Does your mood ever feel like a pair of worn out jeans? Ragged, faded and frayed on the edges. Holes in the knees become normal marks of wear and tear. Perhaps you ask: “Am I depressed?” The lack of energy and persistent dark fog follows you like a shadow that’s permanently attached with superglue.
Blood tests or saliva swabs won’t reveal the answer with a diagnosis. While brain scans may offer a few clues, their cost makes it unthinkable for many people.
Depression affects women twice as much as men, though it’s not fully understood why. About 66 percent of those with depression refuse treatment, according to the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. Many experts believe the stigma attached to mental health disorders deters many from getting help.
“Typical signs of depression include sadness, sleeping too much or too little, irritability, changes in appetite, avoiding social situations or a loss of sexual desire,” said Chris Berger, M.A., NCC, counselor at Foundations Counseling. Berger continues, “As a mental health counselor, we don’t want to overlook the physiological side; eating, sleeping, and exercise.”
Berger warns it’s important to watch for the less obvious signs of depression. “It’s important not to jump to a diagnosis. Instead, we need to slow down and understand what’s going on with a person,” Berger said. For starters, it’s important to understand what caused depressive symptoms to appear. Mental health professionals rely on the DSM-IV Manual to help diagnose and treat the plethora of mental disorders.
“There may be different causes of depression for different people,” said Psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth Watanabe, medical director at Mountain Crest Behavioral Healthcare, part of Poudre Valley Health System.
Just because you’re not crying for hours, or zoning out in front of the TV, doesn’t mean depression isn’t stirring around. “While it seems innocuous, some people even report feelings of boredom or lack of interest,” Watanabe added.
Sometimes external factors like job loss or a death create fertile ground for depression to root in. While in other instances, internal symptoms are overlooked. “Anxiety can lead to depression,” Berger states. “It’s important to recognize feeling blue, isn’t the same as depression,” said Watanabe. “When we’re talking about clinical depression, we’re talking about when depression becomes an actual physiologic disorder; changes are occurring, physically to the body.”
“You may classify depression as a neurodegenerative disease, like Alzheimer’s,” Watanabe added. Whether the two disorders are linked, is unclear.
“With each depressive episode,” Watanabe said, “the brain may undergo physical damage.” One reason treatment is so important is that each successive episode of depression increases your likelihood of future relapse.
Genetic risk factors also play a significant role in our mental health. The DSM-IV Manual notes that, “Family histories of major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are common in those with major depressive disorder, but a family history of bipolar disorder may indicate increased risk of bipolar disorder in the patient.”
Proactive Approach to Happiness
When Berger works with depressed clients in talk therapy, he said it’s important to know how they spend their free time and what matters most to them. “Helping ourselves find a sense of purpose,” Berger comments, “is one way to find meaning in life, and ease depression.”
“Find a way to inject greater purpose in your life,” continued Berger. For some people, finding their purpose begins when they browse library shelves and simply feed their curiosity. “Sometimes it happens from meeting a friend for coffee,” Berger said. “Ultimately, these small steps,” he goes on, “can lead to discoveries –the kind that makes us feel better. “People try to rush the process, sometimes it takes time.”
“In the mental mix of mood disorders, depression and anxiety win the popularity contest,” Berger said. But now, a new pair are jockeying for first position. Please meet pain plus depression.
Seems like every three seconds, a TV commercial offers treatment options said to erase pain and ease depression. “We’ve known for a long time that anti-depressants increase both serotonin and norepinephrine; and not only help with depression but help with chronic pain disorders,” Watanabe said.
“Anti-depressants in the serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) sub-family include: desvenlafaxine, (Pristiq), venlafaxine (Effexor), and duloxetine (Cymbalta), and can help people who experience pain with their depression,” Watanabe said.
Apparently, pain and depression hitched up a long time ago. “What’s interesting,” comments Watanabe, “is that the tricyclic drugs of the 70s, that treated depression, also eased pain symptoms.”
The high cost of today’s brand named drugs that treat the pain, depression duo may not be an option in everyone’s budget. Hopefully, doctors will consider price tags before pulling out their prescription pads.
Manage Mood with Movement
“Get outside,” Berger said, “Fresh air does wonders to clear the mind. Simply get moving. Stroll through the park.”
Do sweat it. Studies show the aerobic exercise decreases depressive symptoms and may prevent future bouts of it. Exercise floods the body with neurotransmitters and endorphins and researchers believe it’s these chemicals that are responsible for the mood makeover.
A warm body feels better than a cold one, and may promote feelings of calmness, according to some researchers. Jogging not your thing? Instead, consider gardening or scrubbing the car for activity, reported by MayoClinic.com.
Stress adds turmoil to any relationship. The stress of depression puts any couple to the test. “When someone in a relationship gets depressed, their productivity drops. They may start missing work, which causes a strain in finances,” Watanabe said.
Lack of interest got your partner down? Maybe you want a night on the town, but your mate wants to watch reruns of CSI. Perhaps that means it’s time for a girls night – bring on the salsa lessons. Ok, that only works sometimes. When your partner lacks all forms of interest and seems permanently affixed to the couch, that’s a sign to watch for. “When you get depressed, you often withdraw socially,” Watanabe said.
“Isolation may cascade into other issues, such as lack of intimacy and sexual issues,” said Watanabe. All of which “can cause a friction within the relationship,” he said.
Work it out together. Seek a couple’s therapist or consider individual therapy for depression. “We always encourage, when a patient comes in depressed, that they have their family involved,” Watanabe said.
Finding A Therapist
So how do you find a good therapist?
Chris Berger offers three tips to ease your search:
“The most important element, find someone you click with and have a connection with.”
“Find someone with experience in your area of need.”
“Ask the question: What is your success rate in treating people with depression?”
By Elise Oberliesen
From Northern Colorado Mind & Body