Let’s talk about Depression

Depression is a word that you have likely heard being used in multiple contexts. We sometimes use it as a means of describing a situation or to explain how we are feeling, sentences such as “That meeting at work made me depressed” or “Wow that movie was depressing” are commonly heard in and around society today. As of late there is an increased tendency to throw the word around without thinking much of it. Most often than not the word we are actually searching for is either ‘sadness’ or ‘being overwhelmed’. Being unable to differentiate between being sad or overwhelmed vs being depressed, can lead us to neglect a severe mental health issue such as depression, and overanalyse a normal emotional state such as sadness. When we overuse the term depression when describing our emotional state, there is a possibility that the simplification of a major mental health issue (Depression) will occur.

So how do we reduce the misuse of the word depression? Educating oneself and understanding the difference between sadness and depression is the first step towards changing the common misconception. Sadness is a normal emotional response to an adverse event or experience in one’s life. It is common to feel sad after disagreements with friends or romantic partners, not doing well on an exam or getting scolded by a boss etc. Usually, this emotion reduces after some time and can even be replaced with a positive emotion provided by the environment, it is a temporary emotional response and can last for an hour to a couple of days. We can often find some escape from our sadness by crying, venting, or talking about our experience with someone we trust. 

Depression on the other hand is a mental illness that affects one’s emotional and mental wellbeing in a severe manner. It causes extremely negative thinking patterns in the person experiencing the condition, making them feel numb and sad about all/most aspects of their lives. The individual experiences a lack of purpose and motivation to do things that they once enjoyed and simple tasks take exorbitant amounts of energy to fulfill. Unlike sadness, depression is often more persistent and does not always have one specific trigger.  The assumption around depression is that it is something one might be able to ‘snap out of’, this feeds into societies inability to understand that depression is in fact a mental illness.

Depression is a complicated mental health issue and is often accompanied by anxiety. These two conditions share immense overlap. The World Health Organization identifies depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is estimated that over 300 million people of all ages suffer from the disorder, globally. What is most concerning is that the frequency of the disorder is increasing everywhere, and specifically with the onset of the current global pandemic a rise in those numbers are inevitable. Depression does not have one single cause, but is in fact the combination of genetical, biological, environmental and psychological factors. Intensely negative experiences can impair someone’s ability to cope and thereby trigger a depressive episode, subsequently depressive episodes may occur with or without further triggers. When negative life events occur, it is not always suggested that depression is the inevitable outcome, however depending on the individual and the combination of their genes, biology, environment and psychology, it can set in motion the downward mood spiral and open the door to a depressive episode.

Symptoms of Depression

This mental health issue involves experiencing most of the following.

  • Persistent low-mood, sadness, anxiousness or empty mood.
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness.
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities that were once enjoyed.
  • Low levels of energy, lethargy, fatigue, reduced self-maintenance (hygiene etc.)
  • Restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering and indecisiveness.
  • Sleep related issues.
  • Binge eating or loss of appetite.
  • In severe cases thoughts of suicide are also common.
  • Physical symptoms such as digestive issues, headaches and chronic pain.

Each person’s experience with depression can vary, some individuals may experience all the above-mentioned symptoms, and some may experience only a few. Based on the number of symptoms experienced as well as the intensity of the symptoms, depression can be classified into Mild, Moderate and Severe.


Depression is best treated with a combination approach by administering psychiatric medication and Psychotherapy, the commonly dispensed medications are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s). Psychotherapy mostly referred to as therapy is helpful in assisting and treating a cohort of issues and is not limited to treating mental illnesses alone. People seek out a therapist when they face major life changes, life altering stressors, grief, assistance in goal achievement or when they have experienced intense and persistent symptoms in relation to a mental illness. The therapy component for the treatment of depression tackles thought patterns and behaviour change, and the medical approach assists with balancing out some of the biological causes that aggravate symptoms. Therefore, this combination approach is where some of the best recovery results are seen.

What works best also depends on the individual, but the most important take-home fact is that even the more severe cases of depression are treatable, and help is available.

So, if you are aware of a loved one who is experiencing symptoms of depression it is necessary to identify the available resources present in the country and proceed to assist them in seeking out support. Help them identify that seeking mental health support is not something to be ashamed of but is a brave step towards recovery.  Additionally, it is vital that you educate yourself on the topic so that you are better equipped to support them.

Free Mental Health resources available in Sri Lanka

  • 1333-Crisis line.
  • 1926-National Institute of Mental Health Crisis line.
  • Shanthi Maargam-0717639898
  • Sumithrayo-0112696666