Depression

Have you wondered why she has suddenly become melancholic and indifferent? You thought she had the usual teenage angst, but the angst keeps getting greater and greater. You keep wondering why your once lively and buoyant sister now prefers her own company to any other. She stares listlessly at the television when her favourite soap opera is being aired and no longer laughs at the jokes that used to get her rolling on the floor, laughing out loud. You were surprised she didn’t dance at the last party you took her to, when she had managed to get everyone’s attention with here amazing dance steps the previous times you took her out partying. When you asked she told you she felt alone; even though she was well-surrounded by people she knew and whose association she used to enjoy. Your sister suddenly won’t stop complaining about this issue or that, and has suddenly come to the conclusion that the half-full concept is flawed, saying “being pessimistic is the new realistic”.

Have you worried about her new love for food and how rapidly she is increasing in weight? This is the very same lady who would not eat anything more than a child’s fill because she was preserving her ‘model’ stature. It seems her constant nagging and whining is getting to everyone at home and she cannot help but pick squabbles with anyone who would let her. The one thing she has not given up yet is the writing of her thought-provoking poems; but even those are not spared the sad and withdrawn tones. They now express deep laments about life and loneliness. The usual glow is now totally absent in her write ups.

My dear, I can understand your distress. I experienced a similar issue with my father. Upon his retirement, he became the opposite ends of a pole. One minute, he is an excited and happy man, talking on and on about his old days and how life had been good thus far. He would carry my niece and whirl her all over and would go on bicycle races with his favourite grandson. We cannot get him to stop shouting “Hello” and “Hi” at all the neighbours going by and trust me, you can hear his laughter thundering through the entire house once he is in that jolly mood.

But in the next minute, this man would be almost impossible to talk to. He would sink into some really low mood and would not even want to hear another person laugh. He would suddenly remember his failures as a young man and his unaccomplished dreams as an old man. Nothing gets him in a good mood in these moments; not his cheery old pals who come by to chat about the old days in school nor his toothless granddaughter’s smiles. He seemed to be in a far away misery land during these moments and we could not shake him out of it.

These swings in mood were so often and so erratic that we could not tell if our old man was one person or had two personalities residing in one body. So we decided to seek professional help and I am glad we did. Initially, he fought the idea saying we thought he was not mentally sound but when he did give in, it was his best decision yet. The doctor diagnosed him of bipolar disorder, a type of depression in which the patient changes back and forth between periods of depression and extreme highs. He explained this was just one form of depression that usually affects people and further explained that there were other forms such as chronic depression, which was a condition of constant depressive moods as well as seasonal affective depression which is related to mood changes dependent on seasonal changes.

We were surprised at the diagnosis because, we knew that our dad had all the social support he needed from home and we assumed it was only people who had no one to talk to who got depressed. But Dr. Ansah explained that there were several causes including social factors such as loneliness, recent bereavement and loss of job. He also did mention psychological factors such as fear of death, traumatic experiences and damage to self-image, as well as biological factors which include pregnancy and child birth, and the use of some drugs. That was when it occurred to me that my dad could actually be depressed, because he had not been attending work regularly and was not as involved in an everyday routine as he used to be. As the doctor explained the things that could trigger this reaction, I noticed that when we dressed up for work, he would become withdrawn and seem to coil into himself. He was usually hard to manage when arguments came up and his ill health was not helping the condition at all.

We asked the doctor what could be done to help my dad and he gave us options for his management. He advised us to address the issue with non-medical interventions before considering the medical measures. So we agreed to pay more attention to him and provide the emotional support needed. My brother volunteered to take him along to his shop whenever he was leaving and even offered him the office of accountant, a duty my brother was doing himself. He was encouraged to engage in some hobbies more often so he chose o take care of my mum’s backyard garden and mine; we did see some untapped talent.

We saw some improvements in the situation until he started to show the same symptoms all over again. Dr. Ansah then decided to put him on some anti-depressant drugs and made us aware that should the situation persist, he might have to take him through some electro-convulsive therapy or vagal nerve stimulation; both of which could have some disturbing side effects. He referred Dad to a psychotherapist who he has been seeing since. He is doing much better and we are glad he is responding well.

So my dear, I can give you a tip or two on how to manage your sister. Please be patient with her and give her a listening ear and a supportive shoulder to lean on. Do not stop praying for her and use the Word of God to encourage her at all times. Encourage her to have a positive outlook about life and do not belittle what she feels at anytime. Please try to empathise with her and do not argue about how bad things are or are not. Even though it may be hard, do not be angry with her especially when your efforts seem not to bear any fruits. Get her some professional help and support her every step of the journey; you will certainly see her smile again.

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