What To Do If You’re Depressed
When you’re depressed, it can feel like there’s no hope, but also that nobody understands what you’re going through. That’s in part because everyone goes through times when they are sad, even overwhelmed with sadness, that pass after a couple of days.
People often use the term “depressed” or “depression” to describe that sensation of feeling down in the dumps, or unhappy for any number of reasons.
But actual depression describes when those feelings don’t pass. It is a real disorder, and it can be very serious. But if you are depressed, there is good news—you are not alone, you are not going crazy, and there are several promising methods for overcoming it.
While one of depression’s symptoms is that feeling of hopelessness, it’s important to know that you can get through it. Even people with the most serious depression, when they seek treatment, can get better.
So the very first thing to know if you think you are depressed—call your doctor. Treatment begins with a health professional, and the sooner the better.
Furthermore, if you are having suicidal thoughts or need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.
Some of the signs in particular that signal you should see your doctor include too much or too little sleeping or eating, heightened irritability or agitation at little things, difficulty concentrating, or just not finding enjoyment in things that used to make you happy. You might also have a hard time concentrating or focusing, experience panic and anxiety, or even experience unexplained physical symptoms like aches and pains. If you have these symptoms for more than a couple of days, you should contact a doctor. And again, if you are having thoughts about death or ending your life, immediately call a hotline and find medical help.
Now if you’re not sure if you are depressed, or it’s been a rough day, or maybe you already have an appointment with your doctor, and you want to know more about the disorder and the ways people overcome it, there is a lot of solid information available.
What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder where persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness interfere with daily life, for more than few days. It’s a very common illness, but can be very serious. Some people mistake it for being sad, or minimize it as being something trivial or something “to just get over.” But that couldn’t be less true. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), 6.7 percent of people in the United States will experience a major depressive disorder in one year, and that spans people of all gender, race, age, and demographic, although some segments of the population are more predisposed.
One of the challenges, and one of the reasons it’s so important to seek medical help, is that people don’t experience depression in the same way. Common symptoms are feelings of sadness, anxiety or pessimism, but also lack of energy, disinterest in things you normally enjoy, reduced sex drive, difficulty concentrating, or abnormal eating or sleeping habits. In fact, some people will go to a doctor with seemingly unrelated symptoms, only to be diagnosed with depression.
There are also different types of depressive disorders, including bipolar disorder, defined by swings between depression and mania; postpartum depression, following childbirth; seasonal affective disorder, which fluctuates during the year; or situational depression, triggered by traumatic or stressful life events. Depression can also be a symptom of another medical condition, but there is any number of factors that cause it, usually involving some combination of them—hormonal changes, genetic predisposition, loneliness, or external problems.
If you’ve felt symptoms of depression for more than a couple of days, there are also a number of online tests that can help, including here and here. But again, the sooner you contact a doctor, the sooner you can get better.
Dealing With Depression
While serious, depression is treatable. In fact, people with persistent and major depression often find ways to deal with it and emerge from what can feel like a hole or a dark tunnel with no end. It’s a very treatable illness. The following are some common ways to deal with depression that are often prescribed by a doctor. But, aside from medication, all of these can also help in dealing with brief bouts of sadness, or just provide a better sense of wellbeing.
Seek Out Support From Others – One of the best ways to deal with depression is by connecting with other people. It might feel like the last thing you want to do, but talking to a loved one or a friend can have tremendous benefits. It feels lonely to be depressed, but you will almost certainly be surprised at how supportive people will be. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to people you know, there are plenty of support groups or hotlines available.
Keep a Journal
There is a large body of evidence that journaling can have positive physical and psychological health benefits. Even taking 15 to 20 minutes to write about stressful or emotional events a few times has been shown to help. By writing about your emotions, how you feel, thoughts that go through your mind, you’re able to gain perspective and understand what’s behind some of the negative feelings. It also helps to track your mood over time and get a better sense of how much depression is impacting your life.
Like journaling, the psychological health benefits of getting physical exercise are well documented. This can be tough for people who are depressed, because it can be challenging to motivate for a workout during the depths people can experience. But even taking a short, 10-minute walk can improve mood. A regular exercise routine can have lasting benefits, especially when coupled with other treatments. The reason is the way exercise stimulates the release of endorphins and norepinephrine, which may directly improve mood. One tip for sticking to a routine, find an exercise partner to help with motivation and persistence.
Improve Your Physical Health
It’s a mean trick that the things that often make us feel better in the moment—junk food, alcohol, tobacco, other drugs—are actually contributing to overall feelings of depression and anxiety. Cutting back on unhealthy behaviors can improve your mood, as can getting back to healthy eating and sleeping habits. All of this, as well as exercise, can help you get on a routine, which in itself can be beneficial.
New studies are showing that regularly practicing meditation shows strong potential for treating depression and preventing relapses, with results even comparable to medication. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) in particular, which merges therapy and mindfulness meditation, can be quite beneficial for people suffering from or in recovery from depression.
There are many types of psychotherapy, which is a scary-sounding term for regularly meeting and talking with a trained therapist, and they are some of the most relied upon methods for treating depression. In fact, doctors usually will recommend it for extended periods, in conjunction with the methods above, especially in cases of major depression or persistent depressive disorder. There are two common types of therapy used to treat depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps patients restructure negative thought patterns, a sort of training for the mind that helps cope with depression and indentify the underlying contributing factors. Interpersonal therapy (IPT) helps people work on their relationships with others, which are often closely related to, or worsening the symptoms of depression.
But there are other forms of therapy, including family focused, self-help and support groups, and brain stimulation. Family focused therapy is a combination of psychoeducation, which teaches patients and their loved ones about an illness, and family therapy, which aims to improve how family members interact and the family functions as a unit. Support groups can also be highly effective, and contribute to the creation of a routine and warding off feelings of loneliness.
There are many different medication treatments for depression, and combined with psychotherapy, are some the most common approaches for overcoming the illness. Doctors will often recommend a combination of the two. People sometimes have concerns about going on medication, frightened by possible side effects or stigma attached to them. But the facts are that they are beneficial for many people with depression, especially with combined with these other treatments. That said, it is a very personal decision that should be made with careful consideration and advice from a doctor. If a patient decides medication is the right approach, it should be taken with care and under doctor supervision.
Some of the most common medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, (SSRIs), which are better known by brand names like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, or Lexapro. They are among the safest drugs for depression, and doctors often find they ease the negative effects of the illness and help with recovery, either on a short- or long-term basis.
Whatever the causes, symptoms, or severity of depression, the most important thing to remember is that there are many options for overcoming this common illness, and finding long-term relief and a high quality of life. Remember, you’re not alone, and there are many reasons for hope!