Depression is a hidden disease.
“People sometimes think that depression is a failing of character and they are ashamed to seek help,” says Dr. Jody Rawles, a psychiatrist with UC Irvine Health Psychiatry Services.
Depression is one of the leading causes of disability both nationally and worldwide. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 6.7 percent of U.S adults experience major depressive disorder each year.
September is Suicide Awareness Month.
Like many other medical conditions, early diagnosis and treatment are vital to a successful recovery. Rawles encourages anyone who feels depressed for more than two weeks, or anyone thinking about self-injury or suicide, to seek help.
Symptoms of depression
Depression is characterized by a decreased sense of purpose, loss of self-esteem and feelings of hopelessness.
Genetics, stress, toxins and even infections can contribute to depression. Those suffering from depression, and their loved ones, often underestimate constant feelings of sadness and despair, dismissing them as temporary mood swings.
Because most people with depression can still function at work, school or in the family environment, the symptoms often go unnoticed. The condition manifests differently in each person, but there are signs to recognize whether someone is depressed. Someone with depression may have:
- A sudden change in personality, appearance and demeanor
- Hypersomnia (too much sleep) or hyposomnia (poor sleep)
- Loss or gain of appetite
- Poor concentration
- Loss of interest in things that once were enjoyable
- Decreased energy
- Thoughts of suicide
- Feelings of guilt or a focus on failures
It’s also important to understand that depression can be both a diagnosis and a symptom. “You can be diagnosed with depression, or you can have depression secondary to a medical condition,” says Rawles.
Hypothyroidism, for example, can cause individuals to feel depressed because of a lack of hormones in the thyroid. Also, individuals suffering from serious, chronic or terminal diseases are more susceptible to getting depression.
Treating mild depression
For mild depression, where there are no thoughts of suicide or psychosis, he recommends starting with a primary care or family medicine doctor. “Licensed clinical social workers and psychologists can also be good first-line treatment providers,” says Rawles. “But if you have depression that lasts more than six months, thoughts of hurting yourself or psychotic thinking, you should see a psychiatrist.”
Psychiatrists are the medical professionals most comprehensively trained to treat depression and other mental illnesses.
How therapy helps
Many men and women carry the heavy burden of depression, accepting that they’ll always feel unhappy. But depression isn’t something you have to live with.
There are several ways to treat depression. Medications, lifestyle changes and psychotherapy – known as talk therapy – can help. Skeptics often question the validity of talking to a therapist or participating in group therapy. How is talking about your problems going to help?
“Talking to others can help you see your situation in a more objective way, and it can help you recognize and change your negative thoughts into positive thoughts. Also, thoughts have been known to change chemistry, so channeling positive thoughts is essential to the healing process,” says Rawles.
Rawles adds that the combination of lifestyle changes, therapy and medications gives someone with depression a greater chance at recovering.
Curbing 'the blues'
Depression is a serious condition and those who present severe symptoms, like thinking about hurting themselves or giving up on life, should seek professional help immediately.
In less severe cases, there are simple steps you can take to help clear your head and curb your feelings of sadness:
- Spend more time outdoors. Vitamin D deficiency contributes to depression. Moderate exposure to sunshine can help treat depression and lift your mood.
- Increase exercise and be more active.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Surround yourself with people who are a positive influence in your life.
- Seek help. Understanding depression and talking to a mental health professional will help you take control of the disease.