Living Well: The Battle Against Depression Is Not Hopeless
Don’t be afraid to talk about depression.
As a psychiatrist, I am all too familiar with the stigma and taboo that are commonly attached to depression. People often are afraid or ashamed to talk about experiencing it. Others may avoid the topic for fear of embarrassing or upsetting loved ones who struggle with this problem.
The first step to addressing this is to bring it into the open. That’s why at 11:30 a.m. on January 31, I’ll be speaking at the Owensboro Health Healthpark as part of The Doc is In series. This event, entitled “Living with Depression,” is free and open to the public. If you’re interested in attending or want more information, call 270-688-4804.
Depression is more than feeling down or blue. Caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, a major depressive episode is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as experiencing any of the following symptoms most of the day, nearly every day for two weeks:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
- Feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless, guilty, or pessimistic
- Irritability or anger
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in favorite hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy, fatigue, or sleeping too much or too little
- Restlessness, fidgeting, or difficulty with concentrating or remembering
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches, pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems without a cause or that do not get better with treatment
The NIMH estimates that in 2015, more than 16 million adults in the U.S. experienced a major depressive episode. It can be genetic and run in families. It can be connected to events, such as loss of a loved one, trouble at work, or breaking off a relationship. Chronic pain or illness and some medications can also cause depression or increase its severity.
While depression may start in the brain, its effects can impact the whole body. Depression is connected to increased risk of heart attack and stroke, weakening of the immune system, and worsening of pre-existing medical conditions.
Dealing With Depression
Like other diseases, the symptoms of depression can also cause it to worsen. An example of this would be a person whose depression worsens because they are having trouble sleeping or because they are isolating themselves from loved ones. People may “self-medicate” by using alcohol or abusing illicit or prescription drugs, all of which can also make depression worse.
Depression becomes dangerous when a person feels hopeless, that their life is not worth living or when they engage in risky behavior (such as self-medicating). As depression worsens, people may begin thinking about harming themselves or committing suicide.
What you may not know is that people with depression can be described as “high-functioning.” These are people who are successful and may have a good job or good family life. Warning signs of depression for these individuals can be subtle, but they are still there. Examples of this could be a neat, organized person who becomes disheveled, or a friendly, warm person who becomes sullen or irritable.
Perhaps the most important thing that everyone needs to know about depression is that it’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It’s a very common problem and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. If you found out you had diabetes, you’d seek medical care. I encourage people to see depression the same way. There’s also nothing wrong with talking to a loved one whom you believe may be struggling with depression.
There are many options for treating depression. This includes dozens of medications found in several different types or sub-classes, meaning there are many options to try if one isn’t effective. Professional outpatient help, including therapy and counseling, can be essential to treating depression. For patients who need further care, there are also many inpatient options available.
Finally, if you suspect someone you know has depression, talk to them about it. Avoiding the topic may make them feel they are right to be ashamed or embarrassed, and nothing is farther from the truth.
If you suspect someone’s depression has reached a dangerous level, take action. Don’t second-guess yourself when you see warning signs and don’t delay. Encourage them to get help and even offer to take them to the nearest hospital emergency department. If they refuse, or if you fear that they may harm themselves or others, call 911. They may be upset with you at first, but to be upset they have to be alive, and they have to be alive to get better.
For more information, visit the website of the National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.nami.org. For a 24-hour crisis line, call 800-433-7291. An Owensboro-area crisis line can also be reached at 270-684-9466.
Dr. Willie Mae Jackson is a psychiatrist with Owensboro Health’s One Health medical group. For more information or to schedule an appointment with a One Health provider, call 844-44-MY-ONE (844-446-9663).
At 11:30 a.m. on January 31, Dr. Jackson will speak on depression at the Owensboro Health Healthpark as part of The Doc is In series. This event, entitled “Living with Depression,” is free and open to the public. If you’re interested in attending or want more information, call 270-688-4804.