Intle Ntsinde | 01 November 2017

As promised in the previous month’s’ newsletter, we’re back with an article that serves as the first episode of the Mental Health Conversations series.

Now, there are over 200 classified forms of mental disorders, also known as mental illnesses. The series will start with some of the more commonly diagnosed ones which include depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders.

Each article will look deeper into each illness/disorder, covering what the causes, symptoms, and treatment for each illness are.

First up is:

Depressive disorder/ Depression:

Depressive disorder, commonly known as depression, is more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch. It is not a “mood”. It is a very serious mental illness that requires understanding and medical treatment. Without treatment, depressive episodes may last for a few months or and even up to a number of years. Depression can spiral out of control if left untreated but with early detection, diagnosis and a treatment plan that consists of medication, psychotherapy and healthy lifestyle choices, people can and do get better.

 It is important to note that each person will have different experiences of the illness, even people with the same diagnosis. Some people will only experience one depressive episode in their lifetime, some people battle with depression for longer periods of time. During his acceptace speech in July this year (2017), Trevor Noah – the famous South African born comedian and host of the Daily Show spoke about depression. “You can’t win at comedy. Every comedian knows: You’re going to have your good days, you’re going to have your bad days, but you don’t win. Winning is getting to the end without committing suicide. And Jim Carrey was one of the first comedians who described the beast that many of us face in this room and that’s depression”, said Noah. Depression can be experienced by everyone; people of all ages and all racial and cultural backgrounds.


Depression can be caused by more than one thing. It can be triggered by a life crisis, physical illness, etc. but can also occur unexpectedly. These are some of the things that can lead to depression:

  • Trauma: When people experience trauma at an early age or at any stage in their life, it can cause long-term changes in how their brains respond to fear and stress. It is these changes (in the brain) that can then lead to depression.
  • Genetics: Depression tends to run in families.
  • Brain changes: Depression is associated with changes in how the pituitary gland and hypothalamus respond to hormone stimulation.
  • Other medical conditions: People who have a history of sleep disturbances, medical illness, chronic pain, anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to develop depression. Some medications can also cause symptoms of depression.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse: Approximately 30% of people who struggle with substance abuse problems also battle with depression.