Understand depression and change it to its healthier alternative for your health & well-being
Second only to generalised anxiety disorder, depression is the most common mental health disorder experienced in the UK. Surprisingly, even though this mental health problem can be a serious precursor to more serious psychological disorders, a lot of people do not even realise that what they are experiencing is depression and moreover that it is treatable.
So what is depression anyway? It can be defined as a common, yet serious medical condition that can negatively affect our feelings, our perception and our general conduct. It can also be described as a condition of emotional lowness and withdrawal; sadness greater and more prolonged than warranted by any objective reason.
Whenever I imagine depression, I often picture Eeyore, the purple donkey character from the children's cartoon Winnie the Pooh. He was always down in the dumps and was never shown to experience emotions such as joy and excitement. The rain cloud constantly shadowing over his head became, to me, a fitting analogy for depression.
Depression is a discomfort in the personal domain with feelings of loss and failure with implications in the future. It is usually accompanied by the inability to see anything but the negative aspects of the understandably upsetting trigger situation. Generally, sufferers cannot help but dwell on the negative, constantly thinking about other losses and failures they have experienced and thus consider themselves and their situation as hopeless. In this irrational, narrow and despondent mode, only blackness and pain can be seen in the future and quite often, those affected tend to withdraw from all others and seek an environment consistent with their current low state of mind.
Sadly, attempts at suppressing depressive thoughts and feelings can often manifest in self-destructive behaviors such as addiction and self-harm and these short-term ‘fixes’ are invariably ineffective. Depression can present itself in a variety of ways, some of which I will elaborate on below:
- Major depression can be brought about by a combination of symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat and enjoy what once might have been otherwise pleasurable activities. Major depression may occur only once, but more commonly, repeated episodes often occur in a lifetime.
- Dysthymia is characterised by an overwhelming yet chronic state of depression, exhibited by a depressive mood which affects the sufferer for the majority of the time, over at least a two year period.
- Bipolar disorder is yet another type of depressive illness (in the past described as manic-depressive illness). This particular disorder is characterised by cyclical mood changes where the sufferer experiences extreme highs (mania) and plummeting lows (depression) and can accompany with brief periods of normality in between.
- Persistent depressive disorder is typically any depression that lasts over two years, involving symptoms that come and go in severity.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is the name given to a form of depression which classically starts in the winter months, usually emanating from a lack of natural sunlight and often lifting in the summer months. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy (full spectrum lighting) which encourages the production of serotonin in the brain. Seratonin can contribute to naturally lifting the mood and can help to regulate anxiety and happiness too.
- Psychotic depression is a severe depression where the sufferer has some form of psychosis along with other symptoms.
- Post-partum depression is associated with women who have recently given birth.
- Substance-induced mood disorder (abuse or dependence) is a common depressive illness frequently diagnosed following long periods of drug/alcohol addiction/abuse.
No-one chooses to be depressed or opts to be stuck in depressive mode, and often the victim does not even realise that what they are experiencing is depression. Once it has been identified they can, with help, develop the ability to change those negative feelings to a healthier counterpart namely ‘sadness’. You see sadness is a rational response when experiencing loss or failure, the difference is that with sadness we can see both negative and positive aspects of loss or failure, we are less likely to think of other losses and failures in our lives and we are able to help ourselves and look into the future with hope. In a state of sadness, we are also able to rationalise feelings about the loss or failure replacing them with more positive ones and seek reinforcements during and after a period of mourning. Overall allowing movement in the experience of our emotional indicators that work for us to help us process external stimuli and thus limit any possible distress.
So the next time you find yourself feeling ‘depressed’ and down in the dumps for days, weeks and months on end, know that you do not have to accept feeling that way. We can develop the power and ability to change our emotional, mental and psychological states by sheer will and desire to be happy and to change the stagnant depression to momentary sadness for the benefit of our health and wellbeing.
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