More than 16 million adults in the USA had at least one major depressive episode within the last year. The World Health Organization estimates that 300 million people worldwide experience ongoing depression, making it the leading cause of disability in the world. Mental health experts say depression is treatable. The problem is, only about half of those who are dealing with symptoms seek out treatment. Depression can be triggered by circumstances or it may be an ongoing condition, and it can negatively affect the physical body as well as one's thought processes and day-to-day life.
Distinguishing between a situational case of the blues and an ongoing depressive disorder is important. When they happen occasionally, sadness, grief, anxiety, guilt, or irritability are normal human emotions. A few sleepless nights, an occasional loss of appetite, or a lack of motivation is also not unusual for most adults. But if the unhappy emotions continue or interfere with the ability to perform day-to-day activities, these are symptoms of a depressive disorder. Recurring symptoms or symptoms that last longer than a few days could indicate a depressive condition that requires medical intervention.
Turning to alcohol or recreational drugs to alleviate depression is not a viable method of dealing with symptoms. Despite an immediate feeling of well-being, these are temporary fixes that could cause symptoms to worsen. Over-the-counter medications and natural supplements promoted as treatments for psychiatric issues may temporarily relieve symptoms. However, the long-term benefits are unknown, and they may mask serious symptoms. Self-medicating is not a substitute for an accurate diagnosis and medical intervention if the diagnosis indicates an ongoing depressive condition.
When a person feels depressed, it isn’t unusual to also feel unmotivated and disinterested in daily activities. Fatigue is a common symptom of depression and can lead to a habit of procrastination. Yet, research shows people with depression who push themselves to move forward with work, leisure, or social activities find their moods improve. Professionals recommend those living with depression schedule a few minutes of fun each day. Likewise, sticking to a schedule of short-term goals can be very effective.
Stress causes overproduction of a hormone called cortisol. Scientific studies indicate elevated cortisol levels lead to depression, anxiety, and other serious mental health issues. Effective ways to lower cortisol and stress levels include regular exercise and aerobic activities such as swimming or biking. Yoga, meditation, and deep-breathing exercises can also effectively release stress and lower cortisol. Some people who lower stress levels report a decrease in depressive symptoms.
Approximately three-fourths of people diagnosed with a depressive disorder also report sleep disturbances. Individuals with depression experience REM sleep earlier than others, and they spend less time in slow-wave sleep, according to EEG studies. Many people use electronic devices before turning in for the night, a habit that may be interfering with sleep patterns. Sleep researchers believe electronics suppress the release of a hormone called melatonin that assists the body in falling asleep. Reading or other relaxing activities are less likely to hinder sleep. Developing a relaxing bedtime ritual is beneficial.
No one food or nutrient can cure depression. However, many essential vitamins and minerals contribute to brain health. A diet rich in vitamins C, B, and D, and minerals such as magnesium, selenium, and zinc plays an important role in brain function. Caffeinated drinks, deep-fried or sugary foods, and processed foods provide more calories than nutritive value. Some research indicates that additives in processed foods may actually contribute to depression (and they're not good for us for a variety of other reasons, too). A diet rich in essential fatty acids, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 assists the body in creating neurotransmitters that may ease chemical imbalances associated with depression.
Depressive disorders are mental illnesses. Just as a person with a chronic medical condition requires medical treatment, so too does a person who experiences frequent episodes of depression or who has a diagnosed depressive disorder. Regularly scheduled appointments with a therapist are one way to keep symptoms in check. Therapy can help a person recognize symptoms of depression and identify triggers of depressive episodes.
Living with depression may include taking prescription drugs to control symptoms, and there are a variety of antidepressants available on the market. Some of these antidepressants have fewer side effects, but not every type works well for everyone. Some medications may take several weeks before they begin to work, while others have little effect at all on certain people. Genetics and the type of symptoms are important factors in prescribing the right antidepressant. Regular follow-ups with a physician are crucial. Abruptly stopping an antidepressant can cause withdrawal-like symptoms, and should never be done without first consulting the treating physician.
Depression is a chronic illness and living with depression can be a difficult reality. Depressed individuals often feel alone and may push away those close to them. A support system is an important safety net. People with depression may isolate themselves from any social interactions, but this leads to increased feelings of rejection and low self-worth and worsens depressive symptoms. A caring, supportive group of people can ease the effects of living with depression by serving as connections to the outside world, offering fresh perspectives, and sometimes simply lightening the mood.
Thoughts of self-harm are a serious symptom of depression. Those who live with depression every day may experience feelings of helplessness, emotional exhaustion, or being trapped by life situations. In some cases, these feelings become so overwhelming the individual feels there is no other alternative but self-harm. It is important for anyone dealing with depression to understand that these thoughts are serious symptoms that call for immediate help from a trusted friend, co-worker, family member, support system, or medical professional.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.