Depression can be part of normal life
Will Hunter, PhD
The phrase “everyone has a bad day” may very well be a fact of life. Big or small, major tragedy or minor stressor, feeling down can be a normal reaction to what life brings us. But sometimes what starts as discouragement or “feeling blah” lingers or intensifies, and it’s difficult to “just snap out of it.” Other times it’s difficult to identify what you’re feeling or why, making it even harder to know what to do. Thankfully, knowing the signs of depression and knowing how to help ourselves and others can keep the blues from becoming worse.
While clinical depression is one of the most common mental health issues, many people experience a depressed mood from time to time. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 1 out of 6 adults will have depression at some point, with about 16 million American adults affected every year. Introvert or extrovert, old or young, male or female, wealthy or poor – anyone can feel this way.
Depression symptoms can be difficult to identify. Typically, they involve how we feel, think, and act. The hallmark signs relate to mood — feelings such as sadness or hopelessness and losing interest in your daily activities. Other feelings can include guilt or worthlessness. Depression can affect our thinking as well. Some may find it difficult to concentrate or may be indecisive. It’s common for people to focus only on the negative aspects of themselves, others, the future, or their circumstances.
Clearly, depression looks different for different people. These signs are important to recognize because people may not open up about how they feel or actively seek help—that’s the difficult nature of depression. The way that these symptoms combine can create a cycle that’s not easily broken. For example, someone may feel lonely and isolated, yet not have the energy to get together with friends when invited, leading to more loneliness. Another person’s intense sadness may contribute to neglecting responsibilities at home, which can lead to further guilt or feeling of failure.
Mental health stigma can also keep people from reaching out for help. Again, those from all walks of life are affected by depression and experience times where their mood changes for the worse. Contributing to stigma is a word I’d like to forget: should. “I should be able to handle this by now; what’s wrong with me?” “Everyone else seems to be fine, I should just keep this to myself and pretend to be happy.” Our expectations of ourselves and our assumptions of others both serve to maintain the cycle of depression. After all, denying how you genuinely feel ultimately denies you the opportunity to do something about it.
Thankfully, there are strategies that we can use to promote positive mental health, to support others, and to keep the blues at bay. The first emphasizes a balanced lifestyle. This includes a structured routine with healthy sleeping and eating habits, regular exercise, and engaging in activities that you find enjoyable. Being more active can actually contribute to better mood, feeling less tired, and thinking more clearly.
Next, staying healthy involves a social support network. Whether it’s becoming more involved in a group or church congregation or simply reaching out to a friend, opportunities for connecting with others, big or small, can both positively affect our mood in the present and allow for further support in the future. Aside from socializing, talking with someone you trust can be a big step, but one that could lead to big rewards. You never know who is going to say, “I’ve been there; I understand how you feel; let me tell you what worked for me.”
Lastly, be open to seeking help if things don’t improve or if depression lasts particularly long or seems to be recurring. Depression can play out in a variety of ways, but mental health professionals are trained to help you get back on track and prevent future depressive episodes. You can seek treatment by talking with a medical provider or mental health professional, such as a licensed professional counselor, licensed clinical social worker, or licensed psychologist. It is wise to seek help before symptoms get worse, just as with any other ailment you may experience. Always remember: There is hope. You can feel better, and help is available.
Dr. William Hunter is a clinical psychologist at HopeHealth. He is originally from Columbia and joined the HopeHealth Behavioral Health Services team in September.