Depression Q&A with Dr Sindi

What did it feel like when you were depressed?

Depression is a dark and helpless place. I felt as if I was standing at the bottom of the ocean on a sunny day. I could see the sunlight streaming into the ocean, I knew that life and light were up there but I had no will to kick myself off the bottom. I wanted to but I just could not do it.

How long do you think it took you to realize you were depressed?

When I look back, I realise that I have had episodes of depression throughout my life but I was always able to snap out of them. My pregnancy in 2011 was a difficult one and I was hospitalised for bed rest. My son was born and spent some time in Neonatal ICU. I was not happy because I am such a perfectionist and I think that is when this episode started. It wasn’t until late 2012 that I realised that I was not okay at all. It took long because I was so busy. I was busy doing so many things that I did not have time to notice that I was sinking.

Did you think differently about people with depression before and after you had an episode yourself? If yes, what changed?

An aunt of mine committed suicide in 2003 – whilst admitted for depression. I loved her dearly so this topic was something I was familiar with. I knew that it was serious and it was not to be taken lightly. What amazes me is the reaction of family and friends. Nobody knows how to deal with depression, especially in terms of giving support.

How did having depression impact on your ability to do your work, relate to colleagues, friends, family?

I stopped functioning. I stopped eating. I stopped doing all the things that I enjoyed. And I was always sleeping. There was nothing I looked forward to more than getting home, drawing the curtains and sleeping. That is all I did. My daughter Nandi would come to my room and pry my eyes open. I would get up to shower, dress up and go to bed again.

What was it like taking an antidepressant – were there side-effects and how long did it take for you to start feeling better?

I started antidepressants on the same day of my hospital admission. For the first time, I had a proper sleep. I managed to sleep and not have all the noise and voices in my head. In terms of side-effects – the worst one was the sluggishness and dry mouth. Loss of libido and weight loss came much later. It is difficult for me to say when I started feeling better because when I did start feeling different my mother suddenly died. Depression and grief are two separate entities so I was plunged into something else. The one tablet that made me feel more energetic was Wellbutrin. My psychiatrist prescribed it to me after 3 months because I needed a ‘jumpstart’.

What changes did you make in your life to help you avoid becoming depressed again once you were better?

I am still on medication. I think that mine is going to be a long journey with antidepressants. My mother’s death really took the wind out of my sails. I have also started going to the gym which has made a huge difference. The last change I made in my life was to resign from work and stay at home. I needed to find myself again and that is what I am doing right now. I am doing things that make me happy like taking rides on the Gautrain and going for full body massages. I am looking after me!

If you thought a colleague was depressed, having been through it yourself, how would you approach them to suggest they seek help?

The signs of depression are so clear. I would address the changes that I have noticed and have a frank discussion about those changes. In my case the first that everyone noticed was that I wasn’t going out as much as I used to. That was a good entry point – “Sindi what is wrong? You don’t come to girls’ nights out any longer.”

Are there any online resources that healthcare workers might find helpful if they are wondering if they’re depressed?

Twitter: @TheSADAG . The South African Depression and Anxiety Group. They are a good resource.

In your experience, is there enough information, help and support for people dealing with depression as well as how to access it?

There is a wealth of information BUT the stigma around mental illness is what deters people from seeking help. We need to find ways of getting people to speak up and seek help before it is too late. Could you identify any triggers to episodes of depression and how did you deal with them? In my case, I am a perfectionist. I want things to be perfect and I see now that my pregnancy with my son was stressful and so was the delivery. I did not cope well with him being admitted to neonatal ICU.

Except for medication, are there any alternative ways of dealing with depression?

– Psychotherapy helps. I have a great therapist, Dr Marelize Devantier. She just listened because that is really what I needed.

– Gym. I have a personal trainer and when I do go to gym I always feel great afterwards

– Pampering time. I have learnt to put my own needs first. It is not easy but I need to fill my ‘happiness’ bucket before I can help others. This is why I have taken six months off to stay at home, rest and look after myself.

What would you say to someone suffering in silence?

Seek help before it is too late. The death of Robin Williams has been such an eye-opener. Seek help before it is too late.