Tricia was quiet about it. And because of her secrecy, those around her didn’t notice that she grew more passive and less able to cope with the increasing demands of the many roles she had—a wife, teacher and now young mother, to name a few. Her thoughts had begun to frighten her—she couldn’t remember ever being this pessimistic, this critical of herself and others. At one time her vivaciousness was the life of any party…but now she could hardly pull herself out of bed to perform the daily activities she once took joy in. The constant sense of being overwhelmed seemed to paralyse her with lethargy.
Depression. Although it is estimated that most of the adult population will experience it at some level during their lifetime, we are still reluctant to disclose it or ask for help. True clinical depression is a complex, painful disorder involving a person’s total being—mind, body and spirit, characterized by lowered functioning, painful thinking and feeling. It may be experienced in a matter of degrees—from a “mild” experience with a few days of the “blues” to the state of feeling unable to cope with life because of the severity of one’s symptoms. There are four ways depression can affect us.
1. Our Thinking
When we are depressed, our minds create our own “misery factory”. If there is a negative memory to recall, a thought to make us feel guilty or disheartened, we will have it. Any circumstance can have a negative spin put on it without any effort at all! Anger and resentment are continual companions. We seem to be less able to control our thoughts—instead they control us. We are bombarded with thinking about our own helplessness and/or uselessness, and believing this will never change. Instead of making decisions objectively, we minimize our abilities, blame others and have little hope for our future.
2. Our Actions
We tend to avoid doing the very things that could be helpful to us when we are depressed. Although we’re lonely, we avoid people. We procrastinate, which causes us to fall more and more behind, feeling more guilty and less able to cope with practical problems when they arise. The tendency to do less and less applies not only to our work, but also to our appearance, our family life and anything else we may be involved in. We may be tempted to make abrupt decisions, which will close off areas of our life that we feel discouraged or helpless about. But by sinking into a narrow little isolated world, we only increase our sense of exclusion and pain.
3. Our Motivation
The third impact of depression is the lack of interest and drive we experience. It is difficult to get out of bed in the morning, let alone tackle even the very basics of our existence. The lethargy and fatigue we experience makes it easy to disengage from the activities that may have inspired us into action previously. If the feelings of depression are severe, we can feel completely overwhelmed and immobilized in doing the simplest of tasks.
4. Our Brain
Recent research suggests that depression is accompanied by a drop in the neurochemical level of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter in our brain associated with sleep, appetite, energy, alertness and mood. When we have gone through circumstances which cause its depletion, such as a severe loss experience or an extended period of long-term high stress, the brain’s supply of serotonin may be depleted, contributing to the symptoms of depression.
Is there any good news about depression?
Yes, there is! Despite the impact of depression, the good news is that it can be treated, sometimes quite easily. Current treatment for severe depression often involves both psychological therapy and medical treatment. In depression, medication may be used to increase the serotonin level in the brain by using an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor). Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil are typical antidepressants which fit this purpose. Often a mild dosage of an antidepressant functions as a “jumpstart” for an individual, raising the serotonin level, while he or she engages in psychological treatment to stop the cyclical effects of depression: the negative thinking, poor behaviour patterns and lack of motivation.
Once our symptoms of depression are identified, our habits of depressed functioning—the negative thinking, isolation and lethargy, can be changed. A therapist can help us identify not only what needs to change, but also provide options and suggestions about how to change. Challenging our “self-talk” and misbeliefs, engaging in healthy life habits and meaningful relationships and activities are all steps we take to master depression. Depression is not a life sentence—it is a temporary handicap that provides a learning tool for healthy habits that can stay with us for life.