By Renee Franklin
As we advance our understanding of depression and suicide, it’s important to understand the difference between when you are suffering from a bad day (or even a bad week) and depression.
While there are many different types of depression, major depressive disorder is the most common type of depression, impacting more than 16.1 million people each year. It’s twice as prevalent in women than in men and is characterized by loss of interest or pleasure in activities, weight gain or loss, insomnia, fatigue, agitation, feelings of overwhelming sadness and/or guilt, difficulty concentrating and thoughts of suicide. These symptoms persist for at least two weeks.
The World Health Organization notes that depression is a byproduct of a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors. Exposure to adverse life events, such as unemployment, the death of a loved one or psychological trauma, can increase peoples’ risk of developing depression. Depression also may be caused by physical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. While the time it takes to recover from depression varies for each, 80 percent of people who follow a treatment plan report an alleviation of symptoms. If you are experiencing symptoms of major depressive disorder, there are steps you can take to get on the road to recovery.
See Your Doctor
Despite vast rates of recovery, fewer than half of all people with depression receive treatment. It’s important to see your health care provider as soon as you or a loved one recognizes symptoms of depression. Develop a treatment plan with your doctor, whether it includes talk therapy, inpatient services, medication or lifestyle adjustments.
Keep a daily journal. You don’t have to write a reflection on your entire day if you are not feeling up for it; you can simply log if you had a “bad day” or a “good day.” This is a valuable tool to help you recognize how persistent your depression is and how much it is impacting your daily life. Having this quantitive measure of symptoms will gauge success as you go through treatment.
Take care of your body by eating nutrient dense foods such as dark leafy greens (think kale, spinach and Swiss chard); healthy fats such as avocados and nuts; fermented foods like sauerkraut and miso past; and foods in which Vitamin D naturally occurs, like salmon, mushrooms and egg yolks. Avoid overly processed foods and sugar; in a 2017 study by the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, higher sugar intake was related to higher rates of depression.
While exercise releases feel-good endorphins that can help alleviate symptoms of depression, fatigue can prevent one from having the energy to workout. If that is the case, start small by committing to taking one walk a day, whether it be on your lunch break, in the morning or after dinner. A recent study out of Australia showed that depressed middle-aged women who averaged 150-200 minutes a week of moderate exercise experienced an alleviation of their symptoms.
Socialize and Share
Depression often makes isolation seem much more appealing than socializing, and it’s important to work against the urge to stay in day after day. Reach out to your friends and family — make coffee dates, ask them to join you for dinner, a movie, a walk— anything. Be honest and share what you are going through. Shame is a significant component of depression, and by sharing with those you love and trust, it loses its impact on your emotions.
If you are someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online asuicidepreventionlifeline.org.