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The word depression echoes in our lives regularly; sometimes as a sufferer and sometimes as a spectator. Either way it is a difficult proposition. The irony is, everyone experiences sadness at some point in their lives. However, there is a difference between real depression or clinical depression and situational one.
Whether you suffer from ongoing illness such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, or are temporarily struggling with significant and difficult changes in your personal life – coping with depression is never easy.
While the former can last for years, and interfere with daily activities and also cause physical anguish, the later is not as intense and typically passes by once the adversity is negotiated.
This guide will help you understand the symptoms of depression. We will discuss the various recommended treatment options available for clinical depression, including medicines and therapies and also some of the natural ways to overcome this mental illness. Let’s check out the figures first.
Depression has a high prevalence rate. It simply means, this ailment affects more people than we may think. Almost 6.6% of people suffering from severe depression may experience the signs of depression for almost a year before finding relief, and the lifetime figure stands at 16.2%. Women tend to surpass men by a ratio of 2:1.
Studies have also shown that depression occurs commonly in people suffering with several chronic ailments such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes and angina. Surprisingly, chronic physical illness and depression are synonymous with each other. A person suffering from chronic physical disorder has a greater chance of experiencing depression than a person who is healthy. It is also more likely that their depression will last longer than a person who does not suffer from chronic illness.
Depression or clinical depression is a major mental disorder affecting 15.7 million adults in the U.S, according to a survey conducted in 2014. There is yet another damaging figure. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) about 6.7 % of adults in the U.S had at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime.
These numbers speak for themselves and a clear warning that depression is not just a sad phase of life but a real disease which needs real attention and care.
The onset of depression can begin with tragic events such as death in the family, job and monetary loss, relationship issues such as divorce, split up, and parenting problems. However, depression could also occur because of the past incidents such as physical and mental abuse during childhood, parental indifference, physical impairment and feeling of guilt are some of the examples.
Clinical depression is a complex mental disorder and therefore its symptoms also vary from person to person. In fact, there are several variants of this illness which makes it even more difficult to notice. The fast paced lifestyle we lead today and changing times don’t help either as it can complicate the matter further. But there are some common symptoms for all the variants of depression. Lack of sleep, lethargy loss of appetite, brooding, feeling of hopelessness and difficulty in finishing the most basic day to day chores are some of the compelling ones.
These symptoms can be further broken down into three categories; psychological, physical and social.
Some of the persistent and distinct psychological symptoms include low self-esteem and lack of interest. It is not uncommon for these to be rooted in childhood. Perhaps the person was raised in a way which has damaged their outlook on themselves and/or the world in general.
Sometimes it can occur without any historical reason because one of the variants of depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. If a person is not producing enough serotonin (the chemical that makes us feel happy), they will experience the symptoms of depression. Because of lack of focus and interest, people suffering from depression find it difficult to accomplish even simplest tasks. Suicidal thoughts pop up from time to time, and this can be gauged from their conversation and behavior. Once suicidal thoughts occur, the person becomes in immediate danger.
On the physical side, this person may act with undue caution. In fact people suffering from depression speak less and act slowly. This is because of impaired psychomotor mechanism. Depressive individuals wear down easily, and all of sudden start losing weight. Similarly, they may develop a binge eating disorder and gain weight as a result.
Because of lack of activity and insomnia, the body may start showing signs of unexplained hurt and aches. In women a change of menstrual cycle can be expected which is always an indication of bad physical health. Moreover, lack of sleep creates even more complex problems.
People with clinical depression start avoiding people and places. The limit their movements, actions and thought process. They purposefully isolate themselves from family and friends. This results in complete apathy towards close ones. Outings and parties are rejected outright, and efficiency at the workplace starts to plummet. On the home front such people sulk and refrain from interacting with other family members. They prefer to keep to themselves which can enhance the illness further.
Treatments for Depression
Classic medicines versus psychotherapy
Once the symptoms point towards depression the next obvious step is to visit the family doctor or health professional who is trained to deal with depression. It’s very common for people suffering from depression to avoid diagnosis for prolonged periods, sometimes years. This is because there is a social stigma attached to depression.
However, when they do visit their family doctor the doctor will assess the symptoms, diagnose the patient and come up with a treatment plan. Typically there are two options available.
1. Classic medications which includes antidepressants of varying potency and side effects
Classic medications controls and limits negative thoughts through the production of serotonin. It also assists in the absorption of serotonin which some patients may have difficulty with.
Psychotherapy typically addresses a broader set of problems. In short it focuses on identifying the reasons or life events that contribute to the depression, and then find ways and means to address these in the most positive and sustainable way.
Psychotherapy also raises the patient’s understanding of their contorted and distorted thought process. Once the core issue is identified, the problem is negotiated through counseling and the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness is gradually eradicated.
The two most widely used forms of psychotherapy are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches patients to identify and manage troubling thoughts. CBT also offers a systematic approach to managing behavioral troubles which typically aggravates clinical depression. Through this treatment a patient learns to take control of his/her emotions and the illness itself. Cognitive behavioral therapy goes a step further. It removes negative beliefs and feelings of guilt or inadequacy through regular chats and mental exercises.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), as the term suggests, is a therapy that offers a unique window to patients to improve their social quotient. It provides the necessary platform to expand relationships through healthy and positive emotional expression. Unlike CBT, Interpersonal Therapy also addresses troubling past and present events, formulating skills and tools which the patient can use to address them and improve their mental health. Regression is a common malaise. IPT makes sure any negative events in the future are tackled with positive attitude and thereby prevent another episode.
Psychotherapy is an amazing tool that allows therapists to offer customized solutions because no two patients have similar problems or background. Moreover, tailor-made solutions or treatment plans make sure the concerned individuals address stress in the healthiest manner. It offers them a chance to get well in a nondestructive manner.
In chronic depression once the initial therapy and medicines have taken off, the concerned individual is asked to step into the real world and meet real people. Making short term plans for various goals and achievements can prevent regression of clinical depression.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is another common treatment for depression. It uses electrical currents to stimulate certain areas of the brain in an effort to correct irregularities which are causing symptoms of depression. This treatment is available as an outpatient treatment in many hospitals.
Loneliness and Depression
Loneliness is both cause of and a symptom of depression. There are two distinct “Loneliness” scenarios. The first one is typically the result of mild events such as change of job, change of living arrangements and even smaller things like having to give up your car which was gifted to you by your dad. These circumstances can make us feel very alone. But, because these are not life threatening episodes most of us come out of it without any need for external support. Brooding is short lived and as soon we get into the groove everything starts falling into place.
However, the other form of loneliness is the chronic kind which is triggered by serious setbacks or past episodes. Sometimes it may be triggered by a malfunction of certain chemicals in the brain. This is typically the result of family history, personality trait disorder or hereditary factors.
A positive social encounter is the buzzword of several psychotherapy treatments. It simply means to get in touch with people, God or energies which are a source of positive vibes. Interacting with a priest, going to church, or simply striking a conversation with a person who sends good magnetic wavelengths is a great way to step out of loneliness. Joining various communities, especially those which are close to your heart can do wonders to your morale. By listening and contributing your own thoughts you tend to get rid of negative energies.
Domestic animals can offer immense respite from loneliness for people with depression. Bonding with animals, especially a dog can ring in positive vibes. The sheer amount of energy that a dog possesses can provide a nonstop playful ambience which in turn can act as a stress buster. Pets are a great way to escape loneliness. If you can’t afford a pet, simply befriend a person who has one. Or you can volunteer at your local shelter. You can take unwanted dogs out for a stroll, or maybe train them and thereby build a strong bond of friendship.
By helping and bonding with animals you will be rewarded with selfless attention and boundless love – two important factors which can make you forget your worries and unshackle you from clinical depression. There are scores of stories out there that endorse this theory.
Exercise and Depression
Antidepressant medicines prescribed by doctors are good for short and medium term relief. However, for a long depression free life one needs to opt for more sustainable solutions. One of those options is exercise.
Working out or physical exercise increases brain activity, improves serotonin production, improves blood flow and also pushes more nutrients towards the head offering your brain a new lease of life. Exercise helps build new cells and refines and redefines connection with neurons. Exercise makes you feel rejuvenated and energised which is great for patients who’s depression causes lethargy. At the same time working out will help the patient to expend energy and increase their chances of deep, restful sleep.
However, exercise is unlikely to be sufficient as a clinical depression treatment as it cannot address any of the deep rooted psychological issues a patient faces.
Writing a journal can be a cathartic experience. You can simply pen down your fears and pains and get it out of your system the moment they torment you. There is no need to nurture and let it grow inside you to the point that it takes a toll on your psyche, eventually leading to clinical depression. Once the feelings are out of your system you will feel relieved and unburdened.
On the other hand a journal can also be used for a more constructive activity. For example one could enter the daily tasks or goals and at the end of the day rate the achievement. Scoring helps improve efficiency and stimulates the brain and the mind to function in a positive manner, the key elements to a successful cure from depression. Many therapists recommend keeping a gratitude journal where patients can list the things that they are grateful for at the end of each day. Gratitude journaling has been proven to vastly boost optimism.
Actually meditation is a part of regular therapy. However, it can be continued even after the recommended sessions are over, or without any experience in therapy at all. Meditation forces you to focus on good things. It teaches you to slow your thoughts down, quieting the noises in your mind and finding a sense of calm and peace. It is this very idea which can negate the effects of self doubt, low self-esteem and self-loathing. Meditation calms the mind and the body. It stabilizes the metabolism including brain functionality. Mindfulness has several therapeutic benefits. It is a great avenue that offers relief from unwanted thoughts and clinical depression.
Although sleep might appear like a docile and passive activity, the fact is it does wonders for the body and the mind. It helps both to rejuvenate. It not only strengthens the immune system of the body but also builds a strong attitude. It helps regulate moods and reduces stress because the mind and the body are in better health and the patient has the energy he or she needs to handle life’s daily challenges.
The idea is to offer brain and body a fixed time to relax, and maintaining a regular and consistent sleeping pattern results in amazing results. Good “sleep hygiene” is the remedy for several illnesses, not just depression.
Clinical depression needs quick recognition and attention, and equally speedy treatment. If left untreated it can result in several complex disorders at the later stage. Apart from medications, one needs to undergo several psychotherapy sessions to prevent regression. However, the above mentioned tips can work wonders on patients, and keep this severe mental illness at bay for a long, long time.