Sunday, 27 May 2012

Are you sure you're depressed?

Judging by the number of documented, formally recognised health conditions out there, one has to conclude that most people alive have some disease or another.  Lump anywhere?  You have a tumor.  Can't sleep?  You have insomnia.  Feeling unhappy this past month?  You have chronic depression.  Headache?  It could be meningitis.

We have a medical term to gauge every possible level of discomfort on every single area of the body.  It's the same story when it comes to mental anomalies.  We love formalising and categorising any health-related ailment.  (I guess it's coincidence that pharmaceutical companies just happen to have treatments for most of them.)

There are many severe diseases like leukemia and arthritis that happen based on genetic disposition or for other reasons beyond the victim's control.  These diseases are immediately apparent and in cases like leukemia, life-threatening.  They are real and someone who is diagnosed with one of these is genuinely not well.

But shades of grey start to appear, especially when we move on to psychological ailments.  Depression, insomnia and even headaches come to mind.  Not to say these aren't real, but one has to ask how often people are prematurely diagnosing themselves with depression when they feel under the weather for a few days, or calling themselves insomniacs if they struggle to fall asleep.  The problem is a diagnosis often provides one with a medically commissioned term to hide behind and absolves them from personal liability for their health problems.

Everybody's an insomniac

Every other person I know seems to be an insomniac these days, for instance.  Insomnia - like smoking in the eighties - almost has a degree of coolness attached to it.  People will watch TV and surf the net until 1am on a caffeine fueled binge, then complain that  "I can't sleep because I don't feel tired."  Yet if they would just quit the late coffee, start sleeping by 10pm and fastidiously stick to maintaining eight hours of sleep, the insomnia will disappear for at least 90% of those who claim to have it.  Even if you can't immediately fall asleep for the first few days, your sleeping pattern will synchronise within a week such that you finally do feel tired by 10.

But no, people will stay up to watch something of critical importance to their lives, and it just so happens to be showing at 11pm.  The body becomes used to that routine and your sleeping patterns adjust accordingly.  A bit of sacrifice and discipline are called for to regain on precious sleep, but it's much easier to for someone to believe they're an insomniac, that they're forced to stay up and watch Jerry Springer.  Then instead of adjusting their bad habits, they will seek medication to fix it.  "Hopefully these sleeping pills help me to sleep..."

Don't accept the first diagnosis

Also be careful: a diagnosis is not a foregone conclusion.  Often diagnoses are provided by your doctor based on what you tell him and a basic examination that lasts a few minutes.  To then conclusively deduct that you have whatever ailment the doctor diagnosed you with and consider yourself to be a patient or victim is not advised.  Before accepting any diagnosis you should get a second opinion to confirm it.  To be called ill or diseased shouldn't be taken lightly.  If the second doctor concurs, then we can start calling you sick.

Yes, some people have a lot on their mind, resulting in genuine insomnia/depression/anxiety.  But what's the bet many of them just think that's what they have?

PS. Depression is often a by-product of sleep deprivation.

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