How to Handle Depression

Solving DepressionDepression can strike anyone, from children to the elderly. Women feel its weight two to three times more frequently than men. It is most common in those between the ages of 18 and 44. You should be careful not to confuse this serious disease with ordinary grief or disappointment.

The two major warning signals of true depression are:

  1. Feeling sad, "blue," down in the dumps
  2. Diminished interest in pleasurable activities

If either of these indicators are present, you should also look for:

  • Weight loss or gain of 5-20 pounds
  • Sleeplessness or excessive sleeping
  • Slowed body movements or thought processes
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Impaired concentration, indecision, or forgetfulness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Either one of these first two symptoms, coupled with any four of the last seven, means you, or someone you know, probably has major depression.

Depression can masquerade as a dozen different ailments, including backache, stomach problems, and anxiety. Since it often gets dismissed as "a touch of the blues," true depression is far more common than most people, possibly including your family doctor, realize. According to Jeffrey Lynn Speller, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist who specializes in treating depressed executives, "Often it hits the most ambitious, creative, and conscientious."

What Causes Depression?
Hippocrates advanced theories of "melancholia," or "black bile." Scientists have continued to seek the answer for centuries. Current research suggests depression may result from imbalances in brain chemistry. Thousands of experiments have indicated that changes in the concentration of neurotransmitters, the brain's messengers, is the cause of the problem. The brain, like every other organ in the body, causes symptoms in a person when it is not functioning properly. Problems in the brain cause difficulty in thought and emotion.

B.F. Skinner, in 1953, spoke of depression as the "loss of accustomed rewarding events." In response, you may feel deprived, apathetic, and helpless. In 1982, Peter Lewinsohn suggested depression is related to not getting enough enjoyment out of life. Lewinsohn found that depressed people report a lower average of pleasant activities and lower rates of social activity. He also found that depression is sometimes accidentally encouraged by well-meaning friends. They support the depressed behavior by affirming how "tough" the situation is, instead of encouraging their friend to get over it and move on.

The Alternative
Depression can be a dreadful disease. It can destroy marriages, careers, and can even lead to suicide. However, it is one of the most easily treated emotional ailments. There is no need to suffer from depression. As Dr. Philip Muskin states, "there is no reason for anyone's brain to hold them prisoner." Unfortunately, the stigma attached to psychiatric disorders prevents some from seeking help. Once the depressed person gets past that stigma and opens himself up to receiving treatment, he has an 85% chance of improvement.

A person who is free from the disease of depression will display the following characteristics:

  • Enjoys many of the day's activities
  • Feels fulfilled from completing tasks at work or at home
  • Is motivated to have social experiences
  • Feels worthwhile and successful
  • Has regular sleep habits
  • Feels generally well-rested and energetic

How to Alleviate Depression
Just as the sources of depression differ from one person to another, so do the processes for moving out of it. There are methods you can try on your own, and many options for professional help and treatment. Some of the positive things you can do independently include:

  • Engage in regular physical activity, like running, swimming, or anything you have found enjoyable in the past.
  • Get together socially with people who have been important to you.
  • Talk it out with someone you can trust.
  • Reach out for new experiences and relationships. Watch how risk-taking brings you the things you had hoped would occur by chance.
  • Do something for someone who is in need, like visiting a lonely nursing home patient, or a sick child in the hospital.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself.

These methods can be very productive, and can be accomplished by your own initiative. However, you should not hesitate to seek help from trained professionals in conjunction with trying any or all of the above suggestions.

Sometimes the biggest dilemma facing newly diagnosed depressives is choosing the kind of treatment you should get. Do you go to a general practitioner or a psychiatrist? Medicine or therapy? If the depression is mild, you will probably be successful with anti-depressant medication or short-term psychotherapy. In 1993, Frederick K. Goodwin, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, suggested, "Take your choice and try it for several weeks." Also in 1993, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that medicine typically began relieving symptoms of depression in four to six weeks, therapy in six to eight weeks. Medicine is also less expensive and more often paid for by insurance plans.

If the treatment you choose doesn't begin working in six to eight weeks, ask to change medication, switch from therapy to medication, or find a more compatible therapist. For help in finding a doctor experienced in treating depression, contact the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association (800-826-3632), the National Foundation for Depressive Illness (800-239-1297), or the National Mental Health Association (800-969-6642).

For moderate to severe depression, the growing consensus is to get medicine right away. Anti-depressants seem to work by stopping the brain from reabsorbing and neutralizing transmitter chemicals so fast. Anti-depressants are not mood elevators or tranquilizers. If you are depressed, they will probably make you well. They are not known to be addictive.

Some people who have suffered major depression are grateful they experienced it. They were able to make major, positive changes in their lives as a result. If you think you are a victim of depression, don't ignore it. You will get better much faster if you treat the condition rather than hoping it goes away on its own. Don't allow depression to make you miss out on life's rewards.


Find Help Now

If you or someone you know is experience depression, and you don't know where to go for help, or where you live limits access to trained professionals, you may want to consider a licensed, First Answers depression expert.


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