Roughly 16 million American adults — almost 7% of the population — have had at least one depressive episode in the last year (NAMI, 2020). As a therapist, I work with people every day who are combatting depression. For me, depression is also deeply personal because I also have depression. Depression is not a rare illness. It impacts people from all walks of life. Depression does not define who you are or limit your success.
My professional expertise combined with my own personal mental health struggles has intensified my desire to advocate for the importance of mental health care. My hope is to help people understand that mental health struggles are faced by many Americans every day.
Do you suffer from depression?
You may be reading this — now knowing that depression is not as rare as you once thought — and wonder “Do I have depression?” One of the most common misconceptions that I hear is the idea that in order to have depression a person must feel sad all of the time or cry frequently. While this can be a symptom of depression, it is certainly not the only one. In fact, many people with depression would not list extreme sadness or frequent crying as a symptom they experience frequently.
Here are some common symptoms of depression:
- lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities
- significant weight loss or gain
- insomnia or excessive sleeping
- lack of energy
- inability to concentrate
- feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
If you feel you have some of these symptoms and would like to talk about treatment options, you can talk with your primary care provider or make an appointment with a therapist to start counseling.
How do you treat depression?
If you have been diagnosed with depression, your next question might be “How do I get better?” Both medication and therapy can be used to treat depression. The important thing is to work with your medical providers to determine the best treatment plan for you.
Many people take medication to help treat their depression. Medication alone is often not enough to manage a person’s depression and some people prefer to treat their depression without the use of medications.
Therapy can be a very helpful part of effectively treating depression as this is where people are able to learn improved coping strategies and process their feelings about various life circumstances that may be impacting their depression.
If you’ve been on the fence about starting therapy, I would highly recommend you take the leap and go for it! I promise, it is not as scary or uncomfortable of a process as it may seem. It is a place free of judgement and is one of the very few spaces in our world where a person can escape the chaos of the outside world and focus solely on themselves and their personal wellbeing. Sounds pretty great right. Trust me, even us therapists look forward to seeing our therapists. Yep, you heard me right, many mental health professions see their own therapists. After all, it is important that we make sure to take care of our mental health so we can provide you with the best mental health care possible.
What can you do now?
While you ponder the thought of starting therapy, here are some simple strategies to help combat depression. If you do take the next step to start therapy, your therapist may help you incorporate some of these tools into your life.
Set smaller goals.
Feeling overwhelmed by a task you have to accomplish? This can be a major hurtle for those dealing with depression. A helpful strategy would be to divide the task up into smaller, less overwhelming tasks. Here is an example. Many of us might be overwhelmed at the thought of having to clean up our home, there are so many different tasks involved in that. If that feels like too much divide it into smaller goals. Maybe you just focus on one room. Or pick one task, like doing the dishes.
Sometimes once we get going, we will find the motivation to tackle a few more tasks. Sometimes not. But if you’re able to get the one smaller goal accomplished then it is a step in the right direction. You can continue to build on that progress. Otherwise, we tend to view our inability to get things done as a failure. That can further exacerbate depressive symptoms.
Make things easier for yourself.
This one is very similar to the strategy listed above. It is another way of reframing things to feel more manageable. Maybe you are overwhelmed by the thought of having to buy groceries, which then leads to ordering carry out, which then leads to you feeling bad about eating unhealthy and spending money?
Instead of letting these patterns spiral in a way that make symptoms worse, figure out what one of the biggest barriers might be and then find a way to make things easier. These roadblocks often occur when we feel like something will be too time consuming or take up more energy than we can muster at the time.
So, if going to the grocery store seems overly tiring, try ordering your groceries online. Or maybe use a meal planning/prep service. Some of these changes may be strategies you adopt as part of your normal routine to help manage depressive symptoms. Others may be very temporary to help us get through a difficult depressive episode. Feel free to adjust these strategies as needed to fit your current needs.
Be kind to yourself!
This one is super important! Dealing with low energy, lack of motivation, and difficulty staying focused on tasks can make getting through daily functioning difficult. What tends to make it even more difficult for people dealing with depression is the tendency to be overly critical and negative towards themselves. They may struggle to get out of bed in the morning and then tell themselves that they are worthless because of it.
We can be more kind to ourselves by being more realistic with our expectations, celebrate the small victories, and by giving ourselves permission to rest. That last one can be especially difficult, but very important, as our society tends to emphasize and prioritize productivity. Giving yourself permission to slow down and rest is essential for managing mental health and well-being.
You are NOT your diagnosis!
Remember, you are not depression. Depression might be something you have, but it does not have to determine the course of your life or ability to succeed. Please reach out if you are ready to take the first step on your path to mental wellness. We’ll be hear waiting.