Let’s agree — life is hard sometimes. But there’s a difference between feeling sad or low a day or two over an isolated incident and being so affected you lose interest in all the things you love, including your children. When life gets this hard, it’s time to seek some help. Sadly, the stigma surrounding clinical depression will keep many people from getting the help they need.
We define clinical depression as experiencing 5 or more of the following symptoms for two weeks or longer:
- Changes in appetite
- A sad or ‘low’ feeling (generally identified in women)
- An angry or irritable feeling (generally in men)
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities and interests
- Sleeplessness or a need for increased sleep
- Loss of energy or fatigue
- Poor concentration or indecisiveness
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Suicidal thoughts or gestures or other thoughts of death or dying
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or inappropriate guilt
- Low self-esteem
- Unresolved grief issues
- Mood related delusions or hallucinations
When depression causes conflicts
Any long-term illness puts a strain on relationships, but depression strikes an even lower blow. The problem with depression is that the person suffering from the disease is not always convinced they have a problem. People who exhibit the classic, debilitating signs of depression often have an “I can get over this on my own” and “I will feel better tomorrow” attitude. However, part of their chronic loss of motivation is severely affecting their drive to help themselves. And this lack of self-care tends to strike a nerve with others after a while, causing strained relationships.
Or, even worse, when a parent suffering from depression completely withdraws from their children and spouse. Postpartum depression is a common change in hormone levels that affects mothers after giving birth. Often infants born to mothers with postpartum depression are deprived of their mother’s closeness and the spouse or someone else takes on the sole role of caregiver. This situation is harmful to the infant, the mother, and the ones left to care for the child.
Very young children who experience a parent with depression don’t understand the change in attention and affection. They often feel they have done something wrong. Older children might feel resentment towards the parent that now doesn’t come to ballgames or even get out of bed to see them off to school. And more irritation can develop if the parents’ depression leads to the children taking on added responsibilities around the house. Spouses of people with depression must deal with added responsibilities, too. The stress of it all often puts a wedge between the couple. If left untreated, this divide can even lead to divorce.
How do I help myself through depression?
If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of depression, see a licensed clinical psychologist or licensed clinical social worker right away. If symptoms are too severe and especially if you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, see a psychiatrist immediately to establish if medication is necessary to stabilize and improve your mood.
Seeking a therapist should also be a crucial part of your plan. The therapist can help solve the issues that caused the depression and help shorten the amount of time you are on medication. The important thing is to seek help. Even if the assistance starts with talking to a spouse or friend, you have opened a door. With continued aid, you can begin to envision yourself walking through that door as a happier, healthier person.
The following are ways to reduce or prevent symptoms of depression:
- Change your diet. Eating healthier foods is proven to improve our mood. Avoid sugars and processed foods because they can make your mood worse and plunge energy levels.
- Get some exercise. While intense exercise might not be in order, a walk, a bike ride, or just playing with the kids in the yard will wake up those hormones and release some of that natural ‘feel good’ medicine.
- Limit your exposure to stressful situations.
- Have a standard bedtime and time to get up in the morning. The effects of a good night sleep improve so many aspects of our lives, including keeping depression at bay.
- Utilize self-care routines such as writing in a journal, practicing breathing techniques, and meditation. And don’t be opposed to counseling, which can be helpful and even life-changing in combination with these other practices.
- Consider prayer
- Join a support group
How can I help someone with depression?
True, some people don’t want to be helped or don’t think they need help. But trying to do your part can make a difference in some cases. The key is to choose the right time and place to discuss the person’s mood and behavior. Some people will get defensive. Others might be waiting for you to address their problem because they are not strong enough to do it themselves.
Additionally, encourage them to be more active, both physically and socially. Ask them to go for a walk or to go out for coffee. They might wince at first, and they might not even go, but being a source of encouragement is an important role.
Finally, if children are involved, try to help out with childcare and household responsibilities if you can. And mostly, be patient and understanding.
Unfortunately, many people who need help will not seek services. Even mild cases of depression can wreak havoc on your life and the lives of people around you. But with the suggestions above, you can try to help yourself or the ones you love get through the darkness of depression.
Dr. Aimee Harris-Newon Psy.D., DABPS, C.HT. is a double board certified integrative and interventional psychologist, entrepreneur, author, speaker, and master success coach. She’s considered an expert in integrative health and believes in a holistic approach-treating the body and the mind.
She leads a very successful integrative and functional health and wellness practice, serving clients locally and internationally. She and her multidisciplinary team focus on wellness, preventive care and coaching to help people live healthier, happier and more satisfying lives. What makes her truly unique and exceptional is her broad and deep skill set and her approach to health and wellness.
As the founder and director of Dr. Aimee and Associates, and now The Center for Integrative and Functional Health and Wellness, Dr. Aimee Harris-Newon and her team of experts don’t just treat symptoms, they solve health problems, create better outcomes and change lives.
As a coach, Dr. Aimee Harris-Newon has worked with individuals and corporations including FedEx, UPS, McDonald’s, Red Bull and the U.S. Army. She is a frequent speaker at Harvard and regularly appears on television news shows such as ABC, NBC, and FOX. Dr. Aimee Harris-Newon also hosts the popular radio show, Mind Over Matters on AM 820, which airs every Sunday morning at 10 a.m. CST.