Not Your Average, Run-of-the-Mill Kind of Sad
Depression is a serious medical condition and mood disorder that severely impacts the way that you feel, think, and behave during normal daily activities; such as working, sleeping, socializing or eating. While most people experience some degree of sadness after a death, losing a job, or dealing with normal life struggles, depression is more profound in its appearance as it can drastically impact one’s emotional and physical health. In addition, no two people experience depression in the same manner; where some individuals experience milder or shorter depressive episodes, for others, symptoms may lean toward the severe and require hospitalization. Can depression be prevented or are there signs that might indicate when a depressive episode will take place? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “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.”
Signs and Symptoms
- Persistent sad or anxious mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
- Irritability or discontent
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy
- Moving or talking in an exaggeratedly slow manner
- Feeling restless or difficulty sitting still; fidgety
- 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
U.S. News (and Health) reports that depression can affect anyone at any given time. Neither your race, age, education level, nor gender, determines whether or not you are susceptible to experiencing an episode of depression. In 2017, major depression, also referred to as classic depression or clinical depression, affected more than 17 million adults (ages 18 and over) in the United States. The age range with the highest reported number of depressive episodes was between 18-25 years old, with females experiencing higher numbers of episodes. Reports also indicate that a staggering 3.2 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, experienced at least one major depressive episode, again with females leading in the numbers reported.
Are some individuals more prone to experiencing depression? Researchers have determined that the following factors may play a large role in increased risk:
- Personality traits like low self-esteem or pessimism
- Stressful life events, including the death of a loved one or financial difficulties
- Childhood trauma, such as sexual or emotional abuse, or a history of teenage or childhood depression
- Family history of depression, other mental health issues, alcoholism or suicide
- Being gender-nonconforming and in a non-supportive family
- History of eating disorders or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Certain health problems like cancer, diabetes, chronic pain or heart disease
- Taking certain medications, including high blood pressure medications or sleeping pills
Many chronic mood disorders observed in adults tend to develop as high anxiety during childhood and often predisposes children to becoming adults with depression. Because people aren’t born sensitive, it is believed by some that certain dynamics of a child’s home/family life may contribute to this disposition. To further elaborate, consider a child losing a pet to death. While crying, the child’s parent tells the child to “get over” the loss of the animal and to “move on.” Because the parent is uncomfortable seeing the child in distress or talking about a particular topic (in this instance, death) they inadvertently teach a child to dismiss their feelings instead of creating a dialogue that will allow the child to process what has happened. Where do all of those stifled emotions go?
There are many different types of treatment available for depression and finding the right one (or combination) that works for you may require some measure of trial and error. The same premise that applies when one is in the process of buying a new car is relevant in this instance. You may have to try different therapists until you find one that works for you by establishing an effective rapport and adequate support for your concerns. Also, experimenting with different medications (traditional or alternative) may be necessary until you are able to see and feel relief from your symptoms. Some common depression treatments include the following:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been an effective form of treatment for many people suffering from depression. Individuals struggling with negative thought patterns and decreased problem solving skills (both common variables of depression) are taught by trained therapists to reframe negative thinking and feelings. This treatment helps individuals to shift their thought processes, thus producing constructive feelings and behaviors. Because this therapy has demonstrated its ability to assist individuals in decreasing feelings of depression over time and continued practice, studies suggest that CBT might be as effective as antidepressants though some patients may require a combination of both to see tangible results.
The goal of psychoanalysis is to help individuals gain a clearer understanding of the power of their unconscious processes and beliefs. Recognizing and acknowledging the negative, limiting beliefs and ideas that one has held onto for years is the key to getting healthier. Addressing and then releasing these beliefs may drastically reduce depression symptoms, enhance insight and diminish interpersonal conflicts. A longer-term treatment, psychodynamic therapy is particularly effective for people dealing with childhood trauma.
Pet Therapy for Depression
Simply spending quality time with pets has the ability to diminish symptoms of depression, fatigue, anxiety and pain for some individuals. Many medical facilities provide therapy animals for their observed therapeutic effect on some patients. Animal-assisted therapy that is conducted by a trained handler is reported to provide comfort, motivation, and encouragement for patients, particularly with children. Pet therapy has also proven effective for assisting veterans struggling with post traumatic stress disorder.
If non-traditional approaches to managing symptoms of depression are appealing, there are several to try. Incorporating meditation and mindfulness training into a daily routine can be beneficial. Observing one’s thoughts in a calm, relaxed, and purposeful state allows an element of control over destructive, inhibiting feelings and places intentional focus on the “here and now.” Positive benefits also include reduced anxiety levels, lowered stress, and an improvement in overall health. Exercising and becoming more active, natural/holistic herbs and tonics, and acupuncture are other alternative methods that may prove helpful in managing depression.
Depression is not your average, run-of-the-mill kind of sad, but there is help available for treating it. If you or a loved one are struggling with symptoms of depression, please seek appropriate help and utilize state or county mental health resources in your local area.
Mental/Behavioral Health Organizations
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (samhsa.gov)
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org)
National Institute of Mental Health (nimh.nih.gov)
World Health Organization (who.int)
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (dbsalliance.org)
American Psychological Association (apa.org)
If you or a loved one are in crisis, please contact
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1 (800) 273-8255
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