Depression is when you’re feeling really down and everything feels totally hopeless.
We all get these feelings from time to time. But clinical depression, where you may feel like this persistently over weeks, months or even years, can be a serious medical condition that may need special medical treatment to overcome.
It can be hard to tell if you or someone you love is experiencing clinical depression. Sometimes changes in moods and behaviours happen slowly or there may be circumstances going on that cause ongoing worry or make it hard to express joy.
Some common signs of depression are:
- Experiencing low moods. Feeling sad and tearful, anxious or even angry and irritable.
- Feeling hopeless about yourself or about your circumstances.
- Feeling alone and isolated and/or withdrawing from friends and family.
- Feeling tired and exhausted all the time.
- Feeling guilty or that you are the reason for the unhappiness of others.
- Lack of motivation to do anything, even things that you know will benefit you.
- Not being able to find any pleasure in situations that you always used to enjoy.
- Changes in sleeping patterns. Either not being able to sleep, or sleeping a lot more than usual. Sometimes depression can cause a complete flip of normal sleeping habits causing people to become nocturnal, sleeping during the day and being awake at night.
- Changes to appetite and/or weight.
- Changes to your interest in sex and physical affection.
- Lack of concentration and the inability to remember things.
- The increased use of alcohol or drugs to mask or block feelings of pain or anxiety.
- Thoughts of suicide.
If you or a loved one have been experiencing symptoms like these for more than just a few weeks it is advised that you seek help from a medical practitioner. Sometimes the depression can be the result of other health issues like anxiety, an underactive thyroid gland or cardiovascular problems so it is important that these are treated or ruled out.
The good news is that depression can be overcome.
There are many effective treatments that don’t involve drugs. But sometimes, when other treatments don’t work, antidepressant medication may be prescribed by a doctor to help realign the brain’s chemistry. If medication is prescribed it should always be done in tandem with counselling and other non-drug treatments as part of a broad strategy to return to health.
Research has shown that the following non-drug treatments are very effective for combating depression and may even help to overcome depression without the need for any prescription medication.
Counselling for depression can help a person to deal with their symptoms and negative feelings. A counsellor can help to identify ways to cope with the symptoms and teach skills and tactics to approach things in a more positive manner.
Depression can affect a person’s ability to reason and to solve problems. Concentration, energy and focus can be affected and this can make problems seem insurmountable and totally overwhelming. Working with a counsellor can help to put things in perspective and assist in effective problem-solving techniques.
Counselling will also allow you to talk through any issues that are causing destructive looping thought patterns and assist with finding closure or resolution.
Sometimes finding a counsellor or therapist that you are comfortable with may take a few visits to different clinics or practitioners. Even this can feel like an insurmountable task at first but the benefits of good counselling are definitely worth the effort. Ask to speak with potential counsellors over the phone before making a face-to-face appointment to see if there is a good rapport.
There are even phone apps available that will put you in contact with a qualified therapist that you can communicate with via text and email if this is more comfortable.
Research has shown that exercise can be as effective as drugs in treating depression. Not just any exercise, although any exercise is better than none. Exercise that raises the heart rate and causes a sweat and lasts about 30 minutes done a minimum of 3 times a week is associated with significant reductions in depressive symptoms.
The benefits of regular exercise start to be experienced over time. It is not an instant fix. The problem with this is that maintaining a regular exercise routine can be hard for anyone with depression due to their symptoms such as fatigue, lack of motivation, lack of sleep and self-esteem.
Also, other health issues like anxiety and poor fitness make maintaining an exercise regime hard to do. It is important to get some support like someone to exercise with or some other outer accountability to help keep it up. The efforts are definitely worth it and have many benefits for someone who is depressed.
Studies have shown that regular gratitude practises like keeping a daily gratitude journal has been shown to provide enhanced connectedness, satisfaction, greater optimism and reduced anxiety. I know myself that starting a gratitude journal turned things around for me so quickly it felt magical. Read my post ‘My gratitude miracle #1.’
I have also written about three different ways to start a daily gratitude practice and how it helps. The effects are immediate and profound. I totally recommend this practice for everyone and definitely for anyone feeling down or depressed.
Helping others is one of the oldest treatments for depression and for good reason. It works. Why it works is hard to pin down exactly as there are many reasons, but work it does. Some of the reasons why it is so successful are:
- That it helps to increase self-esteem.
- That it causes us to think about our own problems less, thus preventing the looping negative thoughts.
- It can put our own problems in perspective and increase our gratitude and satisfaction with life.
- It improves relationships and reduces isolation and withdrawal.
- It increases compassion for others and ourselves.
Of course, we don’t have to wait until we are feeling depressed or anxious to reap the benefits of helping others. These benefits are available to us all.
That goes for all of these treatment strategies. We can all feel the benefits of doing these without having to wait to feel bad in order to start. It may even be that by practising these treatments, regular exercise, gratitude, helping others and professional counselling when needed will prevent serious clinical depression.
If you or someone you love needs help in dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts please get help as soon as possible.
Here are some helpful links: