Depression can simply be defined as a feeling of sadness and futility, in varying degrees. There are many life events – marital problems, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, traumas that are bound to depress anyone. In some people, these events may result in temporal sadness and down-heartedness whereas in others, the feeling may become one of complete indifference and utter despair.
Other factors, which may trigger depression include:
Environmental factors: Tensions, disappointments, financial problems or stress.
Medical factors: Chemical imbalances in the brain, thyroid disorders, miscarriage, upset stomach and headache, endometriosis, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), any serious physical disorder or allergies and chronic illnesses.
Diet and life style: Nutritional deficiencies, food allergies, the consumption of excess sugar, poor diet (especially constant snacking on junk foods), lack of exercise or drug abuse.
Hereditary factors: It is believed that in half of people suffering from recurrent episodes of depression, one or both of the parents also experienced depression.
Whatever the factors that trigger it, depression begins with a disturbance in the part of brain that governs mood and then involves whole body – nervous system, thoughts and behaviour. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you react to and think about the people and things around you.
Feeling blue, hopeless and gloomy all or most of the time; restlessness, irritability and quickness to anger; lack of joy, happiness and motivation; withdrawal/shutting away others; loss of pleasure in hobbies; lack of interest in personal appearance and hygiene; reduced work efficiency; sleep disorders (either insomnia or excessive sleeping); expressionless face; restlessness and difficulty in concentrating; and suicidal thoughts.
Other physical symptoms of depression include neck and back pain, a tightness in the throat, blurred vision, nausea, muscle cramps, constant tiredness, feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy, painful urination, indigestion, constipation and a decrease in sexual desire. About 70 per cent of depressed people lose their appetite, while a minority feel hungrier and eat more especially at night.
Depending on the type of depression, the signs and symptoms may vary in number, their severity and persistence. While some people can quickly adjust to situations/pressures leading up to depression, others are simply overwhelmed and their adjustment mechanism unresponsive. And so symptoms can last for weeks, months or years, as the case might be.
A mildly depressed person is quiet, unhappy and pessimistic. He has a sense of discouragement and hopelessness. He cannot make decisions, may be overly concerned with personal problems and unaccountably irritable.
The deeply depressed person is predominantly sad, full of guilt and shame and every event brings emotional pain and tension. Simply put, melancholic. Conversation is difficult and he feels rejected and unloved. Dejection, perplexity; hopelessness and perhaps, fear are written all over his face. Also, his concentration and memory are impaired. Psychiatric patients suffering severe depression are very anxious, have bodily complaints, may think of death and consider suicide.
No doubt that depression can make you feel helpless, but you are not! Changing your behaviour, your physical activity, lifestyle and even your way of thinking are all depression treatments. The following herbs and nutrients are also helpful:
Catnip (odu ngwele in Igbo): Prepare one tablespoon of the dried leaves, pour over one cup of boiling water, and steep for 15-30 minutes. Sieve, add 1-2 tablespoonful of honey, and drink a cup twice a day. In severe cases, especially associated with insomnia, two glassfuls taken before sleep is more likely to send one to a sound sleep.
Basil (nchuanwu – Igbo, effirin – Yoruba): Prepare one tablespoon of herb, pour over one cup of boiling water, and also steep for 15-30 minutes. Add some honey, and drink a cup twice a day.
Stachytapheta indica (common vervain, ogwu obala – Igbo, akitipa – Yoruba): 1-2 tablespoon of the herb is infused in boiled water for 15-30 minutes, add some honey and drink a cup three times daily, after every main meal.
Passion flower (Passiflora edulis): One teaspoon of the herb infused in boiled water for 15-30 minutes and taken before bedtime will bring a sense of calm.
Common Mistletoe (ibuIgbo, afomo – Yoruba): Pour a teacup of boiled water over one tablespoon of herb and steep for 30 minutes. Drink a cup twice a day.
Cabbage: Simmer two head cabbage leaves in one liter of water for 30 minutes. Drinking a cup three times a day protects against stress and infections.
Rosemary and thyme (same spices we use in making stew): Add one tablespoon of herb mixture to a half liter of boiling water and leave for 10 minutes. Drink a cup in the morning and in the evening, before bed.
Brewer’s yeast: Contains a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals, which are essential for the healthy nervous system. It is rich in vitamins B1, B2 and B3, which help fight depression.
Omega 3 fatty acids: Fish oil, a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids taken daily can significantly reduce symptoms of depression like anxiety, sleeping disorders, incomprehensible sad feelings as well as lack of sexual desire. Flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts are great sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Fruits and vegetables: Apple, avocado, banana, grapefruit, lemon, orange, pawpaw, mango, pineapple, tomato, beet, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, onions, parsley, pumpkin, radish, red pepper (as well as yellow and green) and spinach.
You can also make juices from one or two of the listed fruit/vegetable above. You also do the following:
Get active: Endeavor to be active, especially outdoors. Take a walk, get enough sunlight, go shopping, go to the cinema, play music and dance. Physical activity at least three times a week will surely help with depression a lot.
Unburden yourself: a friendly talk will definitely help with depression. Find a person or people you can talk to and share your burdens with.
Analyze your thoughts: Take out the trash and dark thoughts that seem embarrassing and weigh you down.