Billions of dollars are spent every year to treat it. It is estimated that 5% of Americans – some 15 million people – suffer from it at a given time. It is seen as a major contributor to suicidal behavior. What is “it?” “It” is DEPRESSION. Since we know that the dark days of winter seem to lead some people to feel depressed and that this past holiday season, even with all the parties and festivities, can trigger many people to experience depression, we would like to help you understand depression better and share some ideas on what you might want to do if you or someone you know is feeling depressed.
Are your low feelings the blues or something beyond the blues? That diminished sense of energy and mildly depressed mood that sometimes sets in are blues you can beat. Below are some do’s and don’ts for combating the blues:
- DON’T over do the caffeine.
- DON’T overindulge in comfort foods.
- DON’T turn to alcohol and other drugs.
- DON’T hibernate.
- DON’T procrastinate/avoid.
- DON’T isolate yourself.
- DON’T accept a bad mood and wallow in it.
- DON’T blame others or take out your bad mood on them.
- DO get a reasonable amount of rest.
- DO eat well (protein and carb’s to boost energy without a “crash.”)
- DO exercise. Physical activity (even a 10 minute walk) will boost mood. A longer workout will stimulate a release of endorphins.
- DO take action. If you’re feeling lazy/worthless, prove yourself wrong. Remember past successes. Set small goals; break big tasks into smaller ones and give yourself credit for accomplishing each one.
- DO eliminate negatives where you can (e.g., avoid bad news or pessimistic people for a while).
- DO add small pleasures. Savoring a cup of tea, listening to music, taking a walk, calling an old friend…Plan them into your schedule.
- DO stimulate the senses. Eat spicy food, listen to powerful music, dance energetically, wear bright colors, take a very long hot bath, or a cold shower. DO something for someone else. Call your grandma, iron your roommate’s shirt, smile and say “hi” to people you don’t know.
However, when depression is beyond the blues, it’s time to take a different tactic. People describe themselves as “depressed” in many different ways and for many different reasons. “I got my test grade back, I’m depressed.” “My girlfriend and I broke up, I’m depressed.” “The Rutgers game really depressed me.” Depression is not sadness or grief. Failure, a loss, or major changes in our lives often lead to sad feelings. This is part of the ups and downs of life but this is not real depression. We are depressed when we cannot move on with our lives after a major loss, or if we have no idea of why we feel down. People who are depressed often say “I have no reason to feel this way, my life is good.” The very fact the feelings seem to come out of the blue may suggest depression.
Real (clinical) depression is likely to color our view of the world so that our successes seem minor and our failures seem major. A person who is depressed often feels unable to focus on the positive, to put failures in the context of other successes and to accurately assess their own strengths and weaknesses. Some depressed people say things like “Even though I know the world is full of color, to me everything looks gray.”
As depression becomes more serious, we are likely to experience physical symptoms such as restlessness, the inability to sleep or a need to sleep excessively, fatigue, appetite changes, crying spells, or the an inability to enjoy normally pleasurable activities, feelings of worthlessness, inability to concentrate, indecisiveness, or thoughts of suicide.
Many professionals believe that depression is really anger turned in on ourselves. Instead of getting angry at people or events in our lives that are negative, we blame ourselves for what has happened — even if we have no control over it. It is also known that people who are overly responsible or self-blaming are more likely to experience depression.
Here are some things that we know about the causes of depression. Some people are predisposed to experience depression. If there is a history of depression in your family, you may be more likely to become depressed. For some people, depression is a reaction to excessive stress. Burning the candle at both ends, not sleeping, etc., may trigger depression. Finally, some people seem to get “stuck” when dealing with a difficult negative experience and move from sadness to depression.
Is there some good news about all of this? There is. For many people, depression runs its course and they start to feel well again. Some people seek counseling and it is clear that counseling can help them manage depression and often shorten the depressive cycle. Finally, almost every few months a new anti-depressant comes on the market. For people with more serious depression, these products can be very helpful.