“The news is so depressing”
“I’m feeling depressed.”
We regularly comment on life events in this way without necessarily understanding the true meaning of this term and how it impacts the people around us. Depression is used to describe a multitude of emotional states. Synonyms for depression include such terms as: gloominess, hopelessness, dejection, discouragement, sadness, distress, melancholy, gloom, just to name a few. The “blues” is another commonly used word to describe this emotional state. We use all these terms interchangeably in our daily lives and that leads to some misunderstanding and minimization of a serious mental health concern.
This blog is about a specific mood disorder called Major Depression. It is a clinical diagnosis provided by a doctor or psychiatrist that can be defined as follows:
A mental illness that affects a person’s mood – the way a person feels about themselves, relates to others and interacts with the world around them.
An individual with this condition cannot just “snap out of it” or make it go away by sheer force of will. There is no “white-knuckling” your way through it. This is more than just a “bad day” or “feeling blue”. In fact, it impacts 1 out of 7 Canadians at some point in their lives and is the leading cause of suicide. It can be triggered by circumstances such as chronic illness, job loss, divorce or end of a relationship, death or any number of life events. Sometimes, there is no apparent trigger at all.
So, who gets diagnosed with depression?
The answer is simple. It can happen to anyone at any time. Certain populations may be more at risk than others, but depression can impact us all – we either suffer from it or know someone who suffers from it.
While it can happen to anyone, there are certain populations that are more likely to experience symptoms of depression in their life. Some of the more at-risk individuals include youth, seniors, women, aboriginal people, people with chronic illness, people with substance abuse problems, and people from different cultures. As you can see, that still covers a large proportion of our overall population so let’s get into a bit more detail:
Youth: Roughly 6.5% of youth between ages 15 and 24 will be diagnosed every year. Within this category, LGBTQ+ youth will show even higher rates.
Seniors: About 7% of seniors experience symptoms of depression. It is more common in seniors living in care homes or who have dementia. It appears to be less common in people 65+ though this may be due to mistaken beliefs about what is happening, and symptoms may be attributed to other causes such as signs of aging.
Women: Women are diagnosed with depression 2x more often than men. This may be due to: life-cycle changes; hormonal changes; higher rates of childhood abuse or relationship violence; social pressures as a result of gender bias, sexism or misogyny.
Aboriginal: Aboriginal people are diagnosed with depression 2x the rate of the general population. There may be any number of reasons for this including: generational trauma; living conditions and/or socio-economic status; various social and societal pressures.
Illness: About 1/3 of people with a chronic illness are also diagnosed with depression. A big factor in this is the reduced quality of life that may be associated with the illness.
Substances: This can work both ways. Those suffering from depression may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Also, overuse of substances can add to depression in some due to the effects of various drugs on the brain.
Alcohol, opiates, sleeping pills lower brain activity – making the person feel more depressed. The use of stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine may also make you more depressed when the initial effects wear off. The same set of circumstances such as family history or trauma that can lead to substance abuse may also result in depression.
Culture: Depending on your cultural upbringing, you may have beliefs about depression that impact the way you deal with it. Some cultures are reluctant to seek support outside of the family or community. They may seek help for physical symptoms associated with depression but not the emotional symptoms.
How do I know?
There are several symptoms of depression:
- Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness.
- Pessimism and hopelessness.
- Insomnia, or sleeping too much.
- Avoiding other people.
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, including sex.
- Overeating or appetite loss.
- Aches, pains, headaches or cramps that won’t go away.
- Digestive problems that don’t get better – even with treatment.
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings.
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts.
It is safe to say that a lot of us can experience one or more of these symptoms at any given point in time during our life but if you experience 5 or more of these symptoms for longer than 2 weeks, go see your doctor as you may be struggling with depression.
What can I do?
Depression is not something that will go away on its own so there are a few things to consider in order to get the support you need:
- Counselling and support groups
- Medical intervention: medication, light therapy and/or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
- Self-help (in combination with the above) such as exercise, proper nutrition, spending time with friends and family and spirituality, to name a few.
How can I support a loved one who has it?
- Learn about depression and listen to your loved one in order to find out more about their experience.
- If someone is going through an episode, they may want to isolate themselves or act out on their feelings. Just remember that this is not about you so don’t take it personally.
- Ask your loved one how they would like you to support them. Can you help with daily tasks? Can you sit quietly with them without requiring a conversation or small talk?
- Please keep your expectations realistic. Recovery takes time, patience and a lot of effort so continuing to recognize their journey towards wellness will mean a lot.
- Maintain appropriate boundaries and communicate those boundaries with your loved one by letting them know the behavior you will not tolerate.
- Seek support for yourself and/or your family by attending counselling or a support group.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or have any concerns/questions about supporting a loved one, contact me at 778-242-1124 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 30-minute telephone consultation to find out how I can help.