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Everyone struggles with feelings of sadness and loneliness throughout their lives. When faced with rejection, loss, or struggle, it is normal to feel sad or down for a period of time. Many express feeling “depressed” when facing difficult situations, but there is a significant difference between having a case of the blues and clinical depression.
Depression is a mental illness, more specifically, a mood disorder that is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in things that once brought happiness. The feelings associated with depression can become overwhelming and interfere with everyday activities. It affects the way a person thinks and behaves which can lead to the development of numerous emotional or physical problems. For some, the feelings of sadness are so overwhelming, it gets to the point where it feels like life is not worth living.
Depression is not something a person can just stop feeling. They do not wake up one day and suddenly snap out of it. For most, depression requires long-term treatment and may require a combination of therapy and medication to manage.
Diagnosing Depression: What Are The Signs
A person can have depression and experience multiple “episodes” throughout their lives. During episodes, symptoms of depression are persistent, lasting almost all day, every day. There is no surefire to confirm a person has depression, and diagnosing it typically involves identifying how long symptoms have persisted and how those symptoms impact a person’s daily life.
Most Common Symptoms of Depression
The most common symptoms associated with depression include:
- Trouble concentrating and remembering details
- Feeling guilt, helplessness, or worthlessness
- Sleeping problems including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in activities that once brought happiness
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Aches, pains, and headaches that are persistent
- Digestive problems that do not improve with treatment
- Persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety
- Feeling “empty”
- Suicidal thoughts
In addition to identifying the presence of these symptoms, diagnosing depression also involves exploring history. The following information can help determine if a person struggles with depression:
- When did the symptoms start?
- How long have the symptoms persisted?
- How severe are the symptoms?
- Do you have a family history of mental illness?
- Do you have a history of substance abuse?
- Have you had symptoms of depression before?
Risk Factors for Depression
While it is not exactly known what causes depression, there are risk factors that can increase the likelihood of its development. This includes:
- Brain chemistry: Imbalances in brain chemistry can contribute to the development of depression.
- Hormones: Changes in the body and hormonal balances can trigger depression. This is especially true following pregnancy, thyroid problems, menopause, and other conditions that affect hormones.
- Family history: Depression is more common in those who have a blood relative that has also had the same condition. Researchers believe there is a genetic component to depression.
When a person has depression, he or she cries all the time, cannot sleep or sleeps too much, and isolates his or herself from everyone. Depression affects job performance and can cause tardiness or frequent absences, which will lead to job termination. When a person is battling a mental health illness, such as depression, he or she might use drugs or alcohol to cope with their feelings. Self-medication with drugs and alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms of depression even if they appear to provide temporary relief.
Treatment for Depression
Treatment for depression is different for everyone. While symptoms may be similar from person to person, their experiences and the way it impacts them is different. This means that treatment must be individually tailored to address the unique needs of the person.
Overall, there are actions and treatment options that can help most people address their depression. This includes:
- Find the right treatment: It may take time to find the right treatment option for you. A combination of therapy and medication can help alleviate many of the symptoms of depression. There are various forms of therapy outside of traditional “talk therapy” that can help you move through some of the more difficult symptoms of depression. Experiential therapy and exercise are often utilizing in treatment and can sometimes take the place of medications.
- Exercise: You do not need to do a lot of exercise in order to experience the benefits of it. Even getting active for just 30 minutes in a day can help boost serotonin, endorphins, and other chemicals in the brain that boost mood. Not only does exercise help you cope with stress and release negative emotions, but it also can improve your physical appearance, which boosts feelings of confidence and self-worth.
- Nutrition: Changing your diet can help both physical and mental health. Eating a balanced diet ensures you are consuming the vitamins and nutrients needed to keep your energy up and boost your mood. Although sugary foods can be tempting, they can often cause you to experience an energy crash that can negatively affect your mood.
- Sleep: Depression can impact your ability to get a quality night of sleep. Not sleeping enough and oversleeping can both cause you to feel irritable, fatigued, and moody. Trying to sleep for 7 to 9 hours a night can ensure you get enough rest without overdoing it.
- Social support: Relationship-building is vital to recovery as it reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness. Volunteer work, extracurricular activities, classes, and even support groups can help remove barriers and allow you to connect with others.
- Stress reduction: Finding ways to reduce stress and manage it more effectively can improve mood. It is impossible to completely avoid stress, but finding ways to better manage it, and even remove it, can help symptoms of depression. New hobbies, social activities, and fitness can all help you reduce stress levels. If stress is coming from a source you do not need to hold onto, find ways to let it go and remove it from your life.
Recovery From Depression
Shannon Russo Soltesz wrote about her recovery from depression for Quora.com (2016) and stated, “Recovering from depression is amazing! It’s like a veil is lifted and suddenly colors are brighter and you can love people more. You’ll find yourself smiling for no reason and be amazed that you can even do that. Your energy comes back and you can do things again. You care about what happens. You feel plugged into the world around you.”
Some people only face depression once in their lives and others encounter depression multiple times. When you are in recovery from depression, you will feel as good as you once did. Recovery from depression is liberating. Things you had an interest in doing before will be fun again. Never use drugs or alcohol to cope with depression.
With the right treatment, symptoms of depression will subside and you will slowly begin to feel more at ease and comfortable. You can feel well again.
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