A Quick Guide to Understanding Depression

In 2014, British stand-up comedian Robin Williams committed suicide sparking an outrage and shock on the evident irony of a comedian suffering depression. It also brought back depression into our debate on mental health, making it a much serous issue than it was perceived to be earlier. Pop-singer Amy Winehouse was also found dead at her home, having gone through manic-depression resulting in alcohol and drug abuse.

Back home, suicides of Jiya Khan and most recently, Pratiyusha Bannerjee has created a similar reaction. Depression is becoming more and more common especially amongst people between 18-40. According to a 2010 WHO report, around 1 million people commit suicide in India each year. Around 90% of the suicides are traced back to depression.

Yet the proper definition of the illness is still foggy to many.  This Mental Health Awareness month, we would like to give you a quick idea as to how to anticipate depression and how to combat it.

What is Depression?

Depression has become a word loaded with multiple meanings.  A lot of people think of it as a passing phase of sadness which leads them to overlook a serious behavioural problem or approach for a cure. A few others take it to be a sign of weakness, forcing themselves or their loved ones to be strong or snap out of it instead of getting medical help. A lot of people also misconstrue acute sadness caused for a short period of time to be depression.

Depression is a widely spoken about but somehow the least understood mental disorder prevalent today.  It is in no way just a phase of sadness. In fact, here are a few ways to distinguish depression from sadness.

Depression is a serious mental illness that needs medical or psychological attention. Sadness is just a passing emotion.

Depression is more intense and lasts for a longer period of time whereas sadness is short-term.

There is a sense of prolonged and constant hopelessness, helplessness, and guilt with depression. Positive events can help you snap out of sadness, but finding brighter moments when you are depressed is very tough.

Depression makes you self-critical, self-harming and suicidal. You constantly think of yourself as worthless deserving of being punished in some way the other.

Photo credit: Silvia Sala

Depression disrupts your normal eating and sleeping pattern leading to increased fatigue, insomnia and loss of appetite. Usually one’s behaviour is erratic, they could sleep all day or not be able to sleep at all, either eat too much or skip most of their meals.

                                        Photo Credit: Aaron Edwards

Depression causes problems with one’s social and professional interactions. You experience a lack of interest or enjoyment from something you once loved to do and have a “what’s the point of doing this” attitude towards everything.

Photo credit: Mattia Mionetto

Depression also leads to lack of concentration, irritability and an inability to make decisions. 

It is estimated that around 30% of the Indian population is suffering from depression and 10% of those are suffering from chronic depression. Recently, Deepika Padukone came out with a startling confession of having suffered through depression. Deepika’s foundation Love, Laugh, Live now works to help other who might be or are going through depression.

It is definitely not easy to spot depression, which is why most people are left bewildered when their friend, family or colleague is diagnosed with depression. They either confess to knowing it all along or not having a clue. Lack of interest, sleeping difficulties, eating changes, anger and irritability are a few of the signs you can look for in a loved one or a friend.

Depression also has types which most people are unaware of:

Major Depression

This is perhaps the most common form of depression.  It starts with a feeling of depressed (showing a majority of symptoms mentioned above) for most days of the week marked by a severe lack of interest in doing things or going somewhere. It is a phase of continued sadness in a way.


A more common type of depression, it causes a low mood over a long period of time – typically more than a year. It is less sever in intensity than Major Depression but goes on for much longer. Symptoms of dysthemia include sadness, trouble concentrating, fatigue, and changes in sleep habits and appetite.

Postpartum Depression

New moms are often diagnosed with some amount of stress or mood swings after giving birth, but sometimes the condition gets severe and needs to be diagnosed. This kind of depression usually occurs a few weeks or months after child birth. Symptoms include extreme sadness, fatigue, loneliness, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, fears about hurting the baby, and feelings of disconnect from the child.

Atypical Depression

Oversleeping and overeating are two of the most important symptoms of atypical depression. It can also be spotted by a feeling of heaviness in the arms or legs. It’s called atypical because positive events can help brighten your mood for a short period of time.

Psychotic Depression

Hallucinations and delusions are not recognised as signs depression, which is why psychotic depression is often misunderstood. Those who suffer from psychotic depression see or hear things that aren’t really there.  They also tend to become catatonic not leaving their bed or speaking to anyone. This kind of depression can only be treated with medications.

Bipolar Disorder

Also a kind depression, Bipolar Disorder is characterized by feeling extreme emotions and switching emotions without any reason. People with Bipoalr disorder alternate between mania and depression. Symptoms of mania include high energy, excitement, racing thoughts and poor judgement.  Bipolar disorder has four different sub-types in itself which need to be cured with medication.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

This is much more severe than PMS (Pre menstrual syndrome) and typically affects women during the second half of their menstrual cycle. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, and mood swings.

Depression is more prevalent in women than men. A WHO report states that 41.9% women suffering mental illness are usually diagnosed with depression as compared to 29.3% of men. This is due to a number of reasons starting with bodily/hormonal changes, domestic abuse, feeling of dependency on others and even wars and displacement.

Depression is often masked and difficult to spot. But if you think you, your friend, colleague or loved one may be going through depression you can help them in the following ways:

Always consult a psychologist/psychiatrist: It is best to seek help from a doctor than google things off the internet. Depression is serious and the first step should always be to seek medical help.

Online Counselling:   It might often be difficult for those who suffer from depression to go out and talk to a doctor or even be sure that they are indeed depressed or not. If you aren’t sure about your condition or the condition of a loved one, you can seek help from online counsellors. Hope Network and Inner Space Therapy are a good place to start.

Depression Chat rooms: Depression is marked by antisocial tendencies that prevent many people from sharing their problems and emotions and seeking help. Online chat rooms help you speak up, even if it is to a faceless person. It makes communication easier and often helps you open up. Most chat rooms promote anonymity which lets you be comfortable and not reveal your identity. Try 7cups.com or depression-chat-rooms.org.

Helpline Numbers: Suicidal feelings can be tough to combat. The 24×7 helplines run by Aasra (91-22-27546669) and 1life (7893078930) should be of help.

Depression is a bad time in anyone’s life, but remember no matter how difficult it gets, there’s always a way out.

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