Updated: May 25, 2020
What is depression?
While feeling depressed at times is a normal part of life, feeling down-hearted and sad on a long term basis can have a serious impact on an individual’s relationships, study or work, health and life in general.
Major Depressive Disorder is characterised by the presence of a collection of the following symptoms over at least a 2 week period:
· Depressed mood
· Reduced interest or pleasure in activities
· Significant changes in appetite or body weight
· A slowing of thought and physical movement
· Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
· Trouble concentrating or making decisions
· Thoughts of death or suicide
Experiencing depression can often feel like absolutely everything is a struggle. Like getting out of bed is next to impossible. Like having a shower and getting dressed might take every last bit of energy you have left for the day. It can bring on a complete lack of motivation, like you just cannot be bothered. It can have you thinking, “well, what is the point?” You can feel slow, thick, sluggish and like your bad luck is never going to end. Depression can have you so fixated on the negatives in life that it leaves you feeling hopeless and empty. For some people, these feelings can be so consuming that they will consider ending their own lives just to make them stop.
How and why does depression occur?
Depression and its symptoms often become a vicious cycle. Feeling sad, tired and unmotivated can often lead to inactivity, unproductivity and a sense of guilt, which in turn leads to more feelings of sadness and shame. Or, the actions a person takes to try and avoid their feelings of depression and worthlessness, such as drug or alcohol use, could lead to further relationship and employment problems, which then increases feelings of depression.
It’s not even just the things we do or don’t do that can lead to or maintain depression, but also the way a person thinks. The way that we think about the world changes the way we experience it, so getting stuck in patterns of negative thinking can cause a downward spiral that’s very difficult to get out of.
Part of the puzzle is often a chemical imbalance in the brain. Studies have shown that Serotonin and Noradrenaline can act differently in the brains of individuals living with depression. The puzzle is also usually compromised of biological, genetic and personality factors, as well as being influenced greatly by the person’s life experiences.
Prevention and Management
Many of the common things that we do to support our physical health, also help support our mental health and keep depression at bay. Things like eating nutritiously, making time for exercise and getting enough rest.
Medications can be useful to help in stabilising a person’s mood, but are not usually a stand-alone cure. A combined approach with medication and therapy has been shown to be the most effective. Some people prefer to avoid medications altogether and that’s fine too – There are a great number of behavioural and cognitive strategies that can help a person manage depression. A few tips include:
· Practicing gratitude. Getting caught in a negative cycle can stop a person from seeing the good things around them. Sometimes choosing to highlight the things someone is grateful for can help them start climbing out of the deep hole that is depression.
· Investing in others. We usually believe that we will be happier if we put our own interests first, but studies show this isn’t true. Giving to others, and even small displays of kindness such as smiling at a stranger, releases endorphins in the giver, providing a significant mood boost.
· Behavioural activation. Even though it can feel almost impossible, setting small daily goals and making them happen, no matter how difficult it feels can be a huge step toward breaking the vicious cycle.
· Identify and challenge unhelpful thinking patterns. This one can be tricky to do in your own, but learning to challenge and change the way you think about things and therefore experience the world is the most sustainable way to move on from depression.
What to expect when seeking help
A psychologist can support you to figure out what is contributing to your depression, and then help you to come up with practical strategies to change your circumstances and thinking. Usually, this will start with building some trust between the two of you, getting to know your situation, some of your history and learning what is important to you. From there, a psychologist will draw on their skills and knowledge to help you learn strategies to cope, manage and overcome depression.
This can be thought of as building your own personal mental health tool-kit. What works for some is different to others, so work with your psychologist and provide them with feedback about what is working and what you’re not sold on. Once you have your own personal tool-kit, you will be able to move forward, facing life’s inevitable challenges and drawing on your strategies or further support if and when you need them.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, would like to find out more about how this may be impacting you or just feel like you need someone to talk to, please get in touch with Saltfleet Clinic to book an appointment with me.