The Cycle of Depression and Getting the Help you Need
What is Depression?
Depression is a normal reaction to the stresses and challenges of life. Life has a habit of throwing difficult, sometimes traumatic things our way and when this happens we will usually experience strong emotions and a depressed mood that affects our ability to get our needs met properly. Often this low mood will be brief, as we find ways to manage those strong emotions, take appropriate action, start to look forward and move ahead again. Once we are back to getting our emotional needs met in balance, life can be good again.
Unfortunately sometimes when difficult/bad things happen, we can get stuck, feeling overwhelmed and locked into ruminating about these experiences/events. This endless spinning of anxious thoughts, almost inevitably results in disturbed sleep patterns, which in turn means that when we wake up in the morning, we feel exhausted, apathetic and lacking any motivation to deal with the coming day. Without the energy to do anything much, we gradually stop doing the things that bring pleasure into our lives (such as sports, hobbies, meeting people socially), so becoming increasingly isolated and introspective. The more this happens, the more we worry and criticize ourselves, the less well we sleep and the more exhausted we feel. We become caught up in a downward cycle of depression, which leads to us becoming increasingly more exhausted and isolated.
Often we are slow to get the help we need.
We often don’t realize we are depressed, or we feel reluctant to accept it. Sadly, although around 25% of us (a number that is on the increase) will experience depression in our lives, many of us still feel there is a stigma associated with it, particularly where work and career are concerned. This means that we can be slow to get the help we need, and so can be seriously depressed by the time we do. This is unfortunate, because 80-90% of depression is very treatable, but obviously harder to treat the more deeply depressed someone has become.
Always see your GP as a starting point
There are illnesses/diseases that have depression as a possible consequence, and some prescription medications can generate depression as a side effect. So always get yourself checked out, as part of deciding on your best way forward. It’s unlikely that there will be a physical reason for your depression, but your GP should always be involved anyway, and physical causes must be ruled out before other approaches are considered.
Some depressed people turn to alcohol and drugs to help them deal with symptoms of depression. This really isn’t helpful. Alcohol itself is a depressant and is guaranteed to make things worse for you, and drugs (whether legal or illegal) can have massively destructive consequences.
Antidepressants or Therapy?
There has been a significant debate for some time about the choice of medication or therapy for treating depression. It has now been found that anti-depressants alone are not that effective, in that they only help around 30% of people. Furthermore these are strong drugs that can have significant adverse side effects, such as impotence (which in turn is likely to knock a persons mental health). These drugs are not suitable for children and teens (groups sadly now increasingly being affected by depression), and have to be used with more caution in the elderly, who don’t tolerate the side effects so well.
So in the UK, the guidelines are that psychotherapy/counseling should be the starting point for mild to moderate depression (around 90% of depression), although I note that many people are on meds whilst also having therapy. This is fine, as I stated earlier that these drugs do help some people, so a combination approach can work well in these circumstances.
It seems sensible to me that psychological issues should be treated with therapy, not least because this helps us learn how to manage depression, thus reducing the chance of relapses. Research shows that where we only use antidepressants, relapses are much more common.
Overcoming Depression is about taking Action
When we become depressed, it can feel as if we have been stripped of all our resources. We are left feeling sad, tired, helpless, overwhelmed and unable to contemplate how to get out of the dark hole we have fallen into, how to overcome the listlessness and apathy and get our lives moving forwards again. The irony is that beating depression is all about taking action, but because of how low we feel, many depressed people are unable to do this without the right help. So the first crucial step is to find a therapist who understands depression and can help us make a treatment plan, starting with small achievable steps to develop confidence; steps that help us regain a sense of meaning and purpose in life.
So when choosing a therapist, it is essential that we find someone who encourages taking action, focusing forwards, rather than one whose focus is on past bad feelings and analyzing why we feel that way (there’s a danger this encourages further ruminations, which is what is already locking us into depression). The right therapists are those who know how to help us understand depression, how it affects us (our vulnerabilities and triggers), and who can teach us the right techniques and life skills to effectively deal with it and positively manage our mental health going forward.
This is empowering, as it not only gives us back a sense of hope and control, but arming our self with these tools and techniques means that we are much less vulnerable to a possible relapse. Therapists with these skills include those using the following therapeutic models: Human Givens Psychotherapy, Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral (CBT), Interpersonal Therapies.
There are lots of good therapists out there, but do your research to find someone with these skills who you can relate to. Depression is curable, so if you don’t know how to move forward or what to do to beat it, get that help today.