Understanding depression: it can get better
By Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
Depression is one of the most devastating of all the mood disorders, and it can also be easily misunderstood. It is not something that happens to people that are “crazy” or “weird.” In fact, a large number of people (25 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men) will experience major depression at some point in their lives. Some of us need help getting out of these “dark” moods, and depression is a highly treatable disorder.
Q: What is depression?
A: Many people think that it is simply being sad. We all go through difficult times in our lives and experience sadness, but depression affects all parts of our lives including work, ability to take care of household duties, and our relationships with others.
Clinical depression is not the same as grieving after the loss of a loved one or end of a significant relationship. Of course, episodes of sadness and emptiness happen after a death, divorce, job loss or family conflict. But depression does not necessarily occur because of an event. Some describe it as “coming out of nowhere” or being “unpredictable.” Often, people who are depressed are very self-critical, feel hopeless, and can have suicidal thoughts.
Q: What causes depression?
A: There is no single cause for depression. In actuality, there are many factors. Biochemical factors can include your brain chemistry and hormone levels. Life events such as childhood upbringing and past trauma can affect our susceptibility to depression. Interpersonal factors include any conflicts and losses that we have with family members, friends and spouses. Behavioural factors refer to how we choose to cope (e.g. confiding in a friend versus turning to gambling, alcohol or drugs). Cognitive factors refer to negative thinking (e.g. “I am worthless” or “The world would be better without me”).
Q: What are some signs of depression?
A: According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, some common symptoms of depression are:
- Feelings of sadness and loss
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Feelings of extreme impatience, irritability, or a short temper
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usually enjoyed activities
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Changes in sleeping patterns, like insomnia
- Reduced ability to think clearly or make decision
- Difficulties in concentrating or with short-term memory loss
- Constantly feeling tired
- Noticeable lack of motivation
- Anxiety and restlessness, sometimes leading to panic attacks
- Muscle and joint pain
- Constipation or other intestinal problems
- Frequent headaches
- Loss of interest in maintaining a good appearance and hygiene
- Lack of interest in sex
- Recurring thoughts of suicide or self-harm
- Withdrawal from friends and family
Q: Does having some signs mean that I am depressed?
A: Everyone is different. Two people may encounter the same situation and have different reactions and feelings. Some may hide it and put on a brave face in front of others, and some may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with overwhelming feelings. But if you have five or more of these symptoms and have been experiencing them for at least two weeks, then contact your doctor or another health professional.
If you or someone you know have recurring thoughts of suicide, it is important to get medical help right away. Contact your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room.
Q: What can I do to help myself or a loved one overcome depression?
A: Treatments include counselling and medication. Everyone needs professional help once in a while. We can also adopt healthy lifestyle changes:
- Regular exercise such as going for walks, bike rides or yoga
- Prayer and meditation
- Volunteer work
- Talking to friends and family and spending time with them
- Eating a healthy diet
- Limiting your time with technology such as watching TV, being on the Internet and social media, and texting. These behaviours can take away valuable time with loved ones
- Getting rid of addictions such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, gambling, and excessive shopping
- Counting our blessings every day: start a gratitude journal, and say “thank you” and “I love you” to family and friends.
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council and a provider for the Blue Cross Employee Assistance Program. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.