A Fresh Outlook On Depression: Destigmatizing The D Word

“My worst fear is losing control of my emotions completely, and feeling tolerated by those I care about. All I want to do is sleep and forget about all my problems for a while, if I could I’d never leave my room. Nobody understands what I am going through anyway. I lose myself in films and books and magazines to escape reality and hear about someone else’s life for a while, but inevitably I still have to face reality. I keep crying and I don’t even know why, every issue becomes an avalanche of past heartaches and worries weighing me down. I just need to run away, to start afresh somewhere new. If only I could remove all my negative thoughts and get away from them too”, powerful words from 22 year old Chantelle.

These fears, negative thoughts, and feelings of isolation are all too common in today’s society with up to 20% of the UK population currently suffering from some form of depression, which is almost double the amount of people diagnosed with depression 30 years ago. This could be down to the stresses of modern life, or purely the fact that people are gradually becoming more open to talking about their mental state. Attitudes are slowly changing; less people are dismissing symptoms as being exaggerated or being a weakness of character that that person can just easily snap out of. Professional tennis player Rebecca Marino is one of a growing number of athletes coming forward, and making the public aware of her depressive illness. She discusses “days where I can’t get out of bed, can’t even put my clothes on…It’s hard to describe, but you have this smothered feeling of grey.” She has downplayed cyber-bullying as being a contributing factor for her depression, but admitted that the negative comments did hurt her to The New York Times. She feels there is still a pressure for athletes and people in the public eye to have a thick skin to the negativity in the media. Dr Hamish McAllister-Williams describes the main symptoms of depression as: Losing interest in day-to-day life and finding it difficult to gain pleasure from anything; excessive sleeping and eating or insomnia and no appetite; a lack of energy or libido; a low self-esteem and hopeless outlook on life; feelings of isolation and wanting to avoid people; a reduced thinking or concentration capacity; mood swings, and in severe cases feeling suicidal.

There are many different types of depression that you can be diagnosed with, each with similar symptoms but different underlying causes. Andy Behrman, author of ‘Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania’, discusses the types of depressive illness you could be suffering from: Major depression, one of the most common types of depression, involves the symptoms discussed above. Atypical depression patients can occasionally experience happiness and emotional highs. Sufferers believe that outside events dictate their mood, for example success, attention and praise. Psychotic depression sufferers tend to experience negative and frightening hallucinations, similar to schizophrenic patients. Dysthymia is a condition a lot of people experience throughout their lives, wherein they are constantly in a state of melancholy. Manic depression more commonly known as bipolar disorder is an emotional disorder involving rapid mood swings from extreme highs to extreme lows; this particular type has a very high suicide rate among sufferers. It can be caused by genetics, a physical problem involving the part of the brain that controls mood, or triggered by stress. Unipolar depression describes a condition wherein patients never experience any highs. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) otherwise known as Winter Depression, is a condition that involves patients experiencing depression symptoms depending on the season. It is thought to be linked to your body’s exposure to sunlight, and in some cases can be helped using Light Therapy.

Being depressed or having a depressive illness does not have to hugely impact your life; there are lots of small ways to make a big difference. It is amazing how effective unloading all your thoughts and fears can be. This does not necessarily mean talking to everyone about your problems. If you don’t feel ready to talk you can also start a journal and just write everything down in the knowledge that no one else has to read it. Writing can feel surprisingly therapeutic. Exercise is another way to feel better when life becomes too much. When you exercise your body naturally releases endorphins, which are hormones that make you feel happy. Exercise can also help when you want to just plug in your headphones, and tune out the world for a while. Spending time with your friends and family and keeping busy can distract you from your insecurities and really cheer you up. Studies have shown that during depression your brain misinterprets your emotional pain as an infection and sends messages to isolate yourself until the pain passes, but unlike physical infections isolating yourself will only make you feel worse when you are depressed. Basic things like spending time in natural sunlight, getting enough sleep and having a balanced diet can also make a difference to your mood. These alternatives to medication are supported by research like author Steve Ilardi’s therapeutic lifestyle change theory.  Preliminary results trialling simple methods like the ones described above have so far shown that every patient who followed the full programme got better. Steve believes that the rise in depression is due to our environment and that although our standard of living has improved; our bodies are not equipped to handle the poorly nourished, socially isolated, fast-paced life of modern society. Our physical evolution is still stuck in the stone-age, simple way of living.

Antidepressant medication is usually the first option suggested to patients by healthcare professionals, but with a growing number of disadvantages to this method of recovery, the reasons why are very questionable. Medicine is only successful in a third of patients, it is partially successful for a further third, and the other third felt no benefit at all. Of those who antidepressants did help, half end up relapsing back into depression. Some believe that the solution to the high relapse rate is to treat depression as a chronic disease which requires long term, high dosage medication. This approach makes no sense, as medication simply treats the symptoms of depression rather than the condition itself. Taking medication can also include unpleasant side effects, such as emotional numbing, sexual dysfunction and weight gain. Some sufferers may enjoy the immediate relief the drugs provide for their symptoms, but should also consider other options available in addition to medication to ensure that they do not relapse. The main problem with antidepressants in my eyes is that people become reliant on them and so do not feel they are able to feel happy without them. Our bodies are become less reactive to medication when it is taken long term as it gets used to it, which means regularly changing medication or having an increasingly strong dosage which cannot be good for you.

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Other useful treatments for depression include psychotherapy or counselling. However, psychotherapy is not for everyone and can in some cases worsen depression instead of aiding it, so ensure the method of treatment is right for you personally. “I thought counselling was going to help me solve all my issues but the reality was me venting for an hour and paying for it and leaving in the same state I arrived in, it didn’t make me feel any more hopeful because nothing has changed”, says 20 year old Becky. Good counselling should help break the cycle of depression in your life, and arm you with the skills necessary to prevent the cycle repeating itself in the future. For instance, reducing the amount of negative thought processes and introspection the patient is experiencing. “After six weeks of counselling sessions, I found that I was looking at situations differently and linking my attitude to past experiences which made me think twice when I felt myself repeating old patterns”, says 25 year old Amy. Communication is essential to improving your situation, and lessening the burden of life’s struggles. It will also help you to identify the specific reasons for your depression so that you can overcome them. A combination of cognitive, behavioural and interpersonal therapy can also be beneficial to your frame of mind and have a much lower rate of relapse than medication.

The causes of depression vary from person to person; it could be to do with genetics, stress, and a build-up of negative life events that you feel unable to cope with, grief, a major life change like a new baby or even the contraception method you use. A known side effect of the combined contraceptive pill is mood swings, so if you find that your depression symptoms started since you began your course of contraception pills, it may be best to trial using an alternative method of contraception to see if your symptoms are reduced. Contraception is about trial and error, in seeing which method suits your body the best. The mood swings may be just a side effect of that particular brand of pill, so consult your doctor on what type works best for you. Depression does not have to be a death sentence, things WILL get better. It is just about tackling the root of the problem head on and finding a perfect solution for you.

Speaking on the negative effects of the combined contraceptive pill, what should you do when you find yourself with an unplanned pregnancy? This can be one of the most traumatic experiences in your life, but stay positive, there are options.

There are lots of things in life that can cause you stress and make you feel depressed, your relationship shouldn’t be one of them. Making time for yourself to recharge your batteries is just as important as regular date nights. Take a look.

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