Society has made leaps and bounds in understanding depression; it used to be misunderstood as a common ailment of the weak and a manifestation of their inability to overcome all of the emotions that fell under the once-ambiguous umbrella of “feeling sad and/or tired.” We now know–and have research to boot–that depression is very real and surprisingly common.
Last month I wrote this post in which I hoped to destigmatize mental illness. 1 in 5 adults have a mental illness–a health condition involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior that is associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work, or family activities. What many of us do not realize, however, is that depression is a form of mental illness–one of the most common, in fact. Chances are high that you or someone you know has experienced depression. You may find it surprising to know that 1 in 3 women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime! While depression is far more common than we realize, the good news is that it is also one of the most treatable mental illnesses.
It is likely you know someone with depression, or have experienced it yourself. Depression is near-constant feelings of sadness and apathy and can make itself manifest at any time, though it typically appears during the late teens to mid-20s. It may be caused by biochemistry, genetics, personality, environmental factors, age, and even gender. (Stay tuned for my future blog post about mental illness and gender.) A dear friend of mine wrote the following about her depression: “Living with depression is like having a constant high-pitched ringing in your ears that won’t stop, or a person who walks too close behind you and keeps bumping into you without stepping back.” According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms range from but are not limited to the following:
- Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
It is important to note that depression is different from grief and bereavement in the sense that depression is constant for (at least) two weeks, whereas the depression symptoms found in grieving the loss of a job or death of a loved one will dissipate slowly with time. Simply “feeling depressed” is on one end of the continuum, with a major depressive episode on the other end, and varying degrees of depression in between. You can feel depressed without having depression.
As I mentioned, depression is among the most treatable of mental illnesses. The first step to healing is seeing a family physician or psychiatrist to rule out other illnesses. Because several medical conditions like thyroid problems, a brain tumor, or vitamin deficiency mimic symptoms of depression, it is important to have a thorough medical evaluation. Once depression is diagnosed, it can be treated with medication (to balance out the chemicals in the brain), and various forms of psychotherapy, including DBT and CBT. A combination of psychotropic medication and counseling is often the most effective form of treatment. Of course, the classic self-help and coping mechanisms–exercising regularly, getting quality sleep, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol–are essential to practice for a balanced, healthy life (read my recent post about self-help). With proper diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of people with depression will overcome it.
Depression is a very real illness but help is readily available. You are not alone in this… there is hope! There is healing and happiness, and a life free of that high-pitched ringing in your ear. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, set up your first appointment with me today. Please do not be dragged down by the feelings of self-loathing and deprecation that depression often invites; you are worthy of love, happiness, and life. Depression is treatable; take the first steps towards a healthier, happier you! Contact me today.