The Raw Truth About Depression
What people don’t realize is depression is a silent, isolating, slow-moving killer. Some who experience it will commit suicide — about 39,000 people every year. Some will attempt to take their life and others will be so paralyzed by fear that they will be alive, but not living.
One in 10 Americans struggles with depression. A common misconception about depression is that it is something people can just “snap out of.” Unfortunately, for those people who experience major depression disorder, it’s not that simple. While depression can be serious, it is far from hopeless. There are effective treatments and actions people can take to overcome this disorder. There are certain truths about depression that are important to understand, as we target this debilitating disorder that often spans generations.
We are left reflecting on our own lives as we reconstruct our beliefs about happiness, the world and what it means to suffer alone.
We feel confusion, rage and grief. The funniest man in the world, who touched millions of people, couldn’t touch his own heart.
The thing about depression is no one really talks about it out loud. It makes most people uncomfortable. Those who aren’t depressed think, ―What do they have to be sad about? Why can’t they just see the bright side?‖
But the raw truth is, no one has reason to judge anyone who struggles. And for the one who is depressed, life is unbearable to navigate. It doesn’t matter how much you are loved. You feel like a burden to the world.
Several years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I experienced my own isolation, pain and internal rage.
I recovered and overcame that dark period of my life. People close to me say they had no idea. ―You should have told me. I could have helped.‖ They seem to take it personally that I didn’t come to them.
That’s the thing about depression: When you are in it, people around you seem happy. They seem to have it together. And if you suffer, the last thing you want to do is take their happiness away or bring them down. You feel like a burden to those around you.
So the depressed stay isolated and in pain, lonely and sadness.
Six Truths About Depression
1) Depression is a more than just a bad mood.
As I’ve mentioned above, it’s important for friends and relatives of those struggling to understand that people who suffer from depression can’t just feel better. People experiencing a major depression really need professional treatment. Depression is a mind/body issue and should be treated with the same self-compassion and treatment-seeking with which we would treat any major illness. Different forms of therapy and/ or medications work for different people. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), psychotherapy can benefit depressed individuals by helping them uncover the life problems that contribute to their depression, identify the destructive thinking that makes them feel hopeless, explore the behaviors that exacerbate their depression and regain a sense of pleasure in their lives.
2) Depression is affecting younger people. ,
In what’s been referred to in the field of psychology as “the greening of depression,” younger people are reporting increased levels of stress and depression. According to the Federal Center for Mental Health Services, “depression affects as many as one in every 33 children and one in eight adolescents.” APA’s additionally reported that higher numbers of college students are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, with the number of students on psychiatric medications increasing by 10 percent in 10 years.
3) Mindfulness helps with recurrent depression.
There are a lot of great treatments out there that have proven effective for dealing with depression. Research by psychologist Mark Williams, co-author of The Mindful Way Through Depression, has shown that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can have a positive effect on preventing relapse in recovered depressed patients. His research indicates that if you teach people with recurrent depression mindfulness skills, such as meditation and breathing exercises, it reduces their chances of having another depressive episode.
Mindfulness practices don’t change our feelings or thoughts, but they do change our relationship to our feelings and thoughts. This enables a person who has a tendency toward depression to not get swept up in the thoughts and feelings that contribute to his or her depression. Another way mindfulness skills can benefit people struggling with depression is by helping them to be better able to regulate and tolerate emotion.
4) Anger often underlies depression
Often, one strong emotion behind depression is anger. Anger can be a hard emotion to deal with, but it is actually a natural human reaction to frustration. Getting angry may seem like it would only make you feel worse, but when you don’t deal with anger directly, you tend to turn it on yourself. It is important to allow yourself the freedom to fully feel your feelings, but at the same time, to control yourself from acting them out in any way that is harmful. You can recognize and accept your anger in a healthy way that releases the emotion without allowing it to fester or be turned into an attack on yourself.
5) Depression is fueled by an inner critic.
We all have an inner critic, what my father, psychologist Dr. Robert Firestone, refers to as your “critical inner voice.” For people who are depressed, this critical inner voice can have a powerful and destructive influence on their state of mind. It may be feeding them a distorted commentary on their lives: You are too fat to leave the house. You are so stupid. No one will ever love you. You aren’t capable of being happy. You will never succeed at anything. The critical inner voice may then persuade you to act in destructive ways: Just be by yourself; no one wants to see you. Have another piece of cake; it will make you feel better. You shouldn’t even try for that job; you’ll never get it. Finally, once you’ve listened to its directives, the critical inner voice will attack you for your actions: You are such a loser, staying home alone on a Saturday. You messed up your diet again. What is wrong with you? You’ll never get a decent job. You’re so lazy.
To combat depression means taking on this internal enemy. This may involve looking into your past to help determine where these critical thoughts came from. How do these thoughts affect the actions you take in your life? How can you challenge these “voices” on an action level? On Oct. 8, I will be hosting a free online presentation on “Overcoming the Inner Enemy that Causes Depression,” which further explores how your critical inner voice leads to depression.
6) There are active steps you can take to alleviate depression.
One of the worst symptoms of depression is a feeling of hopelessness. This very feeling can inhibit someone suffering from taking the steps that would help them combat their depression. These include:
• Recognizing and challenging your critical inner voice
• Identifying and feeling your anger
• Engaging in aerobic activity
• Putting yourself in socialor non-isolated situations
• Doing activities you once enjoyed, even when you don’t feel like it • Watching a funny movie or show
• Refusing to punish yourself for feeling bad
• Seeing a therapist
For people struggling with depression, it’s important to have compassion for yourself and to take actions to overcome this state, including seeking help. Remember that no matter what your critical inner voice may be telling you, the situation is far from hopeless. There is good help available and many active ways to treat your condition. For more help or information visit the National Institute of Mental Health
Natural Treatment for Whole Body Wellness
Sadness doesn’t always need treatment. And it’s important to remember that the pain muscle and the joy muscle are the same. If you can’t feel one, you won’t feel the other.
That said, clinical depression sucks, and if you’re someone who suffers from it, my heart goes out to you. I’m in no way intending to diss anti-depressants or suggest you ignore your doctor’s advice. I know anti-depressants can be life-saving for people. But unless
you’re suicidal or otherwise in dire need of urgent medication, before you dose up on side-effect laden pharmaceuticals, it’s worth considering some natural treatments that might help lift your mood.
Let Food Be Thy Medicine: A Diet for Depression
Lisa Brennan has experienced the effect that diet can have on depression. She was first diagnosed with depression as a teenager and has had several bouts of depression as an adult.
―I’d often eat unhealthy food because it was easy, and sugary foods would boost my mood for a while,‖ she says. ―But after a few hours, my energy level and mood would plummet and I’d feel really lousy. Now that I eat mostly vegetables, beans, and whole grains, I feel better and I have a lot more energy. I don’t think I could have gotten over my depression if I didn’t change my diet.‖
Many specialists agree that a healthy diet of whole foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, fish, and lean meats, is best for people with depression. ―We know that diet can have a strong influence on mood,‖ says Eric Endlich, PhD, a Boston-based clinical psychologist. ―And eating a balanced diet can keep your blood sugars stable throughout the day and help calm your mood. This stability is especially important if you’re depressed.‖
Researchers are studying specific vitamins and nutrients in foods to see if they have a positive effect on depression. Omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and vitamin B12 show some promise. Experts aren’t certain of the role these substances play in boosting mental health but believe they may help with brain function. However, some experts caution that one of the greatest risks of these treatments is that people who use them may delay in seeking well-established treatments.
Depression and Diet: Should You Avoid Some Foods?
Healthy eating when you have depression may also mean avoiding certain foods and beverages. For example, foods and drinks that are high in added sugars, such as processed foods, soft drinks, and sugary snack foods, may cause blood sugar levels to go up and down dramatically during the day. This may have a negative effect on mood and energy levels. It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol, which can make depression worse. For some people, caffeine may also contribute to depress io n.
―I’ve found that sugar and caffeine are the two biggest dietary culprits in depression,‖ says Larry Christensen, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. ―About 20% to 25% of my patients find relief from depression when they cut caffeine and added sugar from their diet.‖
Christensen recommends that patients remove caffeine and sugar from their diet for two weeks to see if these substances are making their depression worse. ―The results can be really
remarkable. I often see a huge difference in patients’ depression simply from making these changes,‖
The Benefits of Exercise for Depression
Exercise can also have a positive effect on your mood and energy level. ―Not only does exercise reduce depression, but it gives people a sense of self-mastery and empowerment,‖ says Keith Johnsgard, PhD, emeritus professor of psychology at San Jose State University and author
of Conquering Depression & Anxiety through Exercise.
―I first discovered the benefits of exercise on my own mood,‖ Johnsgard says. ―I started exercising on my lunch break three times a week and was surprised at my increased level of energy and reduced stress.‖
As a result, Johnsgard began prescribing exercise to his depressed patients and found that many of them experienced positive results as well. In some cases, Johnsgard started taking therapy sessions out of the office and walking with his patients. ―Because exercise is a tool people can learn to use on their own, the results are often more effective and longer lasting than taking a medication,‖ he says.
Indeed, a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2007 found that exercise was as effective as medication in treating depression in some people. Research has shown that exercise causes biochemical changes in the brain that are similar to those produced by medication, including an increase in serotonin levels.
Exercise may also be a good option for those who are unable to take medication, including some older adults, pregnant and postpartum women, and children. Studies have shown that exercise can reduce symptoms of depression in all of these groups. And those who exercise are less likely to have a relapse of their depression.
Another benefit of exercise for depression: It has no side effects. ―Because exercise is good for your whole body, there’s really no downside to adding some kind of exercise to your treatment regimen,‖ Johnsgard says.
What Talk Therapy Can Do for Depression
Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is another valuable tool to combat depression. Two kinds of therapy — cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy — have been found to be especially useful in treating depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you look at how negative thoughts and behaviors may be contributing to your depression. CBT teaches you how to make positive changes in how you think. Interpersonal therapy can help you improve your relationships with family and friends, so you feel better.
Talk therapy can last anywhere from several weeks to several years and can be one-on-one with a therapist or in a group. Many people combine therapy with other treatments, such as medication or exercise.
―Talk therapy gives you skills to help deal with your depression long term,‖ says Christensen. ―A therapist can work with you to give you strategies to help fight your depression and ways of handling your depression so you have more control. This helps you stay feeling better in the long run.‖
Meditation: Connect to the Part of You that Isn’t Depressed
Meditation has been shown to be a powerful treatment for relieving both stress and mild-to- moderate depression. Numerous studies have examined the effects of mindfulness meditation, designed to focus the meditator’s attention on the present moment.
One study measured electrical activity in the brain and found increased activity in the left frontal lobe during mindfulness meditation. Activity in this area of the brain is associated with
lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state. Meditation trains your mind to become aware of the silent witness within you that is independent of the universe you are observing. This core self is not a philosophical or theological concept; it is an experience of your authentic existence.
With an established sense of the silent witness, it will be easier to not become identified with the darkness of your depressed days.
If you have major or severe depression, it’s important to proceed with caution. To be of real value, meditation must take you inward; but the deeper you go, the more hidden material will be brought to the surface, including old wounds, difficult memories, and perhaps the contributing emotions that are linked to depression. It’s tempting to use meditation as an escape, but the results can easily backfire. For those coping with major depression, I suggest meditating in a group for only a few minutes a day; or if that is inconvenient, do a simple breathing meditatio n for about ten minutes, twice a day. You may also benefit from downloading Peace Starter Meditation with instruction in a variety of meditation types, including visualizations, breath work, and mantra meditation.
Restore Balance Through Yoga
When we’re coping with emotional pain, a purely mental or intellectual approach usually isn’t enough. Although our mind may try to think its way out of pain, it can quickly become confused or trapped in repetitive thought-patterns that actually intensify our emotional turmoil. When we invite our body and spirit to be part of the healing process, however, transformation can unfold.
The ancient wisdom tradition of yoga offers practices that unite the mind, body, and spirit, allowing us to experience deep emotional well-being and restful awareness. When your physical, intellectual, and spiritual selves are working in union, our life becomes more balanced and we become more flexible – both physically and emotionally.
How Yoga Releases Emotional Blockages: Every experience in the mind is accompanied by shifts in the body’s chemistry. When you say, ―I feel depressed,‖ you’re acknowledging that
your body is generating disturbing sensations. Feelings are so named because we feel them in our body. These sensations result from changes in hormone levels and in the pattern of nerve firings within your nervous system.
These physiological shifts can persist long after the emotionally upsetting experience that first triggered them. Over time, you mind-body system reflects your emotional history. Through yoga, you can release the emotional toxicity stored in the body. Just as changing thought patterns can influence the body, changing the position of the body can influence the mind and facilitate emotional release. As you stretch your muscles and expand your range of motion, you shift the bodily patterns that trap emotional pain. Yoga poses, breathing practices, and meditation release the constriction and free the flow of the vital life-force energy known as prana. For instance, slow, deep, conscious breathing is very effective in prompting the relaxation response to counter elevated levels of stress hormones. An important component of yoga is paying close attention to what’s going on in the body at all times and locating and releasing any areas of tension. Although you can feel the healing effects of yoga after just one session, a regular practice is required if you want to experience the full benefits yoga offers.
Sticking With Your Depression Treatment
Whatever treatment plan you choose, it’s important to stick with it to give it enough time to work. It may take up to several weeks or longer before you start to feel a benefit from
any depression treatment, including antidepressants. Make sure to keep your doctor involved in the process and let her know how you’re doing.
If your treatment plan isn’t working after a few weeks, don’t give up. There are many different medications and treatment options you can try. Often, people find that if one type of treatment or medication doesn’t work, something else will.
―I just kept trying different things until I found the combination that worked for me,‖ Brennan says. ―It takes a little bit of work, but the end result — getting over my depression — has definitely been worth it.‖