“If you stop thinking about your problems, your depression will go away; you’d be happier.” “Think about positive things; you’ll feel better.” “You like feeling bad.” “It’s all in the mind; make up your mind to be happy, and you will be.”
Oh, if it were only this simple to turn a clinical depression around, a whole lot of people would be relieved. So many clinically depressed people have to cope with their difficult condition while dealing with family members and friends who misunderstand the cause of major depression. Unfortunately, clinical depression is one of those illnesses that you have to experience first-hand, in order to really know what a terrible burden with which it is to live. However, we can come to understand it much better, so that we can give our loved ones the empathy, care, and support that they need to get better.
My post today is a tribute to all of you who have struggled with clinical depression or who have a loved one who has struggled with this problem. I give you a three-tier treatment approach that research shows will help you to get better. But, I know this first-hand too, as I, also, have struggled with a clinical depression. I use the treatment approach that I provide to you today. Thus, I know it works to relieve your symptoms greatly.
Needless to say, as a therapist, I’ve treated many clinically depressed people throughout the years. Indeed, their depression is a huge physical and mental assault on their well-being. Even so, one of the most hurtful assaults that they have to endure is the misunderstanding of their condition by family members and friends. By clarifying the source of clinical depression, today, and its effects upon those who are afflicted with it, I hope to increase your understanding, awareness and sensitivity as to its source and cause.
Clinical depression, a.k.a. major depression, is not a personal weakness or a character flaw. You cannot will it away or shake yourself out of it, to get better. It’s not a temporary bad mood or sad feeling that lasts for a few days. And, it persists, whether or not good or bad things happen to you.
Clinical depression is a serious medical illness that alters brain chemistry and affects physical and mental health, behavior, and spiritual well being. It negatively influences how you feel, the way you think and act, and even your will to live. Although, you may have inherited depression, psychological and environmental stressors, like loss, chronic illness, personality and relationship problems, work stress, and stressful life changes can trigger a depressive episode, even in people without a family history or genetic contribution. These problems can cause wear and tear on your body that eventually depletes the chemicals that keep your brain and body running smoothly. For example, if you rack up more miles on your car than its structure can handle, its parts will wear out sooner than it is expected to last.
You can’t use your intellect or will to deal with clinical depression, without medical intervention. Depression undermines motivation and will, as it’s a dysfunction in the chemistry of the brain that is linked to the brain’s nerve transmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine). The effectiveness of antidepressants validate the biological basis to a person’s depression. One of the ways mental health professionals know that a person’s depression is a problem in brain chemistry, rather than a personality disorder, is by the capacity of an antidepressant to relieve symptoms. But, make no mistake; a relief in symptoms is not the same as taking the clinical depression completely away. It simply improves a person’s functioning. The degree of functionality depends upon the person’s level of personality development.
Depression does seem to run in families, suggestive of its biological source. Most clinically depressed persons can name a family member or two who struggle with the same condition. This is certainly the case with bipolar depression (BD) that is characterized by periods of depression that alternate with periods of elation and increased activity, known as mania. In fact, the rate of occurrence of bipolar disorder amongst family members is strong (Offspring of parents with BD is 10.6% in contrast to .8% in people who have no parents with the disorder. This increases to 29% when both parents have BD). 76% of these offspring experienced childhood-onset bipolar disorder before the 12-years of age. However, having a biological vulnerability to clinical depression does not mean you are destined to become depressed. Depression can occur in one family member and not the other, and also skip generations of family members. This suggests that other factors are involved. Additionally, depression can occur in persons who have no family history of depression.
In contrast to what some people believe, depressed people don’t like being depressed. In fact, they’d try almost anything to rid themselves of this personal burden that robs them of time, energy, joy, and the motivation to participate in life. Medication, talk therapy, yoga and mindfulness therapies, light-therapy, thought restructuring therapies, acupuncture and massage, spiritual healers, and vitamins and herbs are just some of the treatments they try to jumpstart their biology and return them back to life. While these treatments make some better, some people get little relief and can end up taking their own lives. Take, for example, the recent suicide of 58-year-old Mary Kennedy. She suffered from a life-long clinical depression. And, years of alcoholism did little to help her condition. Robert Kennedy Jr. told the New York Times: ‘A lot of times I don’t know how Mary made it through the day. She was in a lot of agony for a lot of her life.’ Sister-in-law Kerry Kennedy said Mary – a lifelong friend -had been sober for five months, but was still battling depression.
Depression can ravage your body, mind, heart and soul. It takes a lot of energy to manage depression. Energy that many depressed persons do not have to give. Nonetheless, many clinically depressed persons are able to do what is needed to function the very best they can. They have relationships, jobs, and raise children. Their days are like yours and mine, only so much harder, as their depression is a high maintenance condition. What makes the difference? They do all that is needed to do more than just survive. They take medications, go to therapy, get the nutrition and exercise they need to stay well, and abstain from alcohol and drugs and any other habit that worsens their depression. But, there are factors that science still doesn’t fully understand that permit some clinically depressed people to do what they need to get better and others to fall victim to the condition. To be sure, it is a mistake to blame some depressed persons failure to thrive on them personally.
A Three-Tier Approach to The Treatment of a Clinical Depression
No matter if you inherited your depression or came by it through loss or a psychological or environmental stressor, you need an antidepressant to treat the chemical imbalance in the brain’s nerve transmitters. However, some people resist medication wanting to try vitamins or herbs, and exercise or psychotherapy, before they go with the antidepressant route. I appreciate why people do not want to take antidepressants. It usually takes a period of trial and error to get you on the right medication. Also, antidepressants have side-effects. But, most clinically depressed people find the side-effects of antidepressants to be much more tolerable than their depressive symptoms.
We are a society that tends to over-medicate. Thus, you are wise to use caution when deciding upon your choice of antidepressant. Nonetheless, medication is the way to jumpstart your biology, so that you can benefit from psychotherapy treatment. Really, there’s no better way to get your brain chemistry right. And, although vitamins, herbs, and exercise may give you some relief, they are not enough to adequately treat a clinical depression.
Don’t be shy when it comes to selecting the psychiatrist who will treat you. Do not let a general practitioner, internist, or physician’s assistant medicate your clinical depression. As competent as they are, they are not trained to diagnose, understand, and treat clinical depression. You have a serious medical illness that requires a mental health professional. That being said–no two mental health professionals are alike. Like any profession, there are competent professionals and there are quacks. There’s a general rule of thumb you should keep in mind when considering antidepressant medication. If you are on the right medication, you will not need several others to treat your symptoms. Thus, if your doctor wants to immediately put you on two to three medications to treat your depression, or goes for the most powerful medications first, please question his/her reasoning. You may be going to the wrong psychiatrist. The more medications you take, the more toxic they become on your body. The benefits of antidepressant treatment can quickly go awry when you are taking so many that you can’t function well. Your therapist can direct you to psychiatrists whom he or she knows and trusts.
Today, most practicing clinicians believe that depression is caused by an equal combination of biological (including genetics), social, and psychological factors. A treatment approach that focuses exclusively on one of these factors is not likely to be as beneficial as when treating the depression on three-levels. Therapy is critical to getting better. Remember, research clearly shows that psychotherapy and medication together are more effective than either treatment alone. Therapy educates and informs, treat the symptoms and emotional problems that contribute to depression, and returns you to mental health.
Symptom-based psychotherapies are the most popular and commonly used therapy for the effective treatment of depression. Symptom-based therapies treat the symptoms that you have today, rather than go back to your past to find the emotional conflicts that may be causing your depression. Cognitive-behavioral treatments (thought restructuring, assertiveness and social-skills training, and stress-management) emphasize changing thoughts and beliefs that worsen depression and increase attitudes and behaviors that make you more functional. Mindfulness therapies teach you how to stop patterns of thinking that take you out of the present moment and into personal dramas that keep you unhappy and stuck in the past. And, the insight-based talk therapies focus on past conflicts that contribute to your depression. Each of these therapies can be helpful to relieving your depressive symptoms.
Depression left untreated can cause brain damage. It suppresses levels of a key nerve growth hormone called an eicosanoid that preserves the integrity and elasticity of brain cells. Suppression of this super-hormone eventually leads to the death of neurons in critical memory and reasoning areas of the brain, including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Additionally, it increases brain inflammation that may worsen depression, or be one of its main causes. (Inflammation, Glutamate, and Glia in Depression).
Thus, what you drink and eat can reduce or increase brain and body inflammation and worsen your depression. It’s been observed that many depressed people get symptom relief through diets that emphasize an increase in protein and decrease in carbohydrate intake. Lowering sugar and other products that increase body inflammation activates the body’s anti-inflammatory eicosanoids that preserve brain cells.
Eight Tips to Treating Your Clinical Depression
- Accept that clinical depression is a high-maintenance condition. The extent to which you get better parallels the areas you clean up, so to speak, to treat your depression. Thus, please, be good to yourself; treat your depression with a three-tier approach. You’ll be happy you did. As you get better, you may, overtime, be able to take less medication to feel well.
- Examine your misconceptions about antidepressant treatment. Many people have many misconceptions about antidepressant treatment for depression. Know that when you get your brain chemistry right, you actually reduce some of the damaging effects of untreated depression (Inflammation, Glutamate, and Glia in Depression). Remember, some of the findings that I cited for you in this post today. Consider any resistances you have toward prescribed medication for your depression. I have had many patients worry about brain damage from antidepressants, even though they drink alcohol regularly, and some have smoked marijuana for years. This reasoning has always fascinated me. But, denial can be very effective. So, challenge your reasoning as to any misconceptions or resistances you may have about treating your depression at the biochemical level.
- Get the therapy you need. If you have suffered from depression for a long time, you may have developed social fears, coping difficulties, and have problems managing stress. These problems often accompany depression. Treating your thinking and behavior is vital to your well-being. And, perhaps, even more, talking with a professional about the years of your suffering, the impact on your life, and the feelings you have about having to live your life with this particular burden will go a long way toward helping you to recover.
- Eat a balanced diet and one that helps with depression. I can’t stress enough how important nutrition is to managing your depression. I can attest professionally and personally to how much diet affects your well being (Inflammation, Glutamate, and Glia in Depression; Anxiety and Omega-Three Fatty Acids). If you have not taken care of this area in your life yet, it will be worth your effort to start today.
- Exercise daily. Research shows that exercise definitely improves mood. Regularity is more important than duration or intensity (National Institute of Mental Health; Depression and Exercise).
- Become your own scientist.When you have a serious illness like clinical depression, you have to arm yourself with the right knowledge, so that you can work collaboratively with professionals. If you don’t, you may be led to treatment approaches that are not right for you. A good psychiatrist and psychologist should keep their egos in check, if you question them about their treatment suggestions. If you don’t get the answers you need to feel secure, try another professional.
- Do not be ashamed of your depression. Clinical depression is no different than being a diabetic or having any other physical illness or mental health condition. Of course, you need to choose the right people, time and place to share this with other people. This is your choice. It’s more important that you feel okay about it. This will help you to get the information and help that you need to get better.
- Keep the faith. I can’t stress enough how much faith can help you to deal with your depression. Clinical depression can rob you of hope. Activate the principles of your faith; just don’t think about them. Practice what you believe, so that you have enough courage and energy to go for the help that you need.
Depression is a personal burden that many people have to deal with for a lifetime. I hope my post today has helped you or a loved one to understand your depression better. If you liked my post today, please say so by selecting the Like icon below. Your feedback helps me to know the kind of posts you want to read on Psychology In Everyday Life.net Thank you for your ongoing support and friendship. Warm regards always, Deborah!