It would be difficult for me to write an article dealing with depression without considering my own experience(s) dealing with it. Back in the mid-1990’s, a person looking from the outside might think that my life was pretty good. I had a job that paid well, especially for the area where I lived. I was married to a beautiful woman, had two lovely children who were just into their teenage years, but without much of the angst. The small lakeside town where we resided was lovely, and we had purchased a large, gorgeous, Victorian-style home on the main street where we could both live and run the successful business that I had helped my wife establish. Indeed, I was outwardly very happy, with many friends who were often over for dinner parties, or with whom we would go on camping trips or other vacations.
I Know Something Wasn’t Right, But I Don’t Know What’s Wrong
Yet, on the inside, I was kind of a mess. I didn’t look forward with anticipation to a lot of the plans we had made. I had difficulty concentrating on tasks around the house or one the job. I was irritable much of the time. I had moments where I would get so full of inner rage that I wanted to punch a hole in the wall, even though I never outwardly displayed the emotion. Certainly, there were occurrences in my life that warranted some anger, but not to the extent that I should have those types of powerful feelings. I knew that something wasn’t right, but I could not point at the cause of the problem.
It wasn’t until I visited my family doctor for my yearly physical that I discovered the issue that I was dealing with. I mentioned to him the feelings that I was having- the rage, the lack of interest in things that should have brought joy, and the inability to focus on tasks, whether at work or relating to hobbies. He looked at me for a few seconds and then said, “You know, those are all classic symptoms of depression.”
Symptoms of Clinical Depression
Sure enough, a quick internet search for ways that clinical depression can manifest itself will return both some expected symptoms and some surprising ones. For instance, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, these may include:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared in a February 2017 report that over 300 million people worldwide suffer from this common mental disorder. It can affect persons of any age, ethnicity, or gender. It is the leading cause of disability, and a large reason behind much of the disease in the world population. The report also states that depression affects more women than men. In the worst cases, depression can lead to suicide. Over 800,000 lives are claimed each year by suicide, with countless more unsuccessful attempts being made. Suicide is listed as the second leading cause of death in those aged 15-29. The number of cases of depression and other mental health conditions is on the increase, the report asserts.
When my doctor told me that I was suffering from symptoms related to depression, I was not sure how to feel about it. Up until recently, and even still in many countries and cultures, depression and mental health illnesses carry a certain stigma. Unlike suffering from cancer or getting an infection, cases in which the body is being attacked by a foreign invader, depression is seen as a personal failure. The person affected is seen as (or sees her/himself as) being weak. So many do not want to admit that they are experiencing something that makes them feel as if they are somehow lacking in character. In my case, my parents were both in the medical field, so I had a little bit of background knowledge about how depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance, and that it was nothing to be ashamed of. But it was still a bit of a shock to me.
A Mild Case of Depression
According to WHO, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number and severity of the symptoms. I was diagnosed at the time with a mild case of depression, and the doctor gave me a prescription for anti-depressants to be taken once a day and recommended that I talk with a qualified psychologist, which I did. My experience with that particular mental health professional was not as satisfying as I had hoped, and I only went once. The medicine did help, however, and I found myself being able to gain better control over my emotions and my concentration abilities began to return.
Battling Depression with Exercise and Medication
In addition to taking the medication, I also began to exercise more regularly and changed my eating habits. This had a two-fold impact on my life. I began to lose weight and gain a better-defined muscle structure. I had more energy, and I felt better about myself and my looks. According to research, 30 minutes of exercise daily can be as effective as taking medication and can help to prevent relapse once you are well. Eating a well-balance diet, cutting out extra sugars and refined carbohydrates can also boost your energy and mood. Those “comfort” foods that we continually turn to when we feel down (chocolate cake, ice cream, lasagna, etc.) are actually counterproductive. They may make us happy in the short term, but then they lead to a crash in our energy and mood. Getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine is also beneficial, as the sunlight can boost our serotonin levels, which improve our frame of mind.
If you have been suffering some of these symptoms, it would be good to reach out to a trusted friend and let them know what you have been experiencing. Don’t allow yourself to hold back and suffer in silence. If your symptoms seem to be mild, try increasing your exercise, eating a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and whole grains. Limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake is also a good step. Make a record of how you feel, and note any improvements or other changes. Taking charge of your physical and mental health is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
When to See Your Doctor
If your symptoms persist, or you feel that they are moderate to severe, do not hesitate to visit your doctor. Explain to her/him in detail what you are going through. The doctor may recommend that you see a mental health expert in some cases. He/she may also prescribe an anti-depressant medication to help alleviate some of your symptoms. Don’t ignore the advice that your doctor gives. If urged to visit a specialist who deals with mental health, find one with whom you feel comfortable, and be ready to talk about how you feel. You may think that you are the only person who has the feelings that you do, but they have heard similar things from others, and they are ready to listen and provide help.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, PLEASE find the number to your local suicide hotline and call immediately. Depression is a treatable medical condition. But left undiagnosed and untreated, it can have deadly results. There is only one of you in this world, and we need you.
I have suffered two separate bouts of depression in my life so far. In both cases, I went through treatment and recovered my health. The second time, I found a psychologist who I visited for a period of time, first weekly, then twice a month, and finally once each month before I was able to discontinue the treatment. She listened patiently and made a few suggestions that really helped. My outlook on life and about myself improved greatly. It has been a few years since I have had to take the medicine and/or visit the doctor for my depression. My life is more wonderful than I could have imagined, and I look forward to many more years of satisfaction.
WebMD “Symptoms of Depression”
WHO “Depression” Fact Sheet 02/2017
HelpGuide.org “Coping With Depression”