Okay, this is a pretty lengthy one, chock-full of a ton of info broken down..
So let’s dive in!
1. Anti-depressants are the cure-all for depression. No, not really. Hardly at all. Recent research has indicated that while some people show improvements from anti-depressants, most users don’t experience a decrease in depressive symptoms and the success rates are comparable to the “placebo” effect. While I wouldn’t count out the meds completely, I would be cautious to solely rely on what a 9.9 billion dollar industry is trying to feed you.
2. Depression is not about a person’s character. People who are depressed are not simply lazy, prone to pessimism, or just being selfish. It is a biochemical disease, much like Cancer is not a symptom of someone’s character. However, I will say that having certain characteristics will help in recovery and resilience, character alone is not the cure, cause, or answer.
3. Depression does NOT equal sadness. Many people associate depression with having the blues. While yes, being sad is ONE symptom of depression. Every person with depression experiences it differently. We’ve also learned in psychology that there are a lot of secondary emotions that in essence are another version of “sad & hurt”. Anger, fear, and anxiety are just a few emotions that sometimes = sadness and can also be seen in people with depression. You’ll also hear some people describe their depression as not sadness, but simply “not caring”/ apathy. I’ve also heard depression defined as being the opposite of a state of playfulness.
In a mind-body approach, I’ve also heard of there being 3 forms of depression: 1. An airy one, 2. A hot one, and 3. A heavy one. The airy one manifests in always buzzing around, anxiety, issues with sleeping enough, and perfectionism (it’s often body-wise felt like a lack of being grounded). 2. The hot one manifests as anger, being easily irritated, and easily blowing up on people/things (it often feels body-wise like being very tense–like I need a massage stat!, and hot). The last one, heaviness, manifests in sleeping a lot, eating a lot, doing less/lack of motivation, and feels like a “heaviness”.
The important takeaway from this is to realize that depression may manifest itself in many ways and is UNIQUE to every individual. (Sorry textbook definition–you’re kind of limited!)Here are some key indicators: lack of interest in things once interested in, changes in appetite and sleep (either increases or decreases), manifestations in the body/health, a pattern of sadness & moodiness not tied to normal situational things, loss of motivation, falling behind on obligations, losing things, self deprecating thoughts, OTHER’s deprecating thoughts, (negative talk about self, others, and situations), feelings of fear, anxiety, becoming overly busy, anger, and all of these things are pervasive.
Textbook-wise there’s multiple types: dysthymia (mild, but pervasive 2+ years), major depressive disorder (extreme symptoms of depression for 2+ weeks), postpartum (common after birth due to physiol./hormone changes), SAD which strikes people during winter when it is colder/lack of sunlight, Bipolar (with euphoric highs and lows), and PMDD which occurs in women who have exceptional hormone changes during their menstruation.
Needless to say, depression is versatile… and impacts a lot of people in the US (many undiagnosed and high functioning).
While we know there is no single “cure-all” for depression and it’s many forms YET, the research shows that there are many things we can do to combat its symptoms, severity, and longevity.
1. Exercise! (I know I probably talk about exercise like they pay me for it–I wish!–but it’s so true..) Exercise has been linked to decreasing depression more effectively than anti-depressants (and producing a longer effect even after just one session). While the “whys and hows” are still up for debate, many think that increasing your endorphin levels and the decrease in the brain’s inflammation are some ideas of why going for a jog can be so helpful. I’d recommend getting involved in a group class–that way for the depressed person who likely needs the motivation to get there, having people hold you accountable might be a helpful way to ensure you get to the gym. If you’re REALLY not ready to take on the gym yet–having a friend or dog join you for a daily walk (45 minutes is the ticket) can be very helpful as well.
2. Diet. While this may be a hard thing to change for someone lacking motivation, simply changing your diet to a whole food diet can do wonders. Whole food= real food. Think any thing produce, organic/local meats, and healthy fats you find in nature (nuts, avocados, and coconuts). Even changing your diet from 0 to 50% whole foods can start changing the way your brain thinks.
3. Meditation. Learning to cultivate calmness and “being in the moment” can be very helpful (esp. for those struggling with the more perfectionistic/anxious type). It can also help calm people with disturbing thoughts and can ease pain/fear. Although it can often sound sort of new wave/hippie-ish meditation has shown to be very effective, I’d suggest seeking out a yoga that incorporates this or seeing if there are classes/groups that can help you get started if the whole mediation thing is new or scares you (honestly, it still scares me–but let’s leave my own growth potential out of this for now ;P)
4. Therapy and CBT. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Conditioning/re-framing your thoughts. Sometimes it can be helpful to become curious about our negative thoughts. “That girl didn’t wave to me because she doesn’t like me” could be followed by a CBT tactic of curiosity: “Maybe she’s having a bad day… Maybe she’s running late and focused on something else… Maybe she didn’t see me…” all could be a different way of framing this thought. It’s very helpful for people who are stuck in a place where every situation seems to revolve around them in a negative way. “I’m so lame. No one likes me. This day sucks…” could all be challenged by other thoughts. Practicing these re-frames could help end some of the negative thought loops that feed perfectionism, depression, and the over-all condition of “not enough” that plagues our society.
5. Gratitude. Recently I heard something really great about gratitude. It’s not simply about “counting your blessings” that is truly effective (because to me it always felt a bit over-the-top to be grateful for the same general things, every day) but to put a real, specific spin on gratitude that really changes life. The newest research shows that naming ~5 things that happened in the last 12-24 hours that you’re grateful for is so much more impactful than spouting off generalities like “I’m grateful for my health, my family, etc.” every day. This could be especially helpful in training/challenging the depressed brain to give some sort of meaning that’s relevant to the “here and now” of their experience. So readers, if you’d really like a challenge: what are some things you’re grateful for in the last 10 minutes? *(I’m grateful my hands have been keeping up with my thoughts, I’m grateful I have a cozy blanket around my feet, and that I’ve been able to keep my focus for the last 10 minutes)*
6. Increasing social support. Yeah, this one is EXTREMELY hard to do when depressed but really important. It’s hard to be around people when it’s hard to be around yourself, but if one can push back that discomfort, it can lead to gaining support in ways that you can’t provide for yourself–it’s especially helpful to be around SAFE people who understand the nature of depression and what they can do to help (SEE BELOW for some tidbits on “how to help”). This also may look like volunteering for some people who need just a second-order change to get them out of their head and feeling supported (I would only recommend this to people dealing with mild/moderate depression–if you’re in the deep slumps this is likely the last thing on your mind, and understandably so.)
7. Medicine…potentially. Although I am cautious about this one, medicine under the supervision of a knowledgeable Psychiatrist can be really helpful and aid in people beginning to delve into the other solutions. By all means–if you need it, please take it! However, I wouldn’t recommend this as a long-term fix unless the depression is severe, pervasive, and the participant has already tried other treatments with no luck.
How can we help?
1. Help care for them. Some people with depression lose track of taking care of simple, daily tasks. Helping them clean their clutter, doing the laundry, all those things that can fall to the way side when someone is battling their mind and just struggling to survive/get through the day.
2. On that note, encourage them to delve into self-care. People with depression while seemingly “self-focused” can often forget how/the importance of self care. Encourage them to do things that are self focused on healing–watch some comedy, get a massage (definitely a big advocate for this one–body work does wonders!), go to the gym (this goes with taking them out for walks), and so on.
3. Reassure them you are there for them, can handle their feelings, and that you are interested in trying to understand their experience. The isolation of depression can often be one of the bigger roadblocks to recovery. Many feel alone. Being interested in understanding a person’s experience can create a connection in a world that feels very disconnected to the person dealing with depression. This can do wonders.
4. Hugs, laughter, repeat. After trying to understand and reassuring someone you are there, making jokes, making play, and hugging someone (if they’re okay with physical touch) are all ways to physiologically get a depressed person out of their mindset for a bit. Developing a pattern of play can really turn things around–but only in the right context/after you’ve validated their experience.
5. Like the CBT tactics above, provide an example for challenging their negative thoughts/beliefs. When trying to understand their experience, it may also be helpful to get to know some of the negative thoughts a person is experiencing. It may be helpful to acknowledge their thought and then become curious about it. Challenge the white/black thoughts by providing some real life examples. This can help a depressed brain become curious about other thoughts to be thought.
6. Tell them why you love them/their strengths and encourage them to think of what they like/believe their strengths are for themselves. Simply telling them why you love them can also be incredibly supportive. Sometimes people stuck in depression can’t see those truths behind the things that make them lovable, and that they are “enough”. Encourage them coming up with a few things on their own to also spark some change in their thoughts. What are 10 things you like/find to be strengths about yourself?
There is still much to be learned about this incredibly complex mental phenomenon, but it is still incredibly beneficial to utilize what we know to take strides in making it just a little better for those struggling with this common illness.
I only hope to continue to enrich my understanding in the psychological and medical world of “debunking depression”.
Until next time, J out.