Are you feeling depressed, or do you know someone else who is? Read on to find about more about what it is it, and learn a number strategies to help prevent it, or reduce the severity of the symptoms if you have it.
Depression is a common mental health problem, which can be really serious, and is prevalent throughout the world. Globally, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.
Depression is usually assessed on a degree of severity, ranging from mild, to moderate, to severe. It should be treated quite seriously, because in the more severe cases it can lead to self-harm and even suicide.
Depression can include a wide variety of symptoms which affect our mood, emotions and behaviours. Some of these include feeling sad, irritability, worthless, empty, hopeless, suicidal and numb.
Behavioural changes can include: avoiding social interaction, lack of interesting in hobbies, loss of sex drive, memory problems, lack of energy, sleeping trouble, no appetite, change in weight, use of drugs and alcohol etc.
Depression is believe to be caused by a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors.
Some of these known risk factors include: childhood adversity, bereavement, abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, neglect), bullying, unemployment, divorce, significant stress, medical diagnosis, prolonged isolation etc. Some studies show that biological factors, such as genetics, and hormones, may also contribute to the development of depression.
TIP #1: CBT
CBT stands for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which is a commonly prescribed treatment for a variety of mental health problems including depression. CBT is based on the concept that our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all related and can affect each other.
For example, we may experience negative feelings which we believe are objectively true, but on closer inspection they are partially caused by unhealthy and distorted thought patterns. Once we become away of what these thought patterns are, we can label them, and try to change them into more healthy and positive and ones. This, in turn, may affect our behaviours.
You can do this be familiarising yourself with cognitive distortions, which are exaggerated or irrational thought patterns. Here are some of the most common ones:
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking: Evaluating the self, as well as events in life in extreme terms. It is either all good or all bad, either black or white, nothing in between
2. Overgeneralization: Making hasty generalizations from insufficient evidence. Drawing a very broad conclusion from a single incident or a single piece of evidence.
3. Mental Filter: Focusing entirely on negative elements of a situation to the exclusion of the positive. Also, the brain’s tendency to filter information that does not conform to already-held beliefs.
4. Disqualifying the Positive: Discounting positive events
5. Jumping to Conclusions: Reaching preliminary conclusions (usually negative) with little (if any) evidence.
6. Magnification and Minimization: Giving proportionally greater weight to a perceived failure, weakness or threat, or lesser weight to a perceived success, strength or opportunity, so that the weight differs from that assigned by others, such as “making a mountain out of a molehill”.
7. Emotional Reasoning: Presuming that negative feelings expose the true nature of things and experiencing reality as a reflection of emotionally linked thoughts. Thinking something is true, solely based on a feeling.
8. Should Statements: Expecting the world to be different than it is”. It can be seen as demanding particular achievements or behaviours regardless of the realistic circumstances of the situation.
9. Labeling and Mislabeling: A form of overgeneralization; attributing a person’s actions to his or her character instead of to an attribute. Rather than assuming the behaviour to be accidental or otherwise extrinsic, one assigns a label to someone or something that is based on the inferred character of that person or thing.
10. Personalization: Attributing personal responsibility, including the resulting praise or blame, to events over which the person has no control.
TIP #2: Exercise
Regular exercise has been shown to help lower the effects of depression. This is due to several reasons including:
Taking our mind off worries – Rather than ruminating about problems, being proactive can help to distract us from negative cycles of thinking.
Releasing endorphins – feel good chemicals in the brain which can enhance our sense of well-being.
Confidence – you are actively trying to improve yourself, and becoming fitter at the same time, so you are naturally going to feel better about yourself.
Social interaction – joining the gym, going for a run in the park, or joining a sports team may introduce you to other like minded people.
TIP #3: Self-esteem
A common problem associated with depression is low self-esteem. Whether low self-esteem is a cause or effect of depression, it doesn’t really matter, as long as we can identify it and begin to increase it.
Aside from reframing any negative beliefs and thought patterns, outlined in TIP #1, you can also raise self-esteem by trying to improve yourself and your life in a number of ways:
1) Skills and talents: Learn a new skill, take up a new hobby and increase your repertoire of talents.
2) Achievements: Set goals, and aim to accomplish them. A sense of achievement can do wonders for self-esteem.
3) Relationships: Healthy relationships are really important to our overall sense of well being, so minimise negative and toxic ones, grow existing positives ones, and even seek out new ones if necessary.
4) Self-compassion: If you ever feel low, practice having compassion for yourself, like you would for a close friend or family member.
5) Assertive communication: Try to practice assertive communication more, instead of passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive.
6) Challenge and growth: Growth is an important part of life, so every once in a while challenge yourself to come out of your comfort zone, and try something new.
To end this post, here’s a few of my favourite quotes related to depression:
- “Release of shame is an antidepressant.” ~ Johann Hari
- “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr
- “You’re not a bad person for the ways you tried to kill your sadness.” ~ Unknown
- “Depression is your body saying ‘fuck you, I don’t want to be this character anymore’. I don’t want to hold up this avatar that you’ve created in a world that’s too much for me.” ~ Jim Carrey
- “That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.” ~ Elizabeth Wurtzel