“Depression,” a word we often toss around without real consideration of its meaning, is a real thing. This disorder has no single cause, and currently, researchers say the data shows that having any combination of these risk factors – trauma, genetics, life experiences, brain changes, medical conditions, and/or substance abuse – increase the likelihood of experiencing an episode of major depression.
So much more than simply ‘feeling down,’ depression has huge repercussions in all areas of life. 60% of the global population will experience at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime; 70% of those will be women. Young adults 18-25 are 60% more likely than adults over 50 to experience an episode of moderate to severe depression. Only 10% of individuals struggling with moderate to severe depression have access to resources or treatment for this disorder – a horrible stat on its own. But this is almost worse: of those who are clinically depressed and who do have access to appropriate treatment, only 50% will seek out help to deal with the depression. Our collective and global negative perception of mental health issues is truly inhibiting to seeking treatment.
A study out of the Netherlands in 2008 indicates that the vast majority of us will experience at least one period of mild depression in our lifetime, and that regardless of the treatment, we will recover our normal sense of self, on average, in 2-3 months. Mild depression (feeling ‘down’ or flat; a lack of sense of pleasure or enjoyment; diminished energy) still allows full life function, we just enjoy life less. Most often recovery happens through a combination of intentional positivity, regular exercise, and making the effort to connect with friends, family, and community.
Gradually, a sense of emotional equilibrium returns, and it’s possible to take pleasure in living again. Talk therapy helps with the intentional positivity, but just as often, a gratitude journal, a self-help book focused on positive living, or an online course requiring mindful investment in feeling better will also be effective.
Moderate to severe depression is way more debilitating than its milder cousin, and requires much more robust forms of intervention to recover. If that ‘mild’ depression lasts longer than 3 months, or your quality of life deteriorates at any time to the point where daily function is impaired, get help. This is not a ‘wait-and-see’ situation. For those who suffer a moderate to severe episode of depression, without treatment, the chances of a second episode go up considerably, and successive episodes will be more severe, and last longer each time.
So here’s the deal.
Last month, I wrote about the symptoms of depression: the seriousness of the disorder, how Eeyore needed a therapist, and all sorts of other helpful stuff. This month, I’m telling you to stop suffering. Get help. (This would be “Doctor’s orders.”) There is a whole range of good options for mental health services, with properly trained and licensed professionals, ethical practices, and the skill to help identify, address, and overcome an episode of major depression – in person, online, or in a group. You’ll gain the life tools you need to manage your own mental health, you’ll get back a quality of life you’ve been missing for a long time, and you’ll add to the cultural and social shift away from stigmatizing mental health issues as different from a physical illness.
If you are struggling mentally with anything – anxiety, depression, obsessions, compulsions, panic attacks, negative thinking (the list of the ways the brain can hijack us is long) then your physical health WILL be impacted. It cannot be otherwise. Mental health issues such as depression, can alter the immune system, impact sleep cycles, and disrupt gut function (did you know that 90% of the body’s serotonin is manufactured in the digestive tract?), leading to secondary physical illness.
My April and May contributions focused on anxiety, and June and July/August have focused on, and are focusing on depression. These two disorders alone account for the vast majority of people struggling with mental health issues. The poor quality of life, economic losses, and relationship stressors from these two common issues is staggering, but fortunately, both respond positively to the research-based interventions and tools counsellors and therapists have to offer. Don’t add to those dismal statistics. Summon up your courage, be brave, and look at the treatment options available. Go see a professional, experienced in treating depression. If you don’t like that therapist, go see another one. When you find the therapist or counsellor you feel comfortable with, tell them Dr. Susannah sent you.
If anything you’ve read in these columns in the past four months applies to you, do something about it. You won’t be sorry.
Research stats from studies by National Institute of Mental Health; Canadian Mental Health Association; British Journal of Psychiatry; World Health Organisation.