The worst thing you can tell a depressed person is “snap out of it”. The worst thing you can do for them is tell them to “man up”, “get a grip”. The best thing you can do for them is be patient with them, understand them.
Depression is an illness. Just as you lose control over your body when you are physically ill, depression causes the sufferer to lose control of their willpower and strength.
If you suffer from depression, are there things you can do to, if not heal yourself, at least make yourself feel better and cope better? The answer is yes, and that’s what we will look at in the article. Before we do that, though, let’s get a proper definition of depression.
Depression: The Basics
The correct terminology for clinical depression is major depressive disorder (MDD). It typically involves at least two weeks of being in a low mood. During this time, you experience feelings of low self esteem, apathy for things you normally enjoy, low energy, and pain that has no clear cause.
Other symptoms of depression include headaches, cramps, trouble concentrating, self harm, substance abuse, frequent thoughts of death, memory problems, weigh gain or loss, and digestive problems.
The effects of depression can extend through a person’s life, work, education, sleeping habits, and their general health.
The causes of depression are varied:
- Environmental – for instance, financial problems, toxic work environment, and the trauma of experiencing assault.
- Brain chemistry – changes to neurochemicals in your brain can alter your mood stability and cause depressive episodes.
- Diet and exercise – bad eating habits contribute to depressive episodes. For instance, consuming fast food, caffeine, and alcohol in large amounts. Poor exercise as well.
- Hormones – hormonal changes, for instance during and after pregnancy, can cause depression.
Other risk factors for depression include genetics (it can run in families) and personality (low esteem individuals are at a high risk).
Drug abuse is both a cause and effect of depression. For instance, vicodin abuse can cause depression. On the other hand, having a history of mental illness makes you vulnerable to using vicodin and other drugs.
Major depression disorder is not the only type of depression. Other types of depression include: psychotic depression, persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.
How to Handle Depression
1. Seek Counseling
Professional therapists are trained to understand what people are going through and come up with appropriate solutions/remedies to help them get back to “normal”. The main type of therapy applicable for people dealing with depression is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which helps you adjust your thoughts and actions.
Either undertaken alone or in conjunction with medication, CBT is an excellent treatment for depression.
This is what you will learn during cognitive behavioral therapy:
- How to control the negative thoughts that make you apathetic and create feelings of worthlessness.
- How to fight the emotions of hopelessness and sadness.
- How to fight loss of energy, even when not physically active.
- How to counteract behaviours that cause poor concentration and bring about thoughts of death.
You will also learn problem solving from CBT. Problems may be consequences or causes of depression. CBT has been found to be highly effective in improving the quality of life of people with depression.
CBT involves two types of strategies: behavioral and cognitive.
Depressed people often feel a heavy sense of apathy and low energy where they can’t bring themselves to do anything. They sink into inactivity and wallow for extended periods.
Behavioral strategies help you identify certain aspects of your behavior that are likely to worsen depression. The therapy encourages you to increase activities in your life, in spite of your strong desire to be inactive.
- Scheduling of activities
- Training in social skills
- Structured problem solving
- Goal planning
When you internalize these new behavioral styles through practice, you can apply them throughout your life and reduce chances of a relapse or recurrence of depression.
Depression manifests a thinking style fixated on the negative aspects of the world and one’s life. A depressed person will often view himself as worthless, and see the world as a place full of unfairness.
They think of themselves as having no hope of ever seeing any improvement in their future. They blame themselves for bad things that happen to themselves. When good things happen, they believe it is luck and not their worthiness that has given them this good fortune.
The cognitive approach helps you identify and correct what is distorted and negative about your thought patterns.
When you reframe how you think about life, how you look at situations, you are able to recover from your failures with better grace, and you can recognize when you deserve credit and take it.
What this teaches you is that you have control over your life – at least, over how you react to things happening in your life. If you can control your perceptions and reactions, you realize that the quality of your life improves rather drastically.
Antidepressant medication is often prescribed for severe cases of depression. When you have mild to moderate depression, antidepressant medications are unlikely to be recommended as a first line of treatment.
Where medication is concerned, seek professional help, and keep in contact with your prescribing physician. Follow the instructions they give you.
3. Light Therapy
Another name for this is phototherapy. Basically, get out in the sun because sunlight is good for you – or certain light wavelengths when emitted by fluorescent lamps or polychromatic polarized light.
Researchers at the Baker Heart Research Institute in Melbourne found that there is a correlation between the amount of sunlight one is exposed to in a given day and their mood. It is for this reason that some people fall into depression during the winter – a type of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Apparently serotonin (the “happy hormone”) levels are lower in winter than in summer. Ensure you get your daily dose of sunlight whenever you can. When you are feeling low, go out for a walk in the sun, preferably by the beach if there’s a beach in your area.
Stories of people who survived hard times in their lives only because of their exercise habit are numerous. Exercise provides many benefits for your mind and your body. When you are pushing your body hard in the gym or out on a run, your body releases endorphins.
Endorphins are chemicals that trigger euphoric feelings and help reduce pain perception. When you are feeling low, exercise will help you tap into a better range of emotions, improve your mood.
A daily workout routine is the best strategy. Not only is the exercise good for you, but the consistency also gives you a sense of control over your life.
While doing these things will not absolutely insulate you from depressive episodes, you will at least lessen the likelihood. Certain things like job loss are depression triggers, but by practicing the CBT strategies, getting sunlight, and exercising every day, you can uplift your mood and try to see the bright side.
If there is no bright side, you can at least accept things for what they are without coloring them with negative thinking/energy. You can accept them for what they are, and focus on finding a way to keep moving forward.
For those who don’t have depression, let us remember to be compassionate to our friends and loved ones who suffer from this condition. Let us help them implement these strategies in their lives – like going out on a run with them, or for a walk. It’s the little things.