Health & Fitness

Be alert to early signs of stress and depression

stressed man
Feeling stressed: Early detection of conditions delivers better outcomes. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Qn. How often should one check for mental health status? I took up a new job that is too strenuous and I live in fear of a mental breakdown. I lately get irritated easily and get into bust-ups that are unnecessary”

In general medical practice, it is accepted that with advancement in age, one should get regular medical examinations to ensure the early detection of all manner of diseases. It is a well known fact in medicine that early detection of conditions often translates to better outcomes.

Women are strongly advised to do regular (monthly) self-examination of their breasts.

In a similar vein, many men are now submitting themselves to examination of the prostate gland long before the onset of symptoms.

After the age of 45 years, it is wise for men and women to have regular tests in an attempt to detect the easy-to-treat cancer of the colon. A visit to your doctor could end up saving you prolonged pain and suffering if the diagnosis is made late.


Sadly, no such scheme of examination exists in mental health practice and, therefore, we do not have the equivalent of “an annual medical examination”. What we do have, however, is more reliable because it allows one to keep a regular check on themselves and their loved ones.

Your question is an excellent starting point for an explanation of this system and how it works. You tell us, for example, that “I took up a new job that is too strenuous”.

Two things stand out for me in those few words.

First of all is the fact of “the new job.” We in mental health know that change in situation of life can, and often does, lead to stress, which is often the precursor of depression.

So, whether one moves to a new house, or gets a new job, or moves to a new country, things can, and sometimes do go wrong, simply because of the fact of newness. The stress of newness can be a reason for (some people) to suffer mental illness.

The second element in your question that stands out is the fact that you have moved to a strenuous job. So, the mere fact that you now live under stress at work is predictive of the possibility that you could suffer from depression.

It is, therefore, only right and proper that you should be on the lookout for the early signs of stress which could lead you to a depressive illness if not looked into in good time.

One of the earliest symptoms of depression is insomnia (difficulties with sleep). If you notice that your sleep pattern has changed, and that you are no longer able to fall off to sleep or that sleep vanishes at 3-4 a.m, then you are on the verge of something that you might want to have checked.

The fact that you state “I live in fear of a mental breakdown” seems to suggest that this strenuous job might have pushed you to an anxiety state.

In this condition, one has a constant sense of foreboding, and remains in a state of anxiety, in the absence of any objective threat to the individual.

A rapidly beating heart, sweating and trembling might be other symptoms of this state of anxiety associated with the new job and the stress it can bring to your life.

Any mental health expert will understand that you are not well, from the symptoms that you now put before us. “I lately get irritated easily” is a critical statement in this regard. The key word here is “lately”.

This tells us that this is a new occurrence and that, by nature, getting easily irritated is not part of your life. So, a recent change of job, a difficult life situation followed by your own self admission of irritability.

This is a common (early) sign that depression is knocking at the door. So, whether it is the boss shouting at his staff or the housewife sacking her house help (for no reason), the mechanism of the irritation is the same.

You then go on to tell us that you “get into bust-ups that are unnecessary”. This is another set of brilliant simple words.

You are telling us that you are fully aware that what is going on around you is alien to your nature and character but you are unable to stop yourself.

Your question is about the early signs of mental illness and it seems that you might benefit from help.