Depression Awareness Month, observed every October, is an opportunity to raise the profile of effective treatment for depression and other mental health issues.
Recognizing a problem is separate from knowing what to do about it. When it comes to issues of mental health and conditions like depression, the situation is often a struggle because of the debilitating symptoms that can come with it.
In the throes of depression, it’s incredibly normal to feel isolated and alone, like no one else in the world identifies with the intense feelings of sadness or desperation we’re feeling.
The reality, however, is that Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people between the ages of 15 to 44 according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that more than 17 million Americans – around 7 percent of the population – dealt with depression in 2017 alone.
Depression is the most common mental illness in the United States. Understanding this can help us support a friend or a loved one going through a difficult time.
It should also be a reminder to have some compassion for our own personal struggles with depression, especially during Depression Awareness Month in October.
What Causes Depression?
Current research into the cause of mental illness points to a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors that can lead to depression. Still, scientists are unsure why some people experience much worse symptoms than others.
Some of the risk factors for developing or struggling with chronic depression can include:
- A history of depression or other mental health issues that run in the family
- Major life changes that cause intense stress, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, losing a job or the diagnosis of severe illness
- Recent or past trauma, like surviving physical or sexual abuse, natural disasters or even serious injury from an accident
- Substance induced depression, such as the potentially negative effects of alcohol, recreational drugs, or even some prescription medications on the brain’s chemistry
The symptoms of depression, regardless of whatever its root cause might be, can truly incapacitate a person and make them feel powerless and vulnerable.
What are the Symptoms of Depression?
Because many of the symptoms can overlap with the effects of stress, some people might scoff at the idea that they’re actually dealing with depression. However, being able to identify the signs of depression is a good first step in combatting it.
Common Symptoms of Depression to Know About for Depression Awareness Month:
- Persistent feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness and helplessness
- Continually sad, anxious or even the absence of any feelings, having what’s sometimes called an “empty” mood
- Experiencing quick mood swings, such as irritability to anger, or pessimism to sadness
- Difficulty concentrating or a noted decrease in physical energy
- An inability to find delight in things, activities, or people typically enjoyed
- Changes in sleeping patterns, either to excess or not enough
- Problems relaxing, feeling constantly restless
- Physical symptoms like unexplained aches or pains, headaches or digestive problems
- Thoughts about death, suicide, and attempting suicide
- Eating problems – too much or not at all
It should also be noted that increased substance abuse is a symptom of depression. Drugs and alcohol can be a convenient way to self-medicate our problems, but in fact, they only make the issue worse.
A co-occurring disorder, sometimes referred to as a dual diagnosis, is the presence of a mental health condition and a substance use disorder together. Left untreated, each condition will only worsen the symptoms of the other one.
Not all of the above symptoms need to be present for someone to be dealing with depression. Even just a few, for a period of two weeks or more, can indicate that these are physical and emotional signposts of the condition.
How is Depression Treated?
In the case of a dual diagnosis, depression needs to be addressed in combination with treatment for substance abuse. If one condition is left untreated, full recovery is incredibly difficult.
Most people respond really well to a number of different depression treatment approaches. These can range from one-on-one counseling with a therapist to a combination of counseling and antidepressant medications.
Behavioral approaches, like Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), have proven to be incredibly useful for treating depression.
Neurofeedback Therapy is a very effective approach to treating depression by training the brain to be healthier, and it works without the use of prescription medications.
For those experiencing Major Depressive Disorder who have not had success with prescription medications, TMS Therapy (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) has shown impressive results for treatment-resistant depression.
Things to Do During Depression Awareness Month
In addition to depression treatment, there are also some simple life tips that everyone can follow to help keep depression at bay.
“If you’re just feeling a little down, maybe having some trouble sleeping, but functioning well, there are things you can do such as exercise, social contact, getting regular sleep cycles and eating healthy,” Dr. Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told the New York Times.
“Put those together and you’ve got a generally good program to stave off mild depressive symptoms, he continued.”
During Depression Awareness Month in October, take the opportunity to learn more about the signs of depression.
Use the hashtags #DepressionAwarenessMonth or simply #DepressionAwareness when posting important tips or resources to social media so others can easily follow along.
If you or someone you know is struggling with poor mental health, seek help.
Depression is not a weakness, it is a mental health issue that is treatable, and we all deserve to feel our best.