Máire Treasa Ní Cheallaigh – Depression

WE’RE rapidly approaching the end of the year, a time we’re all supposed to be full of goodwill and cheer. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case for everyone. Christmas can be a hard time for many. And for some, every day is unbearable. Most of us wouldn’t be aware of the signs that someone may be struggling. Especially as at times, people may not exhibit any obvious symptoms at all.

Those of us involved in sport might be the first ones to notice that a young person appears to be a bit ‘off’ or not quite themselves. We might be the first person an elderly volunteer might turn to, unbeknownst to ourselves. A parent might vocalise some worries they have about their children to a coach. Therefore, it’s no harm to know some of the signs which might be a signpost for you to help people find help, knowing of course, that sometimes there are no signs at all.

Most of the signs can be elicited with a little chat or even some simple observation of people you know. Only a qualified medical or psychological professional can diagnose depression, but there are some red flags that can help you identify whether someone may be depressed and may need professional help.

The two main signs of depression are low mood, and a loss of interest in activities or things that people used to enjoy. If a player who used to be the first person to tog is now missing a training session, that needs to be explored. It may be as simple as a new girlfriend or a new job, or it may be more. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. In addition, people may also suffer appetite change, have trouble sleeping (often waking up in the middle of the night), have feelings of guilt, can’t focus on things in the way they used to, and may at times have thoughts of death.

Depression may present differently in different people. Children and young people may appear more irritable than sad or low. Once we hit adulthood, some may struggle to get out of bed. Others, like functioning alcoholics can maintain jobs and responsibilities while battling internal demons. At times too, what you may think is depression, might be a problem with something like alcohol or other substances. Or perhaps medications or medical conditions.

Another potential sign of depression is a change in eating habits. It can manifest as a loss of appetite, or perhaps people can’t even muster the energy to prepare a meal. Anxiety can affect appetite too. If your stomach is too knotted up to eat a meal, your appetite will change. Unintentional weight loss should always be reported to your GP as there is often an underlying cause, either physical or psychological. Overeating may also be a cause for concern. Feeling sad or worthless may make you turn to food as a coping mechanism.

Most people with depression will have problems with sleeping. Either sleeping too much, or too little. Sports teams who log sleeping patterns on apps or via smart devices can often be the first to notice this in a player. Sleep problems can both be a cause of and a symptom of depression. Our bodies and minds need sleep to function.

Fatigue is another sign. Of course, it’s normal to be tired sometimes. But not all the time. The same goes for concentration. If someone appears to not be able to make any decisions in a game, when they used to have the reflexes of a cat, they might just be having a bad day.

But if you notice the same thing happening in drills during training, or if it happens in a few matches, it may potentially be a sign of some kind of internal struggle. In older adults this kind of mental slowdown can sometimes be mistaken for signs of dementia.

Depression can also be visible physically, at times. You might notice someone develops new behaviours like pacing or fidgeting, or the complete opposite. Their body and thought movements will have visibly slowed down.

Most people with depression will describe feeling worthless. They’ll have a terrible self-image and are very harsh on themselves, sometimes ruminating on past mistakes, ultimately living with massive feelings of guilt and blaming themselves for all the world’s ills.

Finally, the big red flag, is regularly thinking about death. They may think about suicide or make very specific plans to harm themselves. Contrary to popular belief, you will not drive someone to do something terrible if you suspect they are having these thoughts and ask them directly about them. If anything, you might be opening the door for them to get help.

The main thing to remember is, despite the stigma, that depression is very treatable with medications and other therapies. And it needs to be treated, as depression can kill. Either directly, or due to chronic health issues associated with it such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Above all, sometimes the only sign you might see is someone who just isn’t themselves. Set yourself a resolution for the new year that you’ll ask someone if they’re ok. And listen if they say they’re not. Hang posters around dressing rooms or clubhouses signposting supports, and encourage people to see their GP who can assess and help them, if needed. It’s probably the easiest way to save a life. Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine. Nollaig shona agus athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh go léir.

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