Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
“The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.” -Andrew Solomon
Depression is often misunderstood, especially by those who have never experienced it themselves or through someone close to them. It has even come to be used colloquially, to mean that you’re simply having a bad day, but depression isn’t an emotion that comes and goes haphazardly. It is a deep state of self that may envelope everyday life and make the normal seem horrible and the bad seem catastrophic. With it come physical weakness, social reclusiveness, and above all, an inability to partake in the pleasures of life. Many may think that it is not an issue that they will ever have to deal with, but the statistics indicate otherwise. Approximately 1 in 5 people will experience a depressive episode at some point in their lifetime. This is why it is important that there be general knowledge on what depression is and practical ways to talk about, cope and work through this silent epidemic.
First and foremost, it is important to seek out professional help for you or anyone close to you that may be going through depression. The DSM (Diagnostics Statistics Manual), the manual that mental health professionals use to diagnose patients, splits depression in two main ways. One form is called major depression and is marked by being sad or unhappy for at least two weeks. With major depression, you lose interest in things that used to interest you and have feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and helplessness. The other form is dysthymia which is marked by a slightly milder depression that lasts for longer periods, usually 2 year or longer. Bipolar disorder is also listed in the DSM and is marked by recurring periods of extremely elevated followed by extremely depressive moods. All 3 illnesses have symptoms including reduced self-esteem, loss of appetite, disturbed sleep, thoughts of death or suicide and more. These symptoms come in different combinations and different intensities. It is important to remember that negative moods many times make sense. When you experience a loss or a very stressful event in life it makes sense to have lowered moods. It is when the sadness or depression is disproportional to the life event that it becomes a problem. At the end of this article will be resources that may help you get professional attention if needed and other resources that may be helpful.
Many a myth surrounds the idea of depression. Some think that is all mental, while others uphold that it is simply chemical. Say someone has a good job, has great habits and is surrounded by loved ones. When such a person experiences depression, many will tell that person to snap out of it. On the other hand, there are those people with many stressors, such as having a hard time at work, losing a loved one or having money problems, yet they are able to carry on with their lives unhindered by depression. These scenarios give confusion to both arguments and are an indicator as to why current consensus in the science world is that it is a mix of both. Even if someone doesn’t seem to have any reason to be depressed, it is not good practice to suggest that a person simply shrug it off. This leads to the stigma of mental illness and is why so many try and hide their mental ailments even when it becomes extreme in nature. Whatever the reason, and even if there is no reason you can point out, depression is detrimental to a healthy lifestyle and must be combated. This is also a reason amongst other reasons that many deplore the idea of anti-depressants to help them get better. Research shows that only 29% of people with depression ever seek out mental health treatment, even though 80% of patients with depression will improve with treatment. Depression is peculiar in that its symptoms bring about more depression in a catch-22 style. Eventually, the depression gets too strong and becomes a beast of its own that is difficult to reverse, especially without outside help. This is why it is important to seek out help when one is well enough.
Here I would like to focus on practical methods for dealing with depression and also ways to lead a life that would help deter depression, if you have none. Firstly it is important that you understand what depression is and from there you will be able to help yourself and those around you get care if needed. This will also allow everyone to have a common ground when the subject is brought up.
First and foremost it is important to have an open line of communication with friends and family. Being open to those close to you is important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Connectedness with those around you gives way for empathy, sympathy and understanding – which in themselves help reduce suffering.
A great lifestyle choice that is exceedingly researched is exercise. The research is so strong on the benefits of exercise in combatting depression and anxiety that many doctors say the best prescription for depression is regular exercise. Regular exercise helps reduce stress, increase self-esteem, improve sleep, ward off anxiety and much more.
An active routine is also important. Humans do not like to live sedentary lives. A sense of meaning and an active routine is important to self-esteem, and the feeling of progress keeps us going. Making progress in life, having healthy habits and having good interpersonal relationships with those close to you are important to having a fulfilling life. Some of the happiest people are those whose passions are engrained into their daily life.
Nowadays it is important to have positive, realistic expectations of yourself. With the advent of social media, it is easy to lose your self-esteem to the façade of perfection that we all post online. Learning to live with realistic expectations is an increasingly healthy skill to maintain.
“Neurons that fire together wire together” is a phrase attributed to neuropsychologist Donald Hebb. This is good concept to understand when dealing with depression. It is the idea that sensations, thoughts and experiences, when repeated over and over, embed themselves into our neural networks. It becomes more difficult overtime to rid yourself of negative ideas especially. It is good to remember that feeling better and rewiring your brain in a more positive direction will take time and effort – but it does not mean that it is impossible.
Of course, there are a countless more ways to deal with depression and keep it away. We should develop many methods of dealing with negative moods. This gathered toolbox will help in coping with all types of circumstances and stressors.
The Silver Lining
Although the effects of depression may be counterproductive, and at times even catastrophic, we should remember that without depression, it would be difficult to gauge sublime happiness and love. A few positives do come with depression, though they may be truly difficult to see. Namely, among them are deep emotion, obsession and an acute awareness of the self. At different levels of depression and low mood, these become possible. Deep emotion can be troubling at times, but it can also give rise to important contemplations on your life and close ones. Obsession sometimes comes with depression. Obsession, though sometimes a negative trait, may be utilized to become a positive one. Obsession in your passion may drive you to create something amazing or to discover something new. Lastly, acute self-awareness (though with depression self-awareness is many times misleading) can give way to much self-discovery and personal growth. Keeping these in mind can help one work through and at times accept their current predicament. One can learn to welcome the pain and even learn from it.
Depression does not discriminate and so we should all be vigilant and put care and effort into our mental health. It is important to be honest with yourself and go to trusted professionals that may be able to help with your situation. Any step in combatting this illness within yourself is a step in the right direction. It is important to remember that our brains and psyches are complex and malleable, and that there is no one- size-fits-all when it comes to treatment and prevention of depression. Above all else, we must learn to feel more in control and realize that biology does not have to be destiny. We all deserve to be happy, but more importantly we all deserve to live vibrant lives of productivity and vitality.
Access Behavioral Health Department
6451 Schaefer Rd, Dearborn, MI 48126
Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority
Detroit, MI 48201
Tel: (313) 833-2500
TTY: (800) 630-1044
Michigan Department of Human Health
Capitol View Building
201 Townsend Street
Lansing, Michigan 48913
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1 (800) 273-8255