South Asian Emotion: What is Depression?

Sadness is an emotion that we are hardwired to experience from birth. As humans, it is an emotion that is necessary to have in order to communicate our current state and needs. Seeing a loved one in pain, our best friend moving away, or watching a sad movie all trigger the feeling of sadness.

While sadness is an emotion that lasts a few days at most, depression is a whole body experience that lasts weeks, months or years. Often depression is considered a more severe form of sadness. However, it is actually a more complex diagnosis and experience that involves a compilation of many symptoms, one of which can include sadness. For thousands of people, depression can become so overwhelming that it affects daily routines and normal functioning.

Research has shown that South Asians express and experience depression differently than other cultures. The most common symptoms that South Asians report when they feel depressed are:

  • Headaches (including tension headaches)
  • Low mood
  • Loss of interest/boredom/apathy
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Poor concentration
  • Tearfulness
  • Anxiety
  • Wanting to be alone

Additional symptoms of depression, that are more often seen in non-South Asians, include:

  • Feeling sad or unhappy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Restlessness or feeling slowed down
  • Significant weight loss or gain (more than 5% of body weight in 1 month)
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless

The diagnosis of depression is given when a majority of symptoms are present for most of the day nearly every day for 2 weeks. If you find yourself feeling this way for at least two weeks, please contact your physician or a mental health care professional for a consultation.

When you visit your health care provider, most likely they will perform physical exam to identify the source of these symptoms. Both your general physician and a mental health care professional will ask you about when you experience these symptoms most (e.g. is it more intense in certain situations or different times of the day, etc.). In addition, they will want to know about any medical conditions that you have which might exacerbate these symptoms. Also you should provide information about your overall diet and exercise regimen and any family history of similar symptoms. These, in addition to other questions, will help the health care professional determine the cause of the symptoms and make appropriate recommendations for treatment.

Stories of several people who have experienced depression and how they learned to live with and resolve the symptoms as well as the cause of the symptoms will be presented. The hope is to shed more light on the many triggers, symptoms and treatment options of depression in South Asians.

Depression cannot be “snapped out of” or turned off at will. It is a serious emotional health concern that needs proper treatment. Depression is also one of the most easily curable emotional health issues. Seek help early to regain a healthy life as soon as possible.

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