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How to Deal with Depression

man-591578_1280Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the US, affecting roughly 17 million American adults each year according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The average age of developing depression is 32, but it can strike at any age. Women face double the risk of developing depression as their male counterparts. Chronic depression handles the majority of suicides in the nation. Despite these statistics, many people fear admitting their depression and do not take steps to treat it. Those who do seek treatment see an over 80% recovery rate and can gain control of their lives. Part of the problem with lack of treatment comes from the stigma of what mental illness represents: perceived weakness.

Depression: An Introduction

Depression can be a great deal more than ‘being sad’. Those who suffer from depression do often experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, a lack of motivation, and a general disinterest in life. Not all the symptoms are emotional, however. The physical symptoms are often the most debilitating. These can include:

* Lethargy
* Irritability
* Low appetite or overeating
* Insomnia or a lack of sleep
* An inability to find pleasure in things once enjoyed
* Stress
* Pain in the joints, limbs, or back
* An all-over achiness
* Gastrointestinal problems

Each day may present a different configuration of these symptoms and patients with depression may not have any of the emotional symptoms that can make it a challenge to diagnose. It’s entirely possible for patients to be depressed and never feel sad or hopeless. When these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, they become major depression and help is often required for recovery.

It is Hard to Will Your Way Through Depression

Depression is an incredibly complex disorder and can have a variety of causes and contributing factors. These can include having the wrong balance of brain chemicals, having faulty mood regulation within the brain, triggering events from life trauma, some medications, medical issues, genetic causes, and more. While it is possible to recover without assistance, depression is a challenging series of symptoms that make success highly unlikely without the right support structure of medication and therapy.

Depression can Often be Helped with Medication

despair-513529_1280Depression is a medical illness like any other. You will find few people willing to argue against the value of insulin for a diabetic. Yet you will often find those who will suggest to suffers of major depression that drugs will do them no good, leave them addicted, or leave them worse off than the depression itself and therapy is scoffed at as pure quackery. “Toughen up,” is never directed towards a cancer victim.

The complexity of contributing causes for this disorder, which often vary from patient to patient, make finding the right treatment a process that requires the cooperation and patience of the patient. There are many different divergent medications used in treating depression. It is vital that the therapist, patient, and doctor work together to monitor symptoms and make adjustments as needed.

Therapy is a Vital Treatment for Depression

Medication alone is not the answer for depression, particularly for those lacking a solid support system. One of the causes for the ‘medication makes you worse’ rumor is a heightened suicide risk for depressed patients who begin to take medication without additional support. Most of these drugs need to time to gradually build in the bloodstream before their full impact is felt.

Symptoms do not all fall away at once. Often the physical symptoms leave in the first two weeks, granting patients with feelings of hopelessness and sadness the energy to do what they may have been considering all along: suicide. This is when depressed patients are at their most vulnerable. Note that this does not mean that the drugs themselves cause suicide. It means rather the opposite; they are working, but greater support is needed.

It takes about a month for the impact of drug treatment to be fully realized. For patients with underlying psychological causes triggering their depressive episode, there’s a high risk of relapse without the proper care, which should include therapy and a network of support.

Balance is Critical

Beyond the release of physical symptoms leading to a higher rate of suicide, a balance of the correct dosage and type of medication paired with quality therapy greatly improves the long-term mental health of those who suffer from depression. Therapy can help patients regain or grow skills necessary to help prevent relapses and rebuild a sense of self that is often lost during periods of depression. Some of the therapeutic benefits include but are not limited to:

The ability to recognize negative thought patterns and how to prevent them.
* A slow reintroduction into positive activities.
* Tools for better communication of thoughts and feelings.
* Confidence-building that is often lost during extended periods of depression.
* Psychotherapy gives depression sufferers the tools they need to provide the right kind of self-care necessary to keep themselves healthy and happy.

The Mind/Chemistry Battle

man-591578_1280With all medication, there is a strong fear of addiction or side effects causing more problems than the condition they are treating. Understand that the range of available treatments for depression grants of flexibility in treatment programs. If side effects become too severe, the doctor can make adjustments as needed. Also, many of the initial side effects fade as the body adjusts to the presence of the medication in the blood stream.

It’s important to remember that medication will not magically resolve problems overnight. The drugs do take time to work, and the healing process is gradual. When the mental fog begins to lift, it may not be noticeable at first. Life resumes in slow steps for someone recovering from depression. If no or slow recovery has been made after four weeks, the doctor may need to bump up the dosage or try a different option.

Long Term Support Fosters Mental Health

Care does not end once a depressed patient begins to feel better. According to research by Burcus and Iacono, at least 50% of those who have experienced depression will have another episode in their lifetime. That figure jumps to 80% for those who have had more than one episode. Anyone who experiences major depression can benefit from recurring, long-term therapy to help reduce this risk.

The Biggest Relapse Factor is Neglect of Care

Those at highest risk of a new episode of depression are those who fail to follow treatment plans. Again, balance is essential for depressed patients. A combination of the right medication and quality, regular therapy is necessary to long term health.

Over time, therapeutic sessions may be reduced or even ceased with patients who have learned very strong self-care skills. Likewise, medication may be reduced, changed, or stopped for some patients. The key to both of these is that these will be planned, discussed changes with the patient’s care team.

Additional Primary Risk Factor Relapse Triggers

Other factors that can play a role in triggering a relapse can include:

* Negative thought filters
* An inability to recognize potential mental health hazards
* Becoming overwhelmed with stressful life events
* Alcohol or drug addiction
* Poor health factors
* Most of the additional factors involved in relapse can be reduced by the presence of treatment. Patients with a gloom-filter in their internal dialog can easily think themselves into a new depressive episode without additional support. They may also need additional support during particularly stressful life events, like an anniversary of the death of a loved one and holidays are major stress triggers, for example. Learning to manage stress and addiction can also reduce risk.

Depression is a highly treatable disorder that is all too common in the population. With the right care, however, its impact can be greatly reduced, and patients can have a much higher quality of life and long-term success rate.