Beating the blues

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We are all susceptible to mood swings, but when a low mood turns persistent, it’s time to take notice, writes SAROJA SRINIVASAN
As we come into winter, the weather changes with shorter days and perhaps less sunshine during the day. For many people, quite often this triggers a lowering of their mood. Called seasonal mood variation, it is common in countries closer to the Arctic. For those who come from tropical countries where there is guaranteed sunshine almost all through the year, this variation in sunshine is quite uncomfortable. This is when it is important not to let a low mood take over and allow one to insidiously lapse into feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, which are a hallmark of early depression, the persistent ‘blue’ mood.
Feeling sad and blue are the milder level emotions we feel when faced with many everyday situations when we are disappointed. Everyone feels sad or blue at some time. But when it stops one from meeting their normal everyday commitments, stops them from being active and begin to show serious physical symptoms such as loss of weight, appetite, and sleep disorders, it is important to seek professional help. Many of the mild symptoms of being blue are triggered by the way we evaluate a situation. We have certain expectations about a way the situation should be and when they are not met, we can become frustrated and angry, or become sad and dejected.
Reaction to loss, be it a material thing, employment, a person or a pet, makes us sad. Sometimes this sadness continues for longer periods, making it more counterproductive to continue effective handling of future situations. It is at these times that we need to take time to reflect on the immediate situation and begin to deal with it without procrastinating for too long.
Grief and bereavement fall into a different category of experience. They may take much longer to resolve depending on the situation of those left behind. Even grief following bereavement warrants some limiting of the time spent in grieving.
Understanding depression 
Mild to moderate levels of depression are a pervasive malady of our times. Depression is a response that is located on a continuum. Beginning with feeling sad or blue and moving on to mild, moderate and severe levels, sometimes as a reaction to a situation and sometimes for no known reason, the term depression is easily misunderstood. It is a term that is increasingly used to describe even a brief lowering of mood.  Statistics tell us that the likelihood of anyone born in the later half of the twentieth century suffering from some level of depression is three times or greater than that of their grandparents. The age group of those likely to suffer from any level of depression is decreasing dramatically. It seems the chance of a young adult, adolescent or older child suffering from depression is alarmingly high. Often depression is not something like an infection that comes and goes once you have treated it. The trigger may be a situation that is something quite trivial.
Evidence is now mounting that feelings of depression are often triggered by social causes, and hence need to be addressed at the individual level. Since it is a frame of mind, lingering feelings can stay on just below the surface and that is why it is important to become aware as early as possible, so that something can be done about it. Understanding the early warning signs and getting them under control is an important aspect of early and effective management, before this escalates to a more severe level.
What makes you feel ‘blue’
Many life and everyday events in adulthood, some even though pleasant, such as marriage and pregnancy, can often prove to be quite stressful. Combined with fewer traditional ‘buffer’ resources such as religion and extended families, these events can just as easily foster a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. It is also possible that as a sense of isolation increases, one may look to ways of counter-balancing the situation by seeking to satisfy the need for recognition, material success and a need to be seen as ‘special’. The need to achieve is overvalued, leading only to further stress when one does not achieve. When this occurs at times of increased uncertainties because of economic conditions, employment becomes a major source of stress, be it obtaining a position or keeping it. The frustration of being unable to confront the ‘systemic’ stress which is beyond one’s control, further fuels a feeling of helplessness, leading to feelings of mild depression.
People who move their place of residence are particularly susceptible to many situational stresses. The need to adapt to new environments, often completely different to what their expectations were becomes onerous. One way to cope under such stress is to strive for material success, as a way of counteracting the self-doubts that arise. But hope turns to fear when success does not follow immediately. This in turn, places enormous physical and emotional stress that can also lead to further feelings of helplessness.
Many children of migrants feel they are in a ‘no man’s land’ in the clash of cultural values and beliefs. The options may seem equally inappropriate, leading to considerable distress. Often youngsters feel constrained, and a sense of increased helplessness is quite common. Peer pressure in adolescence and young adulthood to seek maximum monetary and material reward for preferably minimum effort, further fuels the stress. Increasing levels of discontentment are experienced when this is not achieved. The accelerated social and technological changes that lead to greater demands on one’s ability, further add to the vulnerability. A sense of failure, hopelessness and helplessness may begin to surface, starting the spiral of depression ever so insidiously.
Increased awareness of early signs of persistent changes is very important in dealing effectively with any level of depression.

Dr Saroja Srinivasan
Dr Saroja Srinivasan
Dr. Srinivasan is a western trained clinical psychologist by profession; has been living in Sydney for over 40 years; interested in wisdom traditions in particular Indian philosophy and how it can inform us to lead a happy life; in her columns she has tried to synthesise her personal and professional experiences in dealing with everyday situations

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