Bummed … blue … down in the dumps. We use these and similar phrases often. But what do we really mean? Even today, misinformation about depression abounds. And since we women experience depression twice as often as men, it is to our advantage to understand this sometimes crippling illness.
Part of the reason for our confusion about depression is that it comes in different forms, ranging from normal to highly debilitating. So let’s shed some light on this often-misunderstood phenomenon:
- The temporary “blues” — We all experience down days. Sometimes we understand why, and at other times our mood goes unexplained. Whatever the cause, these moods pass, just like rainstorms. And we quickly return to feeling like ourselves!
- Reactive depression — When bad things happen it is normal to go through a period of extreme sadness and feelings of despair. This kind of depression is an expected response to painful circumstances and to loss, and is actually part of a healthy and necessary grieving process.
- Anger turned inward — Anger is a powerful emotion, and many of us are reluctant to express it. But when we “swallow” our anger in the service of not “rocking the boat,” we become depressed.
- Clinical depression — This is a medical condition, and doesn’t necessarily happen in response to loss or stress. When we become clinically depressed, it appears that we have decreased amounts of certain “feel good” brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. In most cases, this kind of depression is hereditary. It’s symptoms include: depressed or sad mood most of the time, sleep problems, increased/decreased appetite, increased irritability, chronic fatigue or low energy, diminished interest in most activities, loss of libido, feeling overwhelmed, hypersensitivity, low self-confidence, poor concentration, low motivation, excessive guilt, obsessive thinking and worry, feelings of hopelessness, thoughts of suicide.
What Can We Do About Feeling Blue?
The normal ups and downs of life generally take care of themselves. Depression in response to losses may take time to lift. Go easy on yourself, and know that grieving and temporary sadness are normal. Curl up on the couch with a good book and a bowl of popcorn! You’ll feel better before you know it!
Depression due to a pattern of turning anger inward responds well to psychotherapy. A skilled therapist can help you identify and change these patterns. And you will feel almost immediate relief as you begin to address the causes of your anger.
When a clinical depression is diagnosed, antidepressant medication is usually the first step in treatment. These medications reduce or alleviate symptoms in more than 80 percent of sufferers. Antidepressants are not addictive and do not leave the patient feeling “high.” Primary care physicians frequently prescribe antidepressants.
Psychotherapy is also helpful in the treatment of clinical depression. Learning to identify behaviors and thought patterns that may encourage depression can further help to alleviate it. Remember that it is important to rule out an underlying medical condition that may have triggered your depression, such as hypothyroidism.
Normal “ups and downs” add texture to our daily existences, and life would be less meaningful without them. On the other hand, clinical depression is a black hole of helplessness and hopelessness. If depression is interfering with your normal functioning, and doesn’t seem related to a recent upset or loss, meet with your primary care physician. She can determine the cause of your problem and get you on the road to a healthy, happy recovery. Since there is hope and help for depression, no need to waste one more day of your wonderful life!