Clinical Depression. You Can Defeat Your Demons!
By Bob Aronson
Depression, what is it? Why can’t you just snap out of it? Many people including family and friends who have not experienced depression have great difficulty understanding it much like people who are not addicts can’t understand addiction. In both cases we often hear advice like, “Snap out of it, you’ve got things pretty good. There’s no reason to be depressed.” Or, “You made the choice to start drinking or using drugs so choose to stop.” Oh, if it were that simple.
Here’s a cold slap in the face to bring us into reality. Depression is a mental illness, like the common cold is a physical illness. There has long been a stigma associated with mental illness held over from the days of Insane Asylums and “Crazy” people. That stigma is rapidly disappearing because so many people suffer from depression which is often a chemical imbalance that is quite treatable. Your mental health is every bit as important as your physical health and one can affect the other.
Here are some shocking statistics from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH).
- Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44.3
- Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.1, 2
- While major depressive disorder can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32.5
- Major depressive disorder is more prevalent in women than in men
Major or clinical depression is an awful feeling. It is a gnawing at the pit of your stomach, in your gut that makes you feel hopeless, helpless and alone. It is as though someone locked up your ability to reason, your sense of humor and your will to live in a windowless, dark, solitary confinement jail cell from which there is no escape. It is a constant feeling of impending doom combined with a profound sadness and even fear. It can steal your energy, memory, concentration, sex drive, interest in activities you used to love and…it can even destroy your will to live. Depression may not be as common as the common cold but it is much more common than ever before. Nearly 20 percent of Americans suffer from it at one time or another.
Logic says that you should be able to “Will” yourself out of this mood, but will power alone cannot give you the boost you need to get your life’s engine started again. Mental illness is not unlike physical illness. You cannot use will power to eliminate depression any more than you could use it to stop cancer. No one wants to be depressed, no one,. Think about it. If will power would work as an anti-depressant there would be no depression because again, no one wants to feel like what I described.
Let’s get to the medical description and symptoms as offered by the Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/expert-answers/clinical-depression/faq-20057770
“To be diagnosed with clinical depression, you must have five or more of the following symptoms over a two-week period, most of the day, nearly every day. At least one of the symptoms must be either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure. Signs and symptoms may include:
• Depressed mood, such as feeling sad, empty or tearful (in children and teens, depressed mood can appear as constant irritability)
• Significantly reduced interest or feeling no pleasure in all or most activities
• Significant weight loss when not dieting, weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite (in children, failure to gain weight as expected)
• Insomnia or increased desire to sleep
• Either restlessness or slowed behavior that can be observed by others
• Fatigue or loss of energy
• Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt
• Trouble making decisions, or trouble thinking or concentrating
• Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or a suicide attempt
Your symptoms must be severe enough to cause noticeable problems in relationships with others or in day-to-day activities, such as work, school or social activities. Symptoms may be based on your own feelings or on the observations of someone else.
Clinical depression can affect people of any age, including children. However, clinical depression symptoms, even if severe, usually improve with psychological counseling, antidepressant medications or a combination of the two.”
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has this to say about depression.
What causes depression?
Several factors, or a combination of factors, may contribute to depression.
• Genes—people with a family history of depression may be more likely to develop it than those whose families do not have the illness.
• Brain chemistry—people with depression have different brain chemistry than those without the illness.
• Stress—loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger depression.
Depression affects different people in different ways.
• Women experience depression more often than men. Biological, life cycle, and hormonal factors that are unique to women may be linked to women’s higher depression rate. Women with depression typically have symptoms of sadness, worthlessness, and guilt.
• Men with depression are more likely to be very tired, irritable, and sometimes even angry. They may lose interest in work or activities they once enjoyed, and have sleep problems.
• Older adults with depression may have less obvious symptoms, or they may be less likely to admit to feelings of sadness or grief. They also are more likely to have medical conditions like heart disease or stroke, which may cause or contribute to depression. Certain medications also can have side effects that contribute to depression.
• Children with depression may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent, or worry that a parent may die. Older children or teens may get into trouble at school and be irritable. Because these signs can also be part of normal mood swings associated with certain childhood stages, it may be difficult to accurately diagnose a young person with depression.
Ok we’ve defined the malady and we know how clinicians determine if patients have it so the next logical question is, “What can you do about it.” Well, the answer is simple, but it will take a major commitment on your part to make the answer work for you, we can start by identifying some hazards, potholes on the road to good mental health.
Depression: Ten Traps to Avoid
Dr. Stephen Ilardi, author of “The Depression Cure,” has identified several things that can make depression worse. First, know this. Depression is a serious medical condition and should be treated by a doctor or licensed therapist. Having said that, here”s what Dr. Ilardi suggests.
Trap 1: Being a Couch Potato
When you’re feeling down, it’s tempting to hole up in your bed or on the couch. Yet exercise – Even moderate activity like brisk walking – has been shown to be at least as effective against depression as antidepressant medication. It works by boosting the activity of the “feel-good” neurochemicals dopamine and serotonin.
For an “antidepressant dose” of exercise, try at least 40 minutes of brisk walking or other aerobic activity three times a week.
Trap 2: Not Eating “Brain Food”
Omega-3 fats are key building blocks of brain tissue. But the body can’t make omega-3s; they have to come from our diets. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t consume nearly enough Omega-3s, and a deficiency leaves the brain vulnerable to depression. Omega-3s are found in wild game, cold-water fish and other seafood, but the most convenient source is a fish oil supplement. Ask your doctor about taking a daily dose of 1,000 mg of EPA, the most anti-inflammatory form of omega-3.
Trap 3: Avoiding Sunlight
Sunlight exposure is a natural mood booster. It triggers the brain’s production of serotonin, decreasing anxiety and giving a sense of well-being. Sunlight also helps reset the body clock each day, keeping sleep and other biological rhythms in sync.
During the short, cold, cloudy days of winter, an artificial light box can substitute effectively for missing sunlight. In fact, 30 minutes in front of a bright light box each day can help drive away the winter blues.
Trap 4: Not Getting Enough Vitamin D
Most people know vitamin D is needed to build strong bones. But it’s also essential for brain health. Unfortunately, more than 80 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient. From March through October, midday sunlight exposure stimulates vitamin D production in the skin – experts advise five to 15 minutes of daily exposure (without sunscreen). For the rest of the year, ask your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.
Trap 5: Having Poor Sleep Habits
Use the bed only for sleep and sex – not for watching TV, reading, or using a laptop. Turn in for bed and get up at the same time each day. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants after midday. Finally, turn off all overhead lights
Trap 6: Avoiding Friends and Family
When life becomes stressful, people often cut themselves off from others. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do, as research has shown that contact with supportive friends and family members can dramatically cut the risk of depression. Proximity to those who care about us actually changes our brain chemistry, slamming the brakes on the brain’s runaway stress circuits.
Trap 7: Mulling Things Over
When we’re depressed or anxious, we’re prone to dwelling at length on negative thoughts – rehashing themes of rejection, loss, failure, and threat, often for hours on end. Such rumination on negative thoughts is a major trigger for depression – and taking steps to avoid rumination has proven to be highly effective against depression.
How can you avoid rumination? Redirect attention away from your thoughts and toward interaction with others, or shift your focus to an absorbing activity. Alternatively, spend 10 minutes writing down the troubling thoughts, as a prelude to walking away from them.
Trap 8: Running with the Wrong Crowd
Scientists have discovered that moods are highly contagious: we “catch” them from the people around us, the result of specialized mirror neurons in the brain. If you’re feeling blue, spending time with upbeat, optimistic people might help you “light up” your brain’s positive emotion circuits.
Trap 9: Eating Sugar and Simple Carbs
Researchers now know that a depressed brain is an inflamed brain. And what we eat largely determines our level of inflammation. Sugar and simple carbs are highly inflammatory: they’re best consumed sparingly, if at all.
In contrast, colorful fruits and veggies are chockablock with natural antioxidants. Eating them can protect the body’s omega-3s, providing yet another nice antidepressant boost.
Trap 10: Failing to Get Help
Depression can be a life-threatening illness, and it’s not one you should try to “tough out” or battle on your own. People experiencing depression can benefit from the guidance of a trained behavior therapist to help them put into action depression-fighting strategies like exercise, sunlight exposure, omega-3 supplementation, anti-ruminative activity, enhanced social connection, and healthy sleep habits.
So you think you’ve avoided all the traps, but you are still depressed, now what? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) here are the options. (http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Mental_Illnesses/Depression/Depression_Treatment,_Services_and_Supports.htm)
Treating Major Depression
Although depression can be a devastating illness, it often responds to treatment. The key is to get a specific evaluation and a treatment plan. Today, there are a variety of treatment options available for depression. There are three well-established types of treatment: medications, psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). A new treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), has recently been cleared by the FDA for individuals who have not done well on one trial of an antidepressant. For some people who have a seasonal component to their depression, light therapy may be useful. In addition, many people like to manage their illness through alternative therapies or holistic approaches, such as acupuncture, meditation, and nutrition. These treatments may be used alone or in combination. However, depression does not always respond to medication. Treatment resistant depression (TRD) may require a more extensive treatment regimen involving a combination of therapies.
Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 4,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs. You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.
Posted on June 9, 2014, in Mental health and tagged clinical depression, depression, impending doom, loneliness, Medicine, Mental Health, mental illness, sadness, stigma, symptoms, Therapy, treatable, treatment. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.