Disclaimer: The information provided on this post is not intended to substitute for consultations with your doctor, nor medical advice specific to your health condition. For educational purposes only.
You might have heard or read how depression is a dark, gray cloud that follows a person along and blocks the rays of sunlight. Or you might have heard or read how depression is a dark blob that sits on a person’s shoulders and gets heavier and heavier throughout the day.
As much as these metaphors are helpful in coming to a level of understanding on depression, depression is not always as visible as how these metaphors paint the picture of depression. In fact, in 2017, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that around 17.3 million adults in the United States had experienced at least one major depressive episode. Yes, 17.3 million adults.
Given that depression is experienced by many of us, it’s important that we understand what it is, its symptoms, and treatment beyond the level of metaphors. Learning about the mental illness was one of the key things that helped me in my own journey with depression.
What is Depression?
Depression is a serious mental health condition that mainly impacts a person’s mood. It’s characterized by persistent periods of loneliness and emotional “numbness.” Take note of the word persistent because this is what makes depression distinguishable from sadness.
Sadness is a normal emotion that we all feel on some of our days because it’s our reaction to a situation in our lives. For example, you may feel sad when you get in a heated argument with your boyfriend/girlfriend. You may feel sad after watching Marley & Me. The list goes on. Sadness is short-lived, while depression goes on for periods of time.
Also, it’s important to point out that depression is not a uniform experience. Depression comes in various forms, which the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) enumerated as:
- Seasonal affective disorder
- Postpartum depression
- Psychotic depression
- Bipolar depression
- Persistent depressive disorder
These are only a few, but because of these variations, some may experience depression in episodes or periods within months. Some may also experience depression persistently for, at most, two years. Along with the aspect of time, depression may also have the aspect of the reason behind a depressive episode. For some, they experience a depressive episode because of a major change in their lives. A few examples of major changes are unemployment, a breakup, and a sudden loss of a loved one.
As for some, they find it difficult to trace the cause of their depressive episode. This is where the experience of feeling glued to their beds as soon as they wake up may fall under. Because depression is a mood disorder, not knowing the answer to “what led to your depressive episode?” is just as valid as knowing concretely what led to your depressive episode.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) explained that before a person is diagnosed with depression, his/her symptoms must be evaluated by a professional. The symptoms of depression include:
- Being in a low mood for at least two weeks
- Lack of interest in hobbies, activities
- Lack of energy
- Changes in sleep (can be sleeping too much or having difficulty to sleep)
- Changes in appetite (can be eating too much or not wanting to eat)
- Difficulty in concentrating and making decisions
- Difficulty in staying still or restlessness
- Thoughts of suicide and/or self-harm
- Physical aches and issues without clear physical causes (e.g. headaches, backaches, digestion problems, delayed menstruation)
Not all these symptoms are experienced in one depressive episode. Although as established previously that depression is a serious mental health condition, it also varies in severity. It can range from mild, moderate, to severe; therefore, the symptoms differ as well. However, when four or more of these symptoms are present in a person for at least two weeks, he/she might have depression. It then would be best to consult a professional as soon as you notice these symptoms because depression is treatable.
Just as with the variations in form of depression, there are also different treatments to regulate the impacts of depression. Some treatments include psychotherapies, medication, and psychoeducation and support groups.
Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy, and the nature of this treatment is (you guessed it!) conversational. The client talks about their thoughts, events, anything they’d like to talk about, and the clinician will assess and target the issue based in the client’s inputs. The type of psychotherapy may vary in its target aspect in a client’s behavior, time in life, etc. (because this depends on the counselor/therapist), but all types of psychotherapy are first and foremost aimed to alleviate the symptoms of depression by offering techniques to deal with depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provided examples of types of psychotherapy, and they are:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – strong basis on research, frequently time-limited, and structured.
- Target of clinician: Negative thinking patterns
- Technique learned by client: Coping strategies
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) – time-limited just like CBT.
- Target of clinician: Client’s problems with interpersonal relationships
- Technique learned by client: Evaluation of interpersonal relationships and what they can do to work on their relationships
Psychodynamic therapy – can be short-term or long-term
- Target of clinician: Negative behavioral and thinking patterns rooted in client’s past experiences and unconscious processes
- Technique learned by client: Identifying, understanding, and settling unresolved issues in the past
We’ve discussed how depression is a mood disorder, so what influences our moods from a biological perspective? The chemicals secreted by our brains! A person with depression can have lowered levels of serotonin and/or dopamine, which are the brain chemicals that regulate a person’s mood, muscle movement, and appetite. Because of the brain’s decreased secretion of these brain chemicals, antidepressants aim to make up for the imbalance in one’s bodily chemistry. Although taking antidepressants seems to be quick, direct, and easy, it can’t be taken without prior assessment and prescription. If you are considering to take medication, be sure to consult with a medical professional first.
Psychoeducation and Support Groups
From the name “psychoeducation,” it means to receive education on depression. It may include education on signs and symptoms, detecting signs of relapse, and how people with depression and their family members can help to treat depression. You may also be taught the language used when talking about depression and mental illness. This type of treatment is knowledge-based, so it’ll help enhance support for oneself. For instance, you’ve finished your CBT. As time passed, you notice you have the signs of a relapse. Because of your knowledge on depression, you went for immediate intervention. Based on the description of psychoeducation, this post can be one of its forms.
As for support groups, they also work to reinforce support for oneself AND fellow people with depression. You share experiences, which can be affirming of the fact that you are not alone no matter how much your depression makes you feel like so. You may also learn from your peers real-life based knowledge that you can’t find in textbooks or educational articles since some techniques are used on a case-to-case basis.
The good thing about having several forms of treatment is you get to choose what works best for you. For one thing, to make the most of your therapy, it would be best to find the therapist that you’re comfortable with. And if you find yourself not finding that connection in therapy, you can always request to have a different therapist. It happens, and therapists don’t take this to heart. There are some who are most comfortable with and most responsive to medication, but please. Consult a medical professional before you ingest any medication — I can’t stress this enough.
Tips to Cope
Your journey towards healing is a combination of your treatment and what you do on your own. Your therapist may have drawn the connections between your struggles in your childhood with your habits in adulthood, and your therapist may have taught you techniques to face depression. But what do you do outside therapy? Although it might not be overnight for the symptoms of depression to be completely dealt with, here are some things you can do to cope with depression.
- Meditate, whether through a meditation app or guided mediations from Youtube.
- Journal your thoughts and feelings, and let your thoughts flow freely.
- Observe your thoughts and possible thought patterns.
- Exercise, whether through home workouts or going to the gym.
- Get fresh air and sunlight.
- Take things one day at a time because you don’t have to do everything at once.
- Talk to your “safe person.”
- Practice positive self-talk.
- Unfollow or unsubscribe social media accounts that push you into feeling bad about yourself.
- Try your best to drink enough water and eat healthy when you have the appetite.
Depression impacts not only your mental health, but your physical health as well. So when coping on your own, it’s important that you also cater to your bodily needs.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses that can be treated through psychotherapy, taking medication, and/or participating in opportunities for psychoeducation and support groups. Dealing with depression is a process, and knowing that you’re reading this post is an indication of your commitment to yourself. You are not alone in this journey, and give yourself all the love for doing the best you can!