Depression is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses in Hong Kong but there are many myths and misconceptions in terms of treatment and medication that might worsen the condition of patients.
The illness ranges from mild to severe while early depression does not show any obvious signs.
Patients might experience disturbed sleep, difficulty in keeping their temper, unexplained sadness, fatigue and lack of interest in things. Some would have unaccountable physical discomfort.
Patients with severe symptoms not only are deeply troubled by negative thoughts but they would also tend to indulge in pessimism, consider themselves useless, are fearful of being accused and might hear things in their head.
In some extreme cases, patients would not be able to leave home or take care of themselves and constantly have suicidal thoughts.
Is medication a must for treating depression?
According to guidelines from the United Kingdom and the United States, professional counseling would suffice for people with a mild condition.
Since Hong Kong is quite a traditional Chinese society where people often struggle to articulate their true feelings and thoughts, many who seek help already have a moderate or severe condition.
A combination of medical prescription and counseling has to be in place.
Patients should always follow their psychiatrist’s advice. However, it is not uncommon that many stop to take their medication as soon as they feel better before getting fully recovered.
Generally, specialists would pick the best suitable drugs for the patient and adjust the dosage based on observations and assessments.
The prescription would require at least six to nine months for consolidation. After that, the dosage could be gradually reduced according to the patient’s condition.
It is undesirable to stop medication as patients might risk suffering from a relapse from which they would have to start another round of medication.
If the episode repeats, it would become a vicious circle that would exhaust the patient’s faith to fight the illness.
It is important to keep patients informed of the progress of their recovery and educate them the fact that they should discontinue the use of the drugs only under doctor’s recommendation.
Stopping the drugs is a sophisticated decision that requires a psychiatrist’s professional assessments, objective comments by the patient’s family and the patient’s own feelings to determine if one’s physical and mental wellness have recovered and attained the initial level prior to the illness.
Meanwhile, it is rumored that antidepressants could improve memory and make one “smarter”.
It is clearly a myth as no large-scale or credible research has identified any such benefits from taking antidepressants.
In short, having improved memory or being smarter should only be interpreted as a sign of a patient’s improving condition in terms of cognition.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 1
Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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