When I was a junior in high school, my older sister who was two years older than me left to go out of state for college. Even though we had fought like cats and dogs at times, I realized that I was left with a feeling of profound sadness when she was gone. It was a sadness that stayed with me for a very long time, a sadness that made me lose interest in some of the things that I once loved doing and no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the feeling of loneliness. I also remember feeling like no one could really understand what I was going through and it seemed impossible to explain. Some days I would just feel empty and hopeless, and some nights I would cry not really comprehending this darkness that seemed to encapsulate me. After all, my parents were still around, I still had friends and it’s not like my sister wasn’t a phone call away. But I was sad all the same. It wasn’t until years later in my twenties when I was on a walk with my father, that he told me that he, too, had depression and that my grandfather had suffered from depression as well. And then it all made sense: just like others in my family, I was also prone to depression.
Depression is an illness that affects many of us regardless of our age, race, gender or socio-economic status. It comes in many forms ranging from situational, when an event or circumstance triggers a depressive episode, to a general sense of “the blues” when we know we just don’t feel right, to more major episodes that can literally last years. Many people describe depression as a sadness that they cannot shake, that debilitates them to the point of not wanting to get out of bed. Often people isolate themselves or lose interest in things that under normal circumstances would matter immensely to them like spending time with friends or family or enjoying hobbies. Depressed folks may have a decreased or increased appetite, sleep more than normal or be susceptible to insomnia.
Many folks who suffer with symptoms of depression describe the feeling as a darkness or cloud over them. Depression can wrap itself around you like a blanket. Not a comforting blanket, but a heavy one that you feel you cannot shed even if you wanted to.
What is truly remarkable is how prevalent depression can be and yet, we don’t realize the magnitude of it. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, in 2014, around 15.7 million adults age 18 or older in the U.S. had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year, which represented 6.7 percent of all American adults. At any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of adults suffer from major depression; the lifetime risk is about 17 percent. As many as 2 out of 100 young children and 8 out of 100 teens may have serious depression (https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression). Research has linked depression to higher incidence of heart disease and strokes as well as many other health problems. It is quite astonishing that we as a society do not treat depression as a very real, debilitating condition that is just as important to attend to as any other serious health problem.
So what can you do if you notice symptoms of depression closing in? First of all, talk to someone. Don’t keep these feelings under wraps and further isolate yourself. Tell a family member, a trusted friend, your doctor or your therapist. Even if others haven’t gone through what you are experiencing, they can understand and be a voice of support when you need it the most. It also helps for others close to you to know that you may not feel like yourself right now and you may need them to be a little more patient until you feel better.
Another factor that people often don’t realize is the biological link to depression that can be passed down through families. I have had many clients who, through investigating past family history have discovered patterns within their families that definitely make them more likely to have an incidence of depression in their lifetime.
Remember, depression is unique to each individual and there is no “one size fits all” treatment. Although research shows the best outcomes to treat depression are a combination of medicine and therapy, each person needs to decide for themselves what they feel works best. Often well-meaning friends or family will say things like ”try this medicine or natural remedy, etc. – it worked for me!”, each person needs to have the autonomy to decide what feels right for them.
Also, and most importantly, realize you are not resolved to these feelings forever. There are ways to combat depression including medicine, speaking to a counselor, changing life patterns and becoming more aware of thoughts, particularly negative thoughts that may have become automatic to us. Just know, there is help out there.
For more information on depression and ways to combat symptoms go to these links:
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