A depressing reality

Is depression at Rhodes given the attention it deserves? Leigh Raymond, Nicole Bloch and Rodain Joubert delve into a story of pills and psychology. our relationship has ended, your best friend has abandoned you, your marks are plummeting, you have no money and there’s trouble at home. You now find that your sleeping patterns have changed, you’re losing weight, you’ve lost interest in the things you used to love the energy for and you can’t concentrate and, in extreme cases,  thoughts turn to suicide. As a student, it’s very possible that something like this has happened to you at some point or another. Depression is a condition which impacts on the thoughts, behaviour and even the physical health of an individual. It is a physical illness that affects neuro-transmitters in the brain, often triggered by stressful life events or even physical injuries.It is estimated that one in four students suffer from mental health issues and its prevalence is increasing. But not many people realise these illnesses are as treatable as any other medical problem. “If someone is in need of medication for high blood pressure, you are going to prescribe medication for high blood pressure, just as you’re going to prescribe medication for depression or any other medical illness,” said Sister Mauritza Badenhorst, from the Rhodes Sanatorium.Yet most students resort to their own forms of treatment. Self-medication may come in the form of crutches such as alcohol and drugs, or less obvious forms such as nicotine and caffeine. Serious mental issues and self-medication may cause problems like marijuana-induced hypermania. “It is far more harmful to go drink when you’re stressed or you feel sort of alone or depressed and you go drink to fix it. In fact, that can just make you ill, where anti-depressants can make you better. There are far more harmful things that you can do to your body than take anti-depressants,” said Sister Badendorst. Assessments of patients need to be done on an individual basis. Symptoms manifest differently depending on the condition and the circumstances of the person concerned. “Why bother to study medicine if you’ve got a template of questions? Just give it [the template] to the patient and then give them a drug! It doesn’t work like that if you treat the patient as an individual,” said a general practitioner in Grahamstown, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of being accused of advertising. Still, other areas do sometimes make use of rating scales that include general questions as applied to most depressive disorders, to determine the treatment. “The people who come along and tell you that they have a lower back ache or a headache may be their way of calling for help, hence the reason that you go into it a bit more. People don’t generally walk in and say ‘I’m depressed’,” said the GP. Although treatments may vary per condition, doctors do not necessarily recommend patients seeing psychologists. However, medical doctors do fill only a supporting role to the specific treatments that psychologists provide. Individual assessments should include whether psychological treatment as a complement to drug-therapy would be most valuable to the patient. Dr Charles Young, head of the Rhodes Counselling Centre, says that it is unfortunate that people may dismiss the use of anti-depressants due to reasons such as the expense, the side effects or because they just don’t want to take drugs.Anti-depressants should always be taken with care. “You’re not supposed  to do other drugs while you’re on anti-depressants. It’s not a good idea to mix any drugs without discussing it with the doctor first,” said Dr Young. With the right diagnosis, anti-depressants can be a useful way to fend off the symptoms of mental illness and prevent the condition from worsening. Anti-depressants should not be believed to treat the depression itself, but rather the symptoms thereof. Lauren Kent, a first year student who currently benefits from the use of mild anti-depressants explains, “Without anti-depressants it feels like you’re drowning in a swamp of horrible negative emotions. And with anti-depressants you’re still in that swamp surrounded by horrible negative emotions, but you’re not drowning any more.” A holistic approach to depression is more likely to benefit an individual. “If there’s a medical problem that’s causing the depression, like diabetes or a thyroid problem, then you treat it,” said the GP. “No amount of psychology is going to help that. No amount of medication other than a specific replacement therapy is going to help that.” A diagnosis based on a holistic approach will reveal the best results. “If the patient’s depressed because of a tumour on the brain you certainly want to pick that up first,” said the doctor. “So it’s just like any illness. The body is like a whole package you need to look at the body, the mind, and the soul,” said Sister Badenhorst. Mental illness is not some exotic affliction to be shunned or feared, or be ashamed of any more than you would be of a sprained ankle. Feelings of depression should not be ignored. They deserve as much attention as any other feeling

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