Addressing depression in PNG

Editorial, Normal

The National, Friday September 4th, 2015

 DEPRESSION is a common mental disorder that causes people to experience changes in mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. 

According to our MindWatch columnist, Dr Uma Ambi, depression is different from feeling down or sad. 

Unhappiness is something which everyone feels at one time or another, usually to a particular cause.

Dr Ambi has been in Papua New Guinea long enough to know the effects of depression on many of our citizens. 

As the principal adviser with the Department of Health’s Mental Health Services, she is an authority on mental health issues in this country. In her weekly column, Dr Ambi reiterates that a person suffering from depression will experience deep emotions of anxiety, hopelessness, negativity and helplessness, and the feelings stay with them instead of going away. 

And yes, depression can happen to anyone. 

Many successful and famous people who seem to have everything going for them battle with this problem. 

Depression affects people of every age. 

Half of the people who have depression will only experience it once but for the other half it will happen again. 

The length of time that it takes to recover ranges from around six months to a year or more. 

Living with depression is difficult for those who suffer from it and for their family, friends, and colleagues.

Remember, it can be difficult to know if you are depressed and what you can do about it. 

There are signs and symptoms of depression which you should take note of such as: 

  • Tiredness and loss of energy; 
  • sadness that doesn’t go away; 
  • loss of self-confidence and self-esteem;  
  • difficulty in concentrating;  
  • not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or interesting;  
  • feeling worried all the time;  
  • avoiding other people, sometimes even your ‘wantoks’;  
  • feelings of helplessness and hopelessness;  
  • sleeping problems – difficulties in getting off to sleep or waking up much earlier than usual; 
  • very strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness;  
  • finding it hard to function at work or school;  
  • loss of appetite; 
  • physical aches and pains; 
  • thinking about suicide and death; and,  
  • Self-harm.

Dr Ambi says if you experience four or more of these symptoms for most of the day, every day, for 

more than two weeks, you should seek professional guidance. 

Depression can happen suddenly as a result of physical illness, experiences dating back to childhood, unemployment, bereavement, family problems or other life-changing events. 

Examples of chronic illnesses linked to depression include heart disease, back pain and cancer. 

Pituitary damage, a treatable condition which frequently follows head injuries, may also lead to depression. 

Sometimes, there may be no clear reason for your depression but, whatever the original cause, identifying what may affect how you feel and the things that are likely to trigger depression is an important first step. 

The way you think about yourself will affect your frame of mind and feelings of depression.  

It is common to have feelings of worthlessness or guilt with depression. 

There are different types of depression. 

Taking action to make you feel more in control will have a positive effect. 

Seeing your doctor for treatment, joining a gym, going for daily walks, or doing something that you are interested in or good at is the way forward. 

Many Papua New Guineans are not good at is admitting that they have a condition and to seek help. 

The advice from experts like Dr Ambi is: 

  • Try to be aware of any negative thoughts you have about yourself and how they might be affecting how you see yourself and how you feel; 
  • if you can, try to think about how realistic these thoughts are and how you might change them into something more positive; and,  
  • If you feel depressed it can be difficult to be sociable. 

Loneliness may make you feel worse so it’s important to keep in touch with friends and family. 

Having people around you or groups that you are involved in will help to reduce feelings of isolation.