Depression is like Diabetes and Cancer, so why the secrecy and the shame?


No-one is immune from diabetes, regardless of age, sex, wealth or education.  This illness gradually hinders multiple aspects of human health, as blood sugar levels go out of control, causing a range of symptoms, which at times can be life threatening.  Once diabetes (or depression) has been diagnosed, mild cases will respond to advice about diet and lifestyle.  Severe cases will be helped by following the same advice, but without medication, the illness will remain out of control, putting the sufferer’s life at risk.  Depression, like diabetes, is a chemical imbalance, in which the individual patient’s efforts are very useful, but are not enough when the illness is SEVERE.


No one is immune from Cancer, regardless of age, sex, wealth or education.  There are many different varieties and severities of cancer, caused by many different factors in our lives, such as our genetic makeup and cigarette smoking.  We all accept that an individual with cancer is not responsible for having developed the illness, and we all accept that an individual with cancer needs medical treatment.  Similarly, depression is an illness which descends on people through no fault of their own, to which they may have been made susceptible by their genes, and which is brought about by stress.  Just as everybody who smokes does not get cancer, for reasons we do not understand, everybody who faces stress does not get depression, for reasons we do not understand.


NO ONE is immune from depression, regardless of age, sex, wealth or education.  Just as diabetes is an imbalance in our blood sugars, and cancer is an imbalance in cell growth in our body, depression is an imbalance in the chemicals within our brain.  We all have a greater or lesser risk of depression, and it is outside stresses that will cause the chemical imbalance we know as depression to occur.   With mild depression, personal effort can overcome the illness.  With severe depression, personal effort will not be enough, and professional treatment using a combination of therapy from a psychologist or psychiatrist together with antidepressant medications will usually be necessary, and will usually be far more rapid and effective than any other treatment.


Just as we would not advise someone with diabetes, or someone with cancer, to avoid treatment, or stop their treatment, we must be careful not to persuade people with depressive illness that their chemical imbalance will be better if they avoid medication or stop taking it.  (There is of course a lot of confusion in the community between tranquillisers which reduce anxiety for a few hours, but which can be addictive, and antidepressant medications which are totally different and are non-addictive.)


Just as we accept that diabetes and cancer are illnesses that the patient is powerless to overcome without professional intervention, the same is true of depressive illness.  We do not tell people with diabetes or with cancer to “pull yourself together and snap out of it”!


Strangely, we have discovered in relatively recent years further similarities between depression, epilepsy and cancer.  In epilepsy, a patient’s brain almost learns itself to spontaneously produce the abnormal electrical rhythms which lead to convulsions, a mechanism technically called ‘kindling’. We now realise that depression is also associated with similar electrical imbalances in the brain, so that untreated depression can become self-perpetuating. Drugs normally used to control epilepsy have been found to be very effective also in controlling and preventing depression.  With cancer, we realise that the longer the illness is left untreated, the more difficult it is to treat and the greater risk of serious complications and perhaps death; the same applies in the need for early diagnosis and early treatment of depression.


Important Disclaimer:  This site is medical information only, and is not to be taken as diagnosis, advice or treatment, which can only be decided by your own doctor.

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