The deep dark depths of depression can ensnare anybody. We walk around unaware of how many people face depression until sadly it is often too late.
Prescriptions for anti-depressants have doubled in the last 10 years in Britain alone. The stress of our lives and social media, to name a few, have contributed to this. The question is, what can be done about it? We can’t change the whole world, but perhaps we can help those around us. Or maybe you, yourself are struggling with depression.
The focus of this blog is primarily on mild depression and not severe or clinically diagnosed depression which is beyond the scope of this post.
How do you know if you are depressed?
This may seem obvious but I didn’t know I was depressed until it hit me like an oncoming train. I had nursed patients with depression, I knew about it, but it was one of those things that happened to ‘other people’. Until it happened to me.
I had not felt like myself for a while. Everything became overwhelming and my drive and passion reached an all-time low. No longer did I have that conviction that I could take on any challenge and emerge victoriously. The lows became more frequent and the highs few and far between, until it was just one continuous period of darkness. Nothing interested me. I had no desire to even try anything. I wanted to hibernate and had it not been for the fact that I had to get up and put one foot in front of the other each morning, I wouldn’t have made the effort.
Nearing the end of my reserves, I came across 2 articles, one in a Health magazine and one in a Christian magazine. Both listed the signs and symptoms of depression. I glanced casually over the list out of interest and found I could relate to almost all of them. That side-swiped me and at first, I denied it. The thought lingered and I was feeling so low, I decided to check it out with my GP.
Making that call was one of the hardest things to do because I felt like such a failure. What would people think if they knew? I had been through so much in the past and people looked at me as a strong person who they could depend on. I felt as if I would be letting them all down.
Symptoms of depression
- Feeling disconnected from those around you
- Prolonged sadness and hopelessness often for no apparent reason
- Loss of interest in activities, even those you used to find pleasurable
- Disturbed sleep patterns, either not sleeping or sleeping too much
- Change in eating habits, over or under eating
- Lack of energy and tired most of the time
- Poor concentration
- Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
- Feeling like a failure
This list is not for purposes of diagnosis and a proper assessment will need to be carried out by a professional. However, I do suggest, if you find yourself answering yes to most of these questions, then please consider seeking support or speaking to somebody about it. Even if you are reluctant to see a Dr, there may be somebody at your church, work or within your circle of friends and family who you can reach out to.
Alternatively, you may have seen these changes in somebody you know. Show your support and openness to engage with that person. I have heard so many people say “If only I had tried harder to reach them” or “I wish I had persisted when they tried to push me away”.
What causes depression?
The causes are varied and numerous. The sneaky thing about depression is that it creeps up on you without you realizing it. It is often built up over time and can be the result of trying to be too strong for too long. There is seldom a quick fix.
Some common causes:
- Loss from death, divorce, empty nest or moving
- Life crisis of some sort
- Social pressure
- Chronic illness
A growing number of scientists are suggesting that depression is a result of inflammation caused by the body’s immune system. An overactive immune system triggers inflammation in the body resulting in fatigue and feelings of hopelessness. Although evidence is still new, there does seem to be a link between inflammation and depression.
The stigma of depression
Unfortunately, depression is often still considered a mental disorder or weakness and therein lies the danger. People are reluctant to talk about their depression. George Slavich, a clinical psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, has spent years studying depression and has come to the conclusion that it has as much to do with the body as the mind. “I don’t even talk about it as a psychiatric condition anymore,” he says. “It does involve psychology, but it also involves equal parts of biology and physical health.”
Scientists and experts may disagree on some points, but one or two things prevail. There is a link between depression and lifestyle. This means while the experts fight it out, we can do something in the meantime.
Strategies to overcome depression
- Find an accountability partner
This is not forever but the chances are, you will need support to get through this. Find somebody you can trust and rely on. Choose somebody who is firm because you don’t want pity, you will need a definite nudge at times.
- Connect with others
- Find a worthy cause
Physical and mental health are not two separate entities, they should be dealt with together. Prior to my depression, I had neglected my health which no doubt contributed to my condition.
Exercise comes up in every get-well program I know of, which makes it a non-negotiable. Get moving even if you don’t want to. In fact especially if you don’t want to. You don’t have to run a marathon. Take a Pilates class or go for a walk. The fresh air will do wonders too.
After I was diagnosed with depression, I took a week’s break with my family. I returned home feeling rejuvenated by the fresh air, open spaces and of course the love of my family. Then I started making plans, and by doing so realized how much a poor diet, lack of sleep and exercise and neglect of my health had led to the depression.
“Those who don’t exercise are 44 percent more likely to become depressed compared to those who do so for at least one to two hours a week.” You can read the article here.
I think we all get a bit cranky without sleep. Prolonged sleep deprivation adds to the feelings of overwhelm and our inability to cope. Put a good bedtime routine in place to maximize your chances of a restful night.
A healthy diet is vitally important for achieving optimal health, both physical and mental. You can download a summarized list of essential foods from the Healthy Food List for reference or visit the UK NHS webpage for a comprehensive guide on the required vitamins and minerals.
- Fresh air and natural light
We need natural sunlight for Vit D so a walk outside will serve two purposes, that of exercise and fresh air and sunlight.
- Do something to make you feel good
Make an effort to take up the things you enjoy doing.
In my deepest depression, God was my saving grace. Put Christ at the center of your life. Look to the Bible for guidance and encouragement, not the rest of the world. I am weakened when I am not spending quiet times with the Lord, praying and reading the word. One of the biggest causes of stress and subsequent depression for me is when I know I am not walking in Gods will.
Sit in the Lord’s presence and reflect on times when you have felt down. Ask the Lord and meditate on what might have caused it. We can’t always change our circumstances but knowing the reason may help us overcome it.
Getting professional help
As hard as it was, I am so grateful that I got the help I did. After the Dr confirmed my depression, I was referred to a Psychologist and prescribed a mild anti-depressant plus irons and vitamins. Within two weeks I began to feel the difference and the improvement continued. Within a month I was virtually back to normal and once more enthusiastic to set goals, tackle challenges and get my life back on track.
It may not always be necessary to see a Psychologist if your depression is mild. Bear in mind though, that if not managed it can escalate. A trustworthy medical healthcare professional is important to oversee your treatment and monitor your progress. There are also treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which works well with the antidepressants and may reduce your risk of relapse even after it’s stopped.
Having faced depression before, I am mindful of the potential to end up there again. As soon as I see the signs approaching, I make a determined effort to adjust my lifestyle and nip it in the bud before it gets too bad. As I said earlier in the post, with the focus on mild depression, we can make lifestyle changes to manage the symptoms and even prevent it. If you are not sure if your symptoms are mild or severe, be safe and seek the advice of a healthcare professional.
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