Job loss, financial setbacks, illness, political unrest, natural disasters, and any number of disruptive local, national, and global events can allow depression, whether situational or major depressive disorder
While sadness and anxiety are a natural and even healthy part of life, depression is a unique condition. Those with a genetic predisposition and chemical imbalances may already struggle and fall deeper into their minds when difficult circumstances become overwhelming. Uncertainty, fear, and anxiety over a sudden change of circumstances or troubling world events can push those who’ve never struggled with depression into troubling places, where they and their families feel ill prepared and in need of guidance.
Thankfully, people generally know more about depression today than they did 20 years ago. But knowing, recognizing, and understanding feel different if you or a loved one are in the throes of depression. Some questions come up more often than others. I hope to provide a starting point for those with depression and those who want to support their friends and loved ones on their journey through this common mental health disorder.
What types of therapy are most effective for depression?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been the go-to method for years. However, I find that meta-cognitive therapy is a more reliable practice. Here, I encourage clients to focus on their response to thoughts.
Depression often leads to extreme self-criticism. I emphatically begin by asking the client, “Do you think you’re depressed on purpose?” There’s almost always laughter followed by an, “of course not.” From there, we open the door to self-compassion. This approach reduces the most insidious intensifier of situational depression — self-rejection.
The next step is more indirect. I guide the client to develop crucial support from within, or what I call “Friendly Mind.” Clients create intelligent guidance, where they optimize self-compassion will do what is best for themselves.
Will I need medication for my depression?
Individuals with lifelong depression rarely lift out of their depression without medication. In the field, we’ve all generally found that clients who have struggled with depression for years clearly have chemical and neurological imbalances in one or more areas.
Medications address chemistry with chemistry. It’s especially helpful for those with inherited depression.
So many people push against taking medication. However, their self-worth is no more diminished than if they had heart or lung disease. It’s treating the body for ailments. When people recognize their own innocence in their illness, the mind joins the chemistry and helps the medication work its magic.
What lifestyle habits can help with depression?
First, the body needs exercise. Exercise releases endorphins and invigorates the mind. If taking a walk is all you manage to do, that’s impressive. We all deserve more credit for doing good things when we don’t feel good. It’s so much harder and takes extra effort for each step.
Second, spend time relaxing in whatever way is most natural to you. That could be meditation, music, resting, being in nature, or holding a loved one. Take time to relax.
Third, find balance as you live to your potential without inducing stress. Yes, you want to work towards your personal and professional goals but don’t let any one goal take over your life; there is a strong tendency in our society to be driven toward goals and not recognize that this is unwittingly creating anxiety and stress. We need to support ourselves to work hard and be disciplined but find a rhythm that does not turn us into a contracted pretzel. Remember to balance your hard work with activities that take care of you like exercise and relaxation.
Fourth, eat a balanced healthy diet. Food is fuel, and there is evidence that what you eat can significantly impact your mood, so fill yourself with the healthiest energy source while struggling with depression.
Finally, spend time with those closest to you. There’s a relief and rejuvenation that comes from being close to another person without performing or pretending that you’re not struggling.
What should I do if a family member or friend has depression?
Let them know that you know they aren’t depressed on purpose. Depression is not a choice. They deserve self-kindness and caring from you and others. They also deserve more credit for each small act they accomplish. Depression makes it difficult to function during every day activities and tasks. Acknowledge the things they do accomplish, so they can start to see small successes.
Invite them to not have to perform for you. They don’t have to put on a happy face for you. Let them know that you appreciate their authenticity. If they have suicidal thoughts and a real plan, they must seek professional help.
These are a few of the question I hear over and over again. Whether you’re struggling with depression yourself or supporting someone who’s struggling with it, there are ways of thinking, medications, and support methods that help. As we acknowledge and talk about depression more, the stigma surrounding it diminishes and the number of people who feel comfortable getting the help they need increases. It’s starts with acknowledging that your feelings are real and that you’re not choosing to be depressed. From there, a good support system and healthy habits can create an environment that gives the mind and body the best chance of wellbeing.