Depression is among the most painful and difficult of all human experiences. It robs those who suffer from it of energy, interest and the motivation to make things better. Furthermore, it brings with it a profoundly negative view of the self, others, the world and the future. During depression it can seem as though that nothing can change, as though you will never get better.
The good news is that people DO recover from depression. I know this from my own personal and professional experience. I myself have suffered from depression at various times throughout my life. I can remember times when I felt so overwhelmed by my feelings. Everything looked so bleak and hopeless. I wondered if I would ever feel “normal”, happy and at peace with myself. Well, I am a testament to the fact that it is possible to recover from depression – it can and does end. This has been a long and difficult process at times for me, involving me looking at and addressing a number of issues – how much of an impact has my negative mood had on my life? How important is it to me to feel better? Am I really willing to make getting better a top priority in my life? I’ve made alot of changes in my life regarding how I cope with negative thinking habits, how I reactivate my life, how I self support and how I solve problems as they arise. I now have a much clearer sense of myself, am much happier and feel bright and hopeful about my future. Whilst I cannot predict the future and do not know if I will I ever suffer from another bout of depression again, I do know that I have alot more tools in my tool kit, have a much better sense of self-supporting and as a result, will never “dip” to the extent I’ve done previously, should I ever experience another depressive episode. I am confident that you can also learn to manage your mood more effectively as you alter your negative thinking habits, learn to solve problems in the here and now, reactivate your life and develop more tools to put in your tool kit.
What is depression?
Depression comes in many forms and has many causes. There are several different subtitles of depression. Even people who seem to have the same type can experience it differently at times. Depression is also an everyday word that people use to describe the “Monday morning blues” and other periods of passing sadness. The result: people often think you are talking about “the blues” when you really mean clinical depression. This can often be frustrating for someone with true depression.
Depression is hard to diagnose on your own. Our moods affect our judgment of ourselves. It is therefore often hard to judge whether we are really depressed. It usually takes a trained professional to make the diagnosis. If you are suffering from depression, you are not alone – at least one person in every six becomes depressed in the course of their lives, and one in twenty is clinically depressed. Furthermore, depression is NOT a sign of weakness. Many capable, intelligent and extremely accomplished people have suffered and do suffer from depression. Being depressed does not mean that you are weak or flawed. It takes a great deal of strength to reach out for help and access support. If you can do this sooner, as in when your mood is starting to dip, it may be possible to nip things in the bud, rather than you finding yourself in the throws of a major bout of depression.
How is depression treated
There are two effective forms of treatment for depression:
anti-depressant medication is effective for most people with serious depression. However, some people have difficulty with medication side effects and some people are reluctant to use medication.
therapy is extremely useful in helping people manage and move on from depression. People often find that having a safe, confidential, accepting space to explore how they’re feeling can be extremely healing in itself.
What causes depression
People become depressed for a wide variety of reasons. Research has identified a number of factors associated with causing and continuing the depressed state. The major factors are: 1) situation: loss, isolation, conflict, stress; 2) thoughts: negative thinking habits, harsh criticism, unrealistic thinking patterns; 3) emotion: anxiety, numbness, despair, sadness, discouragement; 4) physiology: altered sleep, low energy changes in brain chemistry; 5) action: social withdrawal, reduced activity level, poor self-care.
How to take control of your depression
Depression involves all areas of your life: your thoughts, emotions, behaviours, physical functioning and life situation. Each of these issues are connected to the others. Therefore, changes in one area can produce changes in the others. When depression develops, negative changes in one area can cause the others to get worse as well. When you are trying to get better, changing one area can lead to improvements in all other areas.
Take a moment to consider the questions I’ve asked of myself at times throughout my life – how much of an impact has my negative mood had on my life? How important is it for me to feel better? Am I really willing to make getting better a top priority in my life?
Do you know what your “triggers” are? What are the indicators for you that your mental health is deteriorating? It can sometimes be difficult for people to recognise what their triggers are, when there mental health is deteriorating. Very often people can find themselves in a bout of depression and were not really aware that their mental health was dipping in the first place. Something I’ve found useful in helping me recognise my triggers and is a tool I use in my work with clients’ is to think about what a good day looks like for you. This may include things like: having a shower, going to work, having contact with friends’, eating sensibly etc. You will know what a good day comprises of for you. Now, think about what a bad day looks like: are you still able to do the things you can do on a good day? Think about your negotiables and non-negotiables in relation to this – so, on a bad day I may not manage to have a shower (your negotiable), but I will have contact with one of my friends’ regardless of how bad I’m feeling (your non-negotiable). You may not feel like doing the things that make you feel good, but you’ll feel so much better about yourself if you make the effort. I invite you to think about breaking things down for yourself, so for example: if keeping abreast of the housework makes you feel good about yourself, but it feels too overwhelming when your mental health is deteriorating, think about how you can make this more manageable for yourself. So rather that cleaning the whole kitchen, you might set yourself the goal of washing your dishes. Think SMART: SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ACHIEVABLE, REALISTIC, TIME FOCUSSED.
Think about how you self-care. If you stop taking care of yourself or doing the things you normally like, your life becomes more dull and depressing. Inactivity and depression go hand-in-hand. By doing less, you are in fact helping your depression to get worse. Therefore, don’t wait around until you feel like doing more. Instead, gradually get yourself moving even though you may not feel like it. Remember SMART!!! Identify some goals to work on and think how you can break them down in order to make them manageable and realistic. You might identify self-care: for example, getting dressed every day; eating breakfast, eating more nutritious food. Choose no more than two areas and think how you can set yourself realistic goals. For example: for the next week I am going to get up and shower every day. Your goals must be specific, realistic and sheduled.
When you are depressed, your thinking is more likely to be distorted – you are more likely to think about your problems to the exclusion of anything else and you are more likely to dwell of the serious problems you face whilst magnifiying the small. Your goal is therefore to learn how to identify negatively biased thoughts and to think in a more balanced, fair and realistic way. Learn to identify your negative thoughts – do you tend to look at the bad and never the good? Because all you see is the negative, your whole life can appear to be negative. Do you over-generalise? One negative event is the start of a never-ending pattern. Do you think in “all or nothing” terms? You are either clever or stupid, fat or thin? There is no middle ground or inbetween. Do you label? You talk to yourself harshly and in a way that you’d never talk to anyone else. Do you catastrophise? A small disappointment is a complete disaster. When you catch yourself thinking negatively, try to “catch” it as it occurs. Consider your situation – where you are? Who are you with? What are you doing? Then think about what evidence there is to support your negative thinking, along with what evidence there is to reject your negative thinking. Then go on to look for a more balanced way of thinking or try to find more middle ground. Often asking questions like “What is the worst possible thing that can happen?”, “What would I say to a friend who was thinking this way?”. Learn to challenge your negatively distorted thoughts and replace them with more fair and realistic ones.
Depression is often the result of life problems that have become overwhelming. The strategies for solving them have been ineffective or may have even made them worse. When people get depressed, their ability to solve problems often declines. This is for several reasons: solving problems takes energy – as depression worsens, the energy levels decline; everyday problems take a backseat to the bigger problem – people often become so concerned about their low mood, that other problems can slide and get worse; depression causes difficulties in concentration, memory, decision-making ability and creativity. Most problem solving requires all of these skills. Given all of these factors, it’s not surprising that problems don’t get solved and pile up instead. Think SMART!!! Before you can solve a problem, you have to know what it is. Make a list of the problems you are experiencing right now – just list them in point form and don’t spend too much time dwelling on them. Now select one problem from the list you have made. It should be a problem you really want to solve and that seems reasonably solvable. Ask yourself – have I solved problems in the past? If so, how did I do it? What strengths did I use? Are there people I can draw on to support me in solving this problem? Then, think of the things that you can do to help. Write down as many actions as you can think of. Now choose the best action and make an action plan. Your action plan should be manageable, action-oriented, specific and time-limited. Depressed mood will tempt you to dwell on the negative and the things that you haven’t done. Learn to give yourself a pat on the back and congratulate yourself for the progress you make. Above all, keep going, revise your goal and try again, and be flexible to trying a new approach.
Think about how you manage your mood and how you can do so more effectively. This may involve increasing rewarding activities, reducing your obligations, managing your lifestyle and seeking professional help. Finally, it is possible to recover from depression. It often doesn’t feel like it at the time. I often invite clients’ to allow me or other people in their lives to carry their hope until they feel able to take it back for themselves. There is a way forward from depression.
I hope you find my article helpful.