives is easier said than done, says Dr Poon. "Well, the truth is, as much as they wish to, they are unable to."
Related article: Depression and dementia: Is there a link?
Treatments for depression
- Antidepressants work by correcting the functioning of the brain's neurotransmitters. Once a drug starts to work, most symptoms disappear after around two months. But the medications have to be continued for nine to 12 months after symptoms disappear, to avoid a relapse.
- Psychological treatments encourage sufferers to talk about their problems. This approach works best for people willing to talk about what they are going through.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), while extreme, is the most effective treatment for those who are severely depressed and whose symptoms have become so overwhelming that they are life-threatening. ECT is used to rapidly alleviate symptoms, and could be a crucial step in preventing those who are suicidal from taking their lives.
Related article: How to help a loved one with depression
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