January 30, 2007
Getting Through Depression: Helping Yourself, Helping Others
Dr. David Prescott
Depression’s Worldwide Impact: The devastating impact of major depression on people’s lives has been increasingly recognized by the health care community and the general public. For adults age 15-44, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Rather than viewing depression as a personal weakness or shortcoming, it is now widely viewed as a medical illness that requires professional treatment.
Major depression, or clinical depression, is more than simply feeling down for a day or two. Diagnostic symptoms include
Persistent sad or irritable mood for two or more consecutive weeks
Decrease in energy and motivation
Feeling hopeless or excessively guilty
Loss of appetite
Poor Memory or Concentration
Preoccupation with Death or Suicide
Lack of enjoyment in activities
How do I decide if I need treatment for depression? Many people often try to hide depression from those around them, or feel embarrassed to talk about their struggles or sad feelings. Sometimes depression gets better by itself, but more often people who don’t address the problem find that things don’t really change or get worse. The earlier you seek help for depression, the faster you are likely to improve. So, if you think you might need some help, try to see a psychologist, physician, or other mental health professional sooner rather than later.
Signs that you might need to seek advice from a health care provider include:
Missing work or school due to depression
Significant physical symptoms (headaches, low energy, stomach distress) with no apparent cause
Significant drop in your performance at work, home, or school
Thoughts of hurting yourself
Giving up normal activities or friendships
Increased use of alcohol or other substances
What can I do for myself to help get better? As mentioned above, it is important to seek professional help if you think you have major depression. However, there are some things you can do on your own that may help. These include:
Don’t expect change overnight: Most people get better from depression gradually rather than finding one thing that turns it all around.
Fight the urge to isolate: Spending some time with people you trust, and confiding some of your feelings with them is usually more helpful than trying to keep your feelings and concerns a complete secret.
Continue some activities and exercise: You may not feel up to doing all that you used to do, but continuing with activities that are reasonably enjoyable, or engaging in mild exercise will usually help ease feelings of depression.
Set realistic goals: You may not be able to do all that you once did, when you are depressed. Setting your goals too high increases the likelihood of failure, which will only make you more depressed. Try to be satisfied with small steps.
How do I help someone else who is depressed? Remember that getting over depression takes time. If you know someone who is depressed, try not to blame them for feeling that way and try to be patient. People with depression often find that if others express hope about the future, it helps them feel hopeful as well. Simply listening without being judgmental is extremely important. Finally, encourage people with depression to seek professional help. If they are in treatment, encourage them to continue with what their therapist or doctor recommends.