As an older teenager, one day I woke up feeling sad and overwhelmed. Unfortunately the next day, I had the same experience. This carried on day after day until I eventually reached out to a doctor. Upon describing my symptoms to a doctor, he concluded I was suffering from depression. Depression can creep up on anyone, regardless of age, gender or background. It can be a slow slide into a negative pattern of thoughts or there could be a specific day or event that triggers it. Research by the Office of National Statistics indicates that up to one in six adults may suffer from moderate to severe depression. I’m doing a lot better these days, but it’s taken a lot of work to live with and begin dealing with depression. In this week’s blog, I’d like to share some practical advice for those who suffer from depression or anxiety and offer insight into what steps those with depression can take to improve their quality of life.
Depression has been studied by the medical community since the 19th century and recognised as a medical condition since the 1930s. It’s a common misconception that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, this however is an oversimplification of the condition. Research has suggested that whereas levels of serotonin are generally lower in people with depression, that there was no evidence a lack or imbalance of serotonin causes depression.
Although chemicals do play a part in depression many external factors can play a part in or trigger depression. Stress caused by bereavement, financial pressure, isolation or any stressful life event can contribute towards depression. There are also a range of medical factors that can cause depression. Research has shown that those with a first-degree relative who is diagnosed with depression can be up to three times as likely to suffer from depression themselves.
Depression can come in many forms and is an umbrella term for a range of depressive conditions. Some forms of depression can be intermittent, such as seasonal affective disorder which becomes more severe in winter, or conditions such as PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder) which fluctuates alongside a woman’s menstrual cycle. Many of us feel temporarily depressed at one point or another in life, however, when the symptoms of depression do not subside it is viewed as a clinical condition. One of the most commonly identified forms of depression is called major depression (or clinical depression) which is when someone feels the symptoms of depression more often than not for a prolonged time.
Where to start when you’re feeling low
One of the most important pieces of advice I’d like anyone to take away from this blog is: if you have been feeling low or depressed for a while, seek help. I can’t stress enough the importance of not dealing with depression alone enough. Depression can be a lonely and isolating experience, and sharing your negative emotions with others can be tiring and strenuous. However, being able to communicate how you feel to those around you can help your friends understand the level of support you may need.
Reaching out to friends and family is a good place to start but for those suffering from more severe symptoms, getting in contact with a medical professional is an efficient way to provide yourself with as many tools to combat depression. As many of you may be aware, waiting lists for mental health support are very long, so I would urge anyone thinking about getting mental health support to reach out as soon as possible to join the waiting list. If you’d like to talk with someone about mental health, take a look at the NHS website to find out what help may be available to you.
Unfortunately for many people, waiting up to a year for support just isn’t an option. Private mental health support is available, and for people who may struggle with the cost of accessing these services: many paid therapists will offer a sliding scale payment option, depending on your earnings. You can also ask your place of work if they offer any mental health support programs that may help with costs.
Little steps to make yourself happy
When dealing with depression it’s important to use as many tools that you have at your disposal to improve your mood and combat the symptoms of depression. Seeking professional help is a great way to get started, but there are a series of lifestyle choices you can make to give your body and mind the best chance of beating depression.
One of the factors of depression I found hard to deal with was the desire to isolate myself from friends and family. It’s not a pleasant experience being depressed around people, often you can feel your mood brings others down and it feels easier simply to avoid social situations and stay at home. However, isolating yourself is one of the worst things you can do to exacerbate the symptoms of depression. Social time can help improve your mood and can help remind you that low mood is something that many people experience.
Staying active and social whilst depressed can be a challenge. Depression is often associated with a lack of motivation that can make it hard to keep up with doing the things we love. However, this may be the most important time to implement a structure and stay active. Research has highlighted that exercise can help reduce and combat the symptoms of depression. Serotonin released during exercise can help promote a feeling of positivity that can have a long-lasting effect when part of a regular routine.
Eat well, sleep well, get outdoors
When dealing with mental health it’s important to be aware that there are physical changes we can make to help support our minds. As previously mentioned, exercise can help promote a feeling of well-being, but also can help us get a better night’s sleep. Insomnia or troubled sleep is a symptom commonly associated with depression. Not getting a full night’s sleep can leave us feeling tired and dissociated from the world around us. Research has shown that a regular sleep routine can help improve your mental health and combat depression. Set yourself a regular bedtime and try to wake up at the same time every morning. This can help your body’s circadian rhythm which balances your hormones throughout the day. Regular high-quality sleep can help fight fatigue that is often associated with depression.
Another factor that can influence our mental health is our diet. It’s quite common when we are stressed for our appetites to change. Depression can encourage comfort eating to make ourselves feel better or can destroy our appetites completely. It’s perfectly fine to eat the things you love, but it’s important that this is part of a mixed and balanced diet. Research has shown that a balanced diet full of vitamins and fresh fruit and vegetables can help to promote positive mental health alongside all the obvious physical benefits. Eating highly processed carbohydrates can cause a rapid fluctuation in your blood sugar level, which can exacerabte symptoms of depression. So try to avoid highly processed high-carb meals in favour of green and leafy vegetables, fruit and vegetables which can help stimulate serotonin release in your body.
I sincerely wish I could provide one simple answer for how to deal with depression, however, the nature of depression is complex and can be particular to an individual. However, taking control of the little factors that can contribute negatively to our mental health is a vital step towards feeling better. Try your best to remain active and social during times you feel depressed. Sharing your experiences and feelings with friends, family members and work colleagues can help to put your problems in perspective. You’d be surprised once you start talking about depression, how many people will be willing to open up and talk about similar experiences.
Most importantly, don’t go through depression by yourself. It’s important to build a support structure and coping mechanisms to prevent your depression from worsening. Untreated, depression can become a debilitating disease. I would urge anyone who feels they may suffer from depression to open up to friends, family and medical professionals to get the help you need and deserve.