As part of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar’s (WCM-Q) latest instalment of the series Ask the Expert, Dr Aicha Hind Rifai, WCM-Q’s Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, gave an interactive presentation that explained the symptoms of depression, and ways that it can be effectively treated or managed with medications, therapy and lifestyle changes.

Dr Rifai explained that people suffering from depression or any form of mental illness should not be put off from seeking help by stigma.

Depression is an illness that we can treat, often very successfully. It is not something to be ashamed of. If you are worried that you may be depressed, you should see your doctor, just as you would with any other health concerns. We are here to offer help and support without judgment and in total confidence.’

Dr Rifai said that depression is a complex condition caused by different factors or a combination of many factors. The condition is generally characterised by one or more of the following symptoms: persistent sadness, feelings of hopelessness, lethargy or anxiety, disturbed sleeping patterns, crying spells, appetite changes, irritability and social withdrawal, among others. Some people with depression also have recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Causes also vary a great deal and can often be hard to identify. Depression sometimes appears to have been caused by stress at home or at work, physical illness, loss, social isolation, relationship problems, bereavement, or hormonal changes caused by recent pregnancy. In some cases, depression or depressive episodes may be triggered by a stressful or saddening life event, but in other cases, people may feel depressed for no apparent reason. Whatever the cause, seeking help from professionals is recommended. In cases of post-partum depression where young children are involved, or when thoughts of suicide are frequent, professional care should be sought without delay.

Depression often appears to be caused by a complex interaction of many factors, which can be emotional, physical or cognitive. In general, if a person’s emotional state has a persistent negative effect on their daily lives and their enjoyment of life, Dr Rifai said that the person is more likely to be evaluated as depressed. The quicker depression is addressed, the easier it is to treat. Early treatment also helps to prevent negative impact on the person’s health and that of their family.

Depression is often characterised by feelings of hopelessness and that things simply will never get better. I want to tell you that I personally have seen many patients who felt this way and who were able to get treatment successfully, regain happiness and fulfilment in their lives.

If depression is diagnosed, treatment can include antidepressant medication, cognitive therapy, counselling, lifestyle changes such as altering one’s work-life balance, or a combination of several approaches. Dr Rifai stressed that the goal is to help people regain enjoyment of their lives and help them return to their normal level of function.

For more information about WCM-Q’s Ask the Expert Series, visit their website at