DEPRESSION: Let’s talk about it.
Depression is an extremely common and serious disorder that affects many of us. Depression is like a dark cloud that surrounds you that you can’t get out of. For many, it’s a sinking feeling where you feel as if you are not even in your own skin anymore. You experience yourself as more of an observer of what’s happening around you, but you can’t feel or engage. It’s a feeling of doom that you can’t escape. It’s not the same as having a bad day or feeling sad, for example; it’s a deep and prolonged “sinking” that happens to you that’s out of your control.
Depression causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities such as sleeping, eating, or working.
Technically, to be diagnosed with depression, the severe symptoms described above must be present for at least two weeks.
Some forms of depression are slightly different, or they may develop under unique circumstances, such as:
- Persistent depressive disorder (also called dysthymia) is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered persistent depressive disorder.
- Postpartum depression affects so many women post-pregnancy, and yet so few feel comfortable to talk about it, as there is the assumption that this should be the “happiest” time of your life. Women with postpartum depression experience full-blown major depression during pregnancy or after delivery (postpartum depression). The feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that accompany postpartum depression may make it difficult for these new mothers to complete daily care activities for themselves and/or for their babies.
- Psychotic depression occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false fixed beliefs (delusions) or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations). The psychotic symptoms typically have a depressive “theme,” such as delusions of guilt, poverty, or illness.
- Seasonal affective disorder is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. This depression generally lifts during spring and summer. Winter depression, typically accompanied by social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain, predictably returns every year as seasonal affective disorder.
- Bipolar depression is different from depression, but it is included in this list because someone with bipolar disorder experiences episodes of extremely low moods that meet the criteria for major depression (called “bipolar depression”). But a person with bipolar disorder also experiences extreme highs—euphoric or irritable moods—called “mania,” or a less severe form called “hypomania.”
Signs and Symptoms of Depression:
If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom listed above. Some people will only experience a few symptoms, while others may experience many and a different combination of each.
Depression can happen at any age, but often begins in adulthood. It’s important to be aware that many chronic mood and anxiety disorders in adults begin as high levels of anxiety in children. So if you have children or are looking back on your own experiences in childhood, keep an open eye for those symptoms so you may better help them adjust, or understand yourself better.
What are the Treatment and Therapies for Depression?
The good news is that depression, even the most severe cases, can be treated, and there are a number of options. It is believed that the earlier the treatment can begin, the more effective it is. In my experience with depression, I can now recognize the early symptoms coming my way. It’s taken a long time for me to get to this place where I can become aware enough to self-reflect and observe my feelings.
The sooner you can check in with yourself when you start to feel not completely ok, the better. In many cases, quickly shifting into an active role of taking steps to take care, can help bring you back into balance. This is definitely a luxury that not everyone has obviously, especially if you have children, or care for others that need a good deal of your attention.
- A healthy diet
- Spending time with your thoughts
- Get outside (especially close to water)
- Exercise and setting goals are good first steps to trying to prevent depression from taking hold.
For others, these elements are helpful, but the integration of medication and counseling therapy or a combo of all of these things are their best bet. Keep in mind that these treatments are not guaranteed to cure your symptoms but they can definitely help. Natural options (please see a doctor and get their recommendation before trying these options):
- St. John’s Wort
- Foods high in Omega 3
Should I Take Medications?
The idea of taking medication, especially one that you rely on to feel normal, can be really scary. I personally believe that taking all the alternative routes first is a better option. I think medication should be the last step on the path to feeling better.
I say this for a few reasons. First, I feel it’s important for your confidence to feel that you have the ability to survive and thrive after any depressive experiences you might have. Secondly, medication can sometimes be the first thing recommended by a doctor before exploring more holistic options like counseling therapy and other health-related activities. Antidepressants can be used by all people, depending on their medical condition or history. Lastly, for many, medication is the best option in more severe cases where immediate relief is urgent. Antidepressants are medicines that treat depression. They may help improve the way your brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress. Unfortunately, you may need to try several different antidepressant medicines before finding the one that improves your symptoms and has manageable side effects. A medication that has helped you or a close family member in the past will often be considered if depression runs in your family.
The thing to remember is that medication affects everybody differently, so it’s not a one-pill-fixes-all here, which can be really frustrating for someone seeking relief. On that same note, for many, antidepressants have been a life-changing hero that has pulled them out of some very dark times.
Antidepressants take time to work—usually two to four weeks—and often, symptoms such as sleep, appetite, and concentration problems improve before one’s mood lifts, so it is important to give medication a chance before reaching a conclusion about its effectiveness.
If you begin taking antidepressants, do not stop taking them without the help of a doctor. Sometimes people taking antidepressants to feel better and then stop taking the medication on their own, and the depression returns. When you and your doctor have decided it is time to stop the medication, usually after a course of 6 to 12 months, the doctor will help you slowly and safely decrease your dose. Stopping them abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms.
There are many options available, both natural and via various types of therapy and medication. The key here is to not to suffer alone.
If you don’t feel that you have someone to talk to that understands what this experience is like, the HAPPY community is here. There are thousands of people just like you who have experienced these same things and can relate.