Coping with depression

Depression may affect anyone, regardless of age, social standing or profession.

This article describes what depression is and looks at the common causes and symptoms, as well as some of the myths about depression. Ways of seeking help and reducing daily stress are suggested. 


Our moods can vary according to our circumstances; our environment and relationships also may be affected by the changes in our day to day living. We have all felt “down” at some stage of our lives. Sometimes events obviously cause us more distress and our mood may become depressed for an extended period.

Everyday, temporary “blues” or sadness is not depression; nor is the normal grief caused by the death of a loved one. People with the “blues” and normal grief may experience short-term symptoms of depression, but generally continue to function almost normally and soon recover without treatment.

Grief and depression are linked. When we lose someone or something of value to us we naturally experience a reaction to that loss and need to work our way through it. Depression is a part of that normal grieving process which takes a varying amount of time according to the individual. It gradually lessens and the threads of life are picked up again even though life will not be exactly as it was before. Anniversaries and special events may rekindle aspects of grief.

The term “depression” is used to describe a depressed mood, together with other symptoms, that exist for a sustained period of time. Where depression does not lift it may affect normal functioning and the quality of life suffers. It is important to understand that depression is not a sign of weakness or a lack of will power and not something that can be “snapped” out of. It is a condition that responds well to treatment.

Depression may affect anyone regardless of age, social standing or profession. There are times when we are more susceptible to depression – such as at puberty, after childbirth and at mid-life. Certain events and losses may be followed by a reactive depression e.g. the death of a significant person or retrenchment. There are also thought to be genetic factors associated with depression for some (a history of family depression) and a physical component for others (reduced levels of neurotransmitters in the brain).

Depression can also be a by-product of the treatment of certain illnesses and medications.

Post natal depression can affect women (and some men) after the birth of a baby.  You can read more about Post Natal Depression here.

MAJOR SYMPTOMS

  • Depressed mood over a period of time e.g. a number of weeks
  • Loss of pleasure or joy in activities and life in general
  • Depressed thinking negative thoughts about oneself, the present and the future
  • Difficulty with concentration and memory
  • Trouble making decisions often even the more simple ones
  • Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
  • Anxiety or a sense of dread that something “bad” is going to happen
  • Phobias or fears about specific situations
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss or, alternatively, increased appetite and weight gain
  • Disrupted sleeping patterns too little sleep or wanting to sleep all the time
  • Feeling fatigued and lacking in energy and motivation
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Physical symptoms aches and pains, gastrointestinal upsets, headaches
  • Inability to carry out the usual everyday activities
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Many people do not seek help some because they believe they should be able to manage their difficulties on their own, others because they feel embarrassed or ashamed or perhaps because they don’t believe they deserve help.

MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS

1. The depressed person just needs “to pull up his/her socks!”- This view is most unhelpful, adding guilt to the difficulties the depressed person faces.

2. Depression means that the person is mentally unstable and incompetent. – Depression is a treatable illness. Much misinformation leads to the stigma that is so often associated with it.

3. Because there is no visible problem therefore there is no problem.- Many sufferers of depression struggle with the fact there is no obvious outward sign causing their illness e.g. a broken leg. They often can not find an obvious cause of their pain.

4. Someone must have caused the depression.- All too often someone such as a parent or role model may be blamed for the depression. It is important to realise that it is an illness in its own right and nobody is to blame.

5. Depression is punishment for some misdemeanor.- This is a common belief amongst sufferers. The intense sad feelings often cause the depressed person to search for a reason for the depression. If one is not readily found then the questioning tends to turn inward, causing the person to find fault with themselves.

SEEK HELP

  • It is important to find someone to talk to – someone supportive who will listen. Talking about the problem can relieve some of the distress and can actually be the first step in accessing the necessary help. It can signal the first step to recovery.
  • There are a number of very effective treatments for depression. Counselling and psychotherapy may be very beneficial. Medication may be appropriate when symptoms have persisted for a long time and have caused interference with social and work activities, interpersonal relationships and day-to-day functioning. There may be some reluctance to consider medication. Whilst it should not be seen as a complete treatment on its own, there are times when medication is appropriate and necessary. It is important to know that there have been significant advances in the chemical treatment of depression. Many of the previous medications and their side effects no longer apply. It is important to discuss any concerns with your doctor.
  • Depression and stress are often linked, especially when we have suffered losses, are coming to terms with changes in our lives or are over-taxed. Stress is a part of life but it may harm our physical and mental well being. It may erode self-esteem.

WAYS TO REDUCE STRESS

  • Be aware of stressful situations in your life
  • Take steps to reduce the causes of harmful stress
  • Find a stress reduction technique that you enjoy and stick with it
  • Try and get some regular exercise such as walking, swimming or whatever appeals to you. This promotes the release of natural soothing chemicals in your body
  • Do something you enjoy or find satisfying – gardening, movies etc
  • Set time aside for yourself for relaxation and recreation
  • Consider meditating – perhaps with soothing music in the background
  • Learn how to release stress and tension through deep breathing techniques
  • Eat right. Exclude foods that are unhealthy. Watch the use of alcohol, caffeine, drugs and tobacco

These are only general suggestions. You should always seek outside help if you are unsure what to do. If you need to talk to someone you can call –


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