Depression is the most common psychiatric illness worldwide, with the average person having a lifetime risk of about 10% of having a depressive episode (1). It is also one of the most underdiagnosed psychiatric conditions, especially in men.
However, research has shown that people with HIV have a much higher risk of developing depression, about 2-3 times higher (2), with some studies showing rates higher than 50% (3), of people who have HIV also having depression.
So what does this mean for you? If you have HIV you stand a greater risk for developing depression due to a number of factors. However, depression is treatable, and so the sooner you recognise the symptoms, the sooner you can get help.
So what are the symptoms of depression? Depression is more than just a low mood or feeling sad. It effects just about every aspect of our lives, and that’s why it’s so important to get treated if you do have depression. Below is a list of symptoms that may indicate depression. Some of these you may not have even noticed in yourself, but may have been pointed out by a friend or co-worker.
- The first and most obvious would be a low mood, almost all day, most days of the week, lasting more than 2 weeks. Some people may also experience this as a feeling of emptiness or hopelessness.
- Diminished interest, or pleasure, in almost all daily activities, even those that you used to enjoy. This can also include a decrease or loss of your sex drive.
- A significant change in your appetite (either an increase or a decrease), from what it used to be.
- Change in your sleep patterns, either suffering from insomnia (battle to get to sleep, have disrupted sleep) or sleeping too much, always being tired.
- Having a loss or decrease of your energy levels, feelings of constant fatigue.
- Feeling like you can’t concentrate properly anymore, not like you used to.
- Feelings of worthlessness and/or excessive guilt nearly every day.
- Recurrent thoughts of death, or thoughts of suicide.
If you feel like 4 or more of these seem to apply to you, then you may have depression, and need to go to your doctor or a psychologist for a professional evaluation, so you can start to get help.
If you do have depression, there are a couple of ways this can be treated. The 2 mains ways are through medication (antidepressants) and with counselling or therapy, and often the 2 of these go hand in hand. You can go to your local GP for help, either for medication or a referral to a psychologist.
There are also many free resources available to you in order to get help. The National Lifeline call centre offers free telephonic counselling at 0861 322 322. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) offers a range of online resources, as well as running a range of support groups around the country, so look at www.sadag.org. And your local Health4Men Clinic would also be able to help and point you towards other resources (such as your local government clinic if they are unable to help).
So just remember, that although it may (literally) feel like the end of the world when you have depression, it’s not! There is hope and help available, and you can get better!
Daniel Greenslade is a Clinical Neuropsychologist and contributing writer for Anova Health Institute. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.