We all have times when we feel sad, especially after a significant loss. What is the difference between ordinary sadness and depression?
Depression is a serious mood disorder that afflicts over 300 million individuals around the world. It influences feelings, thought processes, and daily activities and routines. A major difference between “normal” sadness and clinical depression is that the symptoms of depression persist for a long time and may not even have a particular catalyst. In other words, you might feel sad for a long time without any particular reason to feel sad.
Who is most likely to have depression?
According to the Center for Disease Control, women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed. Wealth – or the lack of it – can affect depression rates. Low income individuals are more likely to experience depression
than higher income people.
Asians are far less likely to be afflicted with depression than other ethnic groups. Risk factors for depression include a family history of depressive disorder, significant life changes or trauma, and certain illnesses and medications.
Is depression treatment really necessary?
Failure to get appropriate treatment to fight depression may have dire consequences. Depression can seriously affect relationships, work productivity, and daily life. More people around the world are disabled by depression than any other condition.
The World Health Organization estimates that about one million people die from suicide each year, with depression (especially when untreated) a key factor.
Unfortunately, many people who suffer from depression don’t get the help they need. They may not be aware they are experiencing depression, or they may fear being judged if they admit they need help.
For instance, a Christian may consider depression as a lack of spiritual victory. It’s important to understand that depression is a disease – in the same way, that arthritis and diabetes are diseases. It is no shame to have an illness, but it is illogical to have an illness and not get help for it.
Don’t be fooled by the myth that you can just “snap out of” depression. If you are suffering from the symptoms of depression, seek help without delay. You have a number of options for treatment, including some simple lifestyle adjustments along with counseling and medical intervention. Don’t delay! The earlier you get treatment, the more effective it will be.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Along with a sad mood, if several of the following symptoms persist for two weeks or longer, you may have depression.
- Feeling sad, anxious or “numb”
- Favorite activities or hobbies no longer interest you
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep; conversely, sleeping more than normal
- Low energy and motivation levels
- Feeling worthless or helpless or guilty
- Trouble with focusing or making decisions
- Feeling irritable or restless
- Talking or moving more slowly than usual
- Thoughts of death or suicide
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How can I fight depression?
As with many disorders, the symptoms of depression can vary from person to person. The appropriate treatment also needs to be person-specific. Some people benefit from lifestyle changes, others from professional therapy and others from medication.
Usually, the best results come from combining several treatment approaches. Some effective tools to use in the battle against depression include the following.
Stay socially engaged
One of the ironies of depression is the very things that help elevate your mood are the things that you absolutely don’t want to do. Being around other people who care about you and can give you the support you need is critical when coping with depression.
However, someone battling depression often just wants to be alone. It takes energy to engage with others, something that’s often in short supply when one is depressed.
Nevertheless, you should make every effort to surround yourself with people who care about you. It’s okay to open up to someone you trust and share your feelings and anxieties. You may be embarrassed to appear weak or “broken,” but you will probably find that others have gone through similar struggles.
Maintain your involvement with social groups – your extended family, your church, support groups, charitable organizations, sports leagues, a book club, whatever fits with your interests – just stay around people!
The energy of others can lift you up, and getting your mind off your problems and onto activities that you find interesting, especially those that can help others, will help to “reset” your brain.
Get out and get moving
This goes hand-in-hand with staying socially engaged. Your first instinct when going through depression is to spend the day inside in your bathrobe. Do the opposite! Get out of the house and into the sunshine and take a walk, a jog, shoot some baskets, dig in the garden or do something active outside! If you can engage in outdoor activities with someone else, all the better!
You will find that the sunshine, the fresh air, the exercise, the change in scenery and the engagement with another person all help to lift your mood. They will all increase the neurotransmitters of serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine, which regulate and elevate your mood.
Monitor your thought life
Many people who are depressed have negative thought processes. For instance, they tend to dwell on the negative aspects of things, rather than seeing the positive. Let’s say it’s raining. Someone who is not depressed could be happy that they don’t have to go out and water the garden, but someone who is depressed may grumble that it’s ruining their plans for the day. Guard your mind against negativity about your environment and circumstances and cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Often, those suffering from depression have thoughts of self-condemnation and worthlessness. These negative beliefs are usually irrational but if you persist in them, they will seem true to you and plunge you deeper into depression. Avoid negative thoughts that involve a lot of self-criticisms, especially when such talk isn’t reflective of reality.
The best way to monitor your thought life is to meditate on God’s Word and what He says about you. When you are saturated with the truths of God’s Word, then you are more alert to the lies of negativity and self-condemnation. You are able to fight unhealthy thought processes with the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God.
For instance, read through Romans 8 and claim the truths and promises.
- God is for you! Who can be against you? (Romans 8:31)
- In all things you overwhelmingly conquer! (Romans 8:37)
- Nothing can separate you from the love of God. (Romans 8:35-39)
Make healthy choices with what you eat and drink
People suffering depression often make unhealthy choices when it comes to food. Some skip meals altogether – they simply forget to eat, or even to drink. Other people binge eat when in depression – loading up on chips or ice cream while staring mindlessly at the TV. Depression depletes energy, so going grocery shopping or taking the time to prepare a healthy meal can be daunting.
Studies have shown that an anti-inflammatory diet, which features lots of (preferably raw) vegetables and fruit, fish and healthy fats like olive oil and almonds, can ward off depression. You may find that significantly reducing or eliminating grains (especially wheat) and sugar will keep you more clearheaded, focused and less likely to drift into depression.
Keep well-hydrated – drink lots of water through the day. Even mild dehydration can impact your mood – leading to irritability and fatigue.
Although many people turn to alcohol or recreational drugs to self-medicate when they are depressed, doing so will only make matters worse. You may temporarily feel better, but in the long run, alcohol and illicit drugs will only worsen depression.
Spend time with God in prayer
Just as depression makes a person more prone to disengage socially, it has the same impact on one’s relationship with God. You may feel that God is far away and disinterested in your life. You are not alone in your struggle against depression. God is right there, waiting for you to come to Him to receive the strength and resources that prayer – communicating with Him – will give you for the battle.
Schedule a part of your day, every day, to spend time with God – in prayer, in meditating on the Scripture, and journaling the insights you are receiving from His Word and from the time you spend with Him.
Get involved in your church
This is helpful in so many levels. Having people around that love you and support you and pray with and for you is intrinsic to healing from depression. Hearing the Word of God in sermons and Bible studies and from your pastor’s counsel helps to replace negative thinking with positive truths. Some churches also have recovery programs available.
Meet with a professional counselor
Talking with a therapist who has training and experience in treating depression may help you turn the corner toward a healthy mind. A counselor can guide you toward some of the lifestyle changes mentioned above and help keep you on track in the areas of socialization, healthy eating, and drinking, exercise, guarding your thought life, and cultivating your spiritual life.
A therapist provides you with a safe place to express yourself and guides you toward solutions – positive changes that lead to healthy thinking and elevated mood. A therapist will support you, listen to you, help you set goals, and challenge you as needed. Options in therapy include private one-on-one counseling as well as support groups.
When should you consider medical intervention?
Lifestyle changes and professional therapy are very helpful in treating mild to moderate depression; however, if you are severely depressed, you should see a medical doctor. Make an appointment with a medical provider if your depression has persisted for a long time, if you’ve tried lifestyle changes and counseling but still need more help, and/or if you have thoughts of harming yourself.
A medical doctor can examine you for physical conditions that might be contributing to depression, and will probably prescribe an anti-depressant medication. Medical intervention for depression usually is most effective when in conjunction with counseling and lifestyle changes.
Remember that you are not alone in your struggle with depression. The support you receive from friends, family, and perhaps even a professional therapist and medical doctor will get you through this. Spending time with God, in the Bible, and in church will prepare you to receive healing.
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