What is depression-and what can I do about it? Winston Churchill called it his “Black Dog”
Over 300 million people in the world may suffer from depression, and 25% of the U.K. population will experience problems such as depression every year. Depression is a major category of mental health distress than can affect all types of people. Depression is known as a “whole body” problem because it affects your thoughts, feelings and often your physical responses, the way you eat and sleep, your motivation, your self belief and impacts profoundly on your relationships.
What is depression? The answer to this is more easily understood by outlining some of the actual symptoms or effects of depression, which although they can change from person to person include:-
1. Problems with thinking, concentration and decision making. This can make ordinary tasks that were taken for granted very difficult to complete or take part in, such as watching television, reading a paper or filling in a form. Some people report difficulty with their short term memory, forgetting where they put things and why they started to do things. Pessimistic thoughts and thinking are characteristic of depression, as is low self-esteem, excessive guilt, anger and self-criticism. Some people have self-destructive and suicidal thoughts during a more serious depression.
2. Low mood and feeling tired all the time, feelings of sadness that come out of nowhere and cause you to cry for “no reason at all”. Feelings of disconnection, that there is a barrier between yourself and the world and you feel cut off from those around you, all these feelings are common to those experiencing depression. You lack motivation and find it hard to “get out from under the duvet” most days-spending more time sleeping is common, although some people can’t sleep or report disturbed or broken sleep. Sometimes people report irritable feelings that seem to spring out the blue; people who were once quite mild become bad tempered or angry. Sometimes people feel without hope, worthless, that nobody in the world can help them.
3. You might feel uncomfortable with people who were once friends or work colleagues, creating social isolation and a feeling of loneliness. Your appetite might change dramatically, eating more or much less, and what you eat might change, too; you might find yourself not only disinterested in food but eating sugary foods to give yourself an instant “hit”.
4. Your libido might lower causing a lack of sexual activity. Other depressive symptoms include aches and pains, feelings of restlessness or agitation resulting in an inability to sit still or rest.
These feelings can last for weeks or months. It’s a good idea to see you your GP if thoughts and feelings such as these are present, and counselling can help in this situation.
A counsellor will help you explore your thoughts and feelings and help support you in a way that encourages you to change your negative thinking and self beliefs into more positive, creative and enriching ones. But there are things that you can do for yourself and these can include:-
- Mild exercise, walking in the countryside or a park, touching nature, the bark of a tree, connecting gently with the world; gardening
- Joining an adult education class and learning to do something that is non stressful but wholly enjoyable and creative e.g. an art class or horticulture
- Discharging tension and anxiety through yoga
- Seeing a film, watching a sitcom, activities that take you out of yourself and make you laugh
- Setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable and timebound) goals for yourself, e.g. “today I will go to the local shops and buy groceries”
- Breaking big tasks into smaller ones, creating a “to do” list, setting some priorities and making sure you get some things done
- Remembering: you might have negative thoughts and feelings but they are not the totality of what you are, there is so much more to you than this!
- Talking to someone you can trust to be supportive and non-judgemental; socialising with people or a person, trying not to keep your thoughts and feelings “locked inside”
- Seeking different forms of help, e.g. your GP, a counsellor
- Participating in religious, social, or other activities; those people who socialise and/or have a spiritual faith are less likely to become depressed
- Listening to relaxing music, taking time to breath and be “in the now”
- Be compassionate to yourself. Reward yourself with small treats, tell yourself “I deserve this”
- If you can, have sex: the chemicals that surge through our body and brains during and after sex create pleasurable feelings and thoughts which help combat the negative ones associated with depression