Major depressive disorder is the most common type of diagnosable mood disorder, with estimates of lifetime prevalence ranging from 10% to 25% for women and from 5% to 12% for men (APA, 2000).
I’ve experienced two major depressive episodes in my life. The first experience was seven years ago, in 2000, and the most recent occurred last year.
Certain factors, in my case at least, seem to trigger a depressive state. Among them are high levels of stress (typically career-related, in the form of long hours and looming deadlines), increased demands involving time or money, lack of exercise, and negative thought processes; also referred to as cognitive distortions.
Luckily, recognizing your symptoms and seeking treatment can lead to vast improvement.
For many people, especially those who have never consciously dealt with depression before, recognizing the symptoms of depression may be difficult. Many people describe feeling “sad”, or “just not right”. Many people report lethargy, inactivity, loss of interest in activities that used to provide pleasure, or recurring thoughts such as, “what’s the point?” and “I just want all of this to end.”
Having a social net is an important way to not only identify symptoms of depression, but to help combat it. Indeed, it was a coworker of mine that helped me realize that the general malaise I had been feeling was really depression.
If you believe you are depressed:
1. Visit your doctor. A general practitioner can provide a brief but comprehensive test to help you determine if you are depressed. They can also provide referrals to counselors and other social programs that can assist you.
2. Talk to a professional. Whether a social worker, counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist, be sure to set up several appointments with an objective party. Often just talking about your feelings can help you learn to deal with them more effectively. Also, many therapists (especially cognitive behavioral therapists), will provide you with tools and techniques for critical thinking. The methods they will teach you will help you identify and challenge the negative thoughts that lead to negative emotion.
3. Medication. In today’s society, anti-depressants seem to be prescribed at least as often as antibiotics. Personally, I find it a bit frightening that neurologists still can’t explain why anti-depressants work. They can explain in minute detail the biological process behind each drug, but it’s a crapshoot to figure out which drug works for which individual, and why. Often, the search for the right medication can be agonizing. It can take weeks or months to realize any benefit. But please hang in there. It may take time, but you will begin to feel better. Once you do begin to feel better, remember to continue to work with your doctor in deciding when to stop taking the medication. Stopping without consulting a doctor can be dangerous.
4. Exercise. When you’re depressed, the last thing in the world that you want to do is exercise. Trust me, I do understand. But even taking a short walk can boost your mood. Among depressed patients taking medication, versus depressed patients exercising 3 times a week, studies have shown that those exercising saw results faster and maintained better results over time than those just taking medication.
5. Make plans. Have something to look forward to. Even if what you’re planning is an activity that you’ve lost interest in; keep making plans. Eventually your enjoyment will return.
6. Write it down! Many times the merry-go-round of awful thoughts and “I should-have-done-this” can be overwhelming. Once things are confined to a sheet of paper (or 2, or 5, or 10), they seem far more manageable than they did while galloping around inside your brain. Write down what you’re feeling and thinking. Write down the things that you think you should be accomplishing, but you aren’t. And perhaps most importantly, write down the things that you have accomplished. I bet the list of things you have accomplished is longer than the other.
7. Smile. Even if it’s a grimace. You are worthy. You have every right to be here. Your life is no more, and no less, tragic or disappointing than anyone else’s. There is no life without mistakes. And when you smile at others (even if you’re grimacing), they’ll be more likely to smile back at you.