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Interview with a psychologist

The phenomenon of depression and the ways to overcome it

All of the people are facing psychological disorders to various extents. Depression is the most serious out of such disorders.

It is true to say that people may suffer from the manifestations of depression for many years, while constantly persuading themselves that these are just temporary problems.

This article provides tips on how to recognize the disorder and how to get out of depression in the event where it is officially diagnosed.

Contents:

What is depression?

Depression can be described in dozens of ways through using professional and clinical terms, statistics, artistic comparisons, and the patient’s personal feelings.

William Styron, famous for his novels “Darkness visible”, “Sophie’s Choice”, had a chance to experience the dark sides of the disease first hand. This enabled him to describe it very accurately: “In the case of severe depression, suffering is completely unimaginable for someone who has never experienced it. It sometimes may be totally unbearable”.

Depression doesn’t only affect the rich or the poor, normal people or only famous ones. Paintings by Van Gogh and Picasso are painted in disturbing shades. Acute manifestations of uneasy feelings can be heard in the music of Beethoven, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Bach.

Depression is a disease that takes away the joy of life and makes people feel helpless and worthless, according to patient testimonials. A young woman that we interviewed describes it by saying, “I don’t feel anything, I get up in the morning and don’t know what to do with myself. If I start doing some things, I can’t finish any of them. I can start crying for no reason. I have absolutely zero energy”.

Depression is an illness that is not age-related. It is a spiritual storm that knocks the person off their feet, taking away their strength and their desire to exist. The extent of this storm is absolutely daunting. According to various sources, depression affects up to 350 million people on the planet. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2020, depression came second after diseases of the cardiovascular system.

How to understand that you have got it?

There is a fine line between “regular” sadness and depression as a disease is rather vague, however, there are certain symptoms that allow distinguishing one from the other. Depression is defined by a loss of interest in what is happening around the person, forcing them to function in slow motion, to look at the world in a gloomy and pessimistic way and to perceive the future only from a negative perspective.

The general symptoms of depression

The following symptoms that characterize depression, are mentioned most frequently by patients:

  • loneliness, apathy, feeling of regret;
  • tiredness and loss of energy;
  • unwillingness to communicate with other people, even with relatives and friends;
  • lack of interest in daily activities and chores;
  • constant feeling of dissatisfaction, tearfulness;
  • excessive agitation, irritability, uncontrollable outbursts of aggression;
  • issues with appetite and sleep, decreased libido, weight loss or gain;
  • an inexplicable sense of guilt, the worthlessness of existence, helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Diagnostics should be the first response to signs of depression. The disease is diagnosed if at least four symptoms appear simultaneously and persist for at least two weeks.

Types of depression and the reasons for it

The spectrum of shades of depression is as large as the number of patients diagnosed. We talk about depression when someone experiences seasonal mood swings (seasonal depression) or suffers from it after traumatic situations (psychogenic form). In the latter case, the reason for it may be a seriously traumatic event, for example, the loss of a loved one (endogenous form), or biochemical changes that occur in the body in the event of an illness (somatogenic form).

Is there a difference between depression in women and men?

There is no conclusive evidence to indicate that female and male depression is different. Symptoms in women and men can be manifested in the same way. However, statistics show that gender may largely determine the predisposition to depression.

In order to discuss it in more detail, we note that there are social, psychological and biological differences between the sexes.

1. Social differences

Experts state that up to 65% of cases of male depression remain undetected. This can be proven by the fact that men are less likely to seek the help of a psychologist. This is largely due to being ashamed of the symptoms, thus choosing to get out of depression on their own. As a result, men end up with alcohol and drug addiction more often than women.

2. Psychological differences

Male and female perceptions differ in their approach to problem-solving. Women explore the cause of a difficult situation, analyze their past experiences and consider all aspects. Men, in turn, take concrete actions to resolve the problem. Therefore, in a desperate situation, they are much more likely to attempt suicide. According to forensic experts, up to 80% of suicidal cases occur in men.

3. Biological differences

Biological factors, such as physical features or hormonal manifestations, can also influence the development of depression in men and women in different ways.

How is depression manifested in women?

Depression is twice as common in women as it is in men. This is due to gender characteristics, hormonal factors, the psychological perception of reality and behavioral patterns.

Factors of depression in women:

1. Relationship status

This is one of the most common risk factors. Depression is less common in single women than in married women, while in men it is the opposite case. This is explained by the influence of social roles. It is worth noting that such a phenomenon is almost never found in certain cultural circles, for example, in the Mediterranean countries, where the care of a woman at home is valued, according to traditions.

2. Relationships within the family

The risk of developing depression in women is associated not only with the fact of marriage, but also with the quality of their family relationships, which is often influenced by difficulties in interacting with their partner. Lack of intimacy, trust and long-standing marital conflicts cause stress, which deprives women from a source of support and lowers their self-esteem.

3. Professional status

The risk of developing depression is increased with unemployment. Work has been proven to make women resistant to negative life events, making them more organized, active, determined and under control.

4. Thinking patterns

Gender differences in thinking patterns also contribute to the development of depressive disorders. Women tend to have lower self-esteem than men. Therefore, they tend to focus more on themselves and their emotions than on actions in response to negative events. It is more difficult for women to distract themselves from disturbing thoughts and, thereby, improve their well-being in an autonomous manner.

5. Postpartum period

Another risk factor is the postpartum period. It is influenced by pain associated with childbirth, rapid hormonal changes, as well as changes in the woman’s body. New mothers are faced with a new social role in which they have the need to mobilize their efforts to take care of their newborn child, which also acts as a major stress factor.

6. Menopause

This period is characterized by isolated depressive syndromes. Women who previously suffered from depression, have severe premenstrual tension and experience severe postpartum symptoms, are more prone to such manifestations.

How is depression manifested in men?

Men tend to be more likely to achieve power and success than women. They don’t like admitting their weakness, hence they are less likely to talk about their experiences.

Factors that contribute to depression in men:

1. Relationships with partners

Research demonstrates that the most common cause of depression in men is marriage or relationship problems. Arguments and quarrels give men physical discomfort, hence they tend to avoid them. In the event where it doesn’t work out, they become self-centered and are unable to get out of depression.

2. Sexual relationships

Depression forces a man to lose interest in their own body and, as a result, in sexual relationships. Antidepressants may only aggravate the situation in this field. Increased libido is sometimes listed as a way to improve mood.

3. Pregnancy and children

It has been found that one in ten men experience psychological problems when they become fathers. The need to devote more time to the mother and the child leads to fatigue and inability to concentrate on work. Depression is aggravated if the partner is in a similar state, if the relationship is not going well, or if the family is experiencing financial difficulties.

4. Unemployment and loss of workplace

Losing a job, for whatever reason, can be very stressful. According to research, one in seven unemployed men becomes depressed within six months of losing their job.

5. Retirement

Reaching retirement age and retiring can be difficult for a man, especially if their partner is still working. It is difficult for them to adapt to new living conditions independently.

6. Emotional state and mood

Depression is common among shy men who do not have a stable relationship and who find it difficult to defend their rights and get settled in life.

Is it possible to overcome depression without the help of a doctor?

There is no magic pill that is ideal for every patient. However, this does not mean that there is no way out of depression.

In order to overcome depression, you need to acknowledge it. The disease reminds us that the dark side of reality is no less a part of our existence than are its bright and colorful sides. Depression can be an opportunity for mental and spiritual development. Nevertheless, if left untreated, the condition can develop into a serious mental illness.

Unfortunately, only 50% of patients are undergoing therapy. A person suffering from depression falls into a kind of vicious circle: getting rid of the illness requires energy and will, which are lacking when a person is depressed. Therefore, people cannot always heal on their own, simply “by pulling themselves together”.

Several treatments are used for depression. However, it is up to the doctor to decide what will be better in every particular case. In less serious cases, people can limit themselves to lifestyle changes. In more severe situations, medicine and psychotherapy come to the rescue. Severe depressive conditions require hospitalization. The treatment of depression is a lengthy process. However, when seeking the assistance of a doctor, between 80 and 90% of patients are able to recover successfully.

How to overcome depression on your own: tips of psychologists

With a great desire to get out of a state of depression, one can be able to cope on their own. On the other hand, if a patient does not perform any actions aimed at recovery, then neither the psychologist nor the psychiatrist will be able to help them.

How to act in various situations?

If depression is contrasted with happiness, allow yourself to experience more happy moments.

1. Happiness in a relationship

How can you deal with depression if it is the result of a toxic relationship? It is worth trying to resolve misunderstandings and settle conflicts. If this is not possible, try to limit contact with toxic people as much as possible. If you live with such a person under the same roof, do everything in your power to free yourself from this destructive relationship. If such toxic relationships are work-related, switch jobs even if you have been working in this company for many years. Work cannot be more important than your health.

2. Social interactions

On our planet, many creatures lead a solitary lifestyle. However, humans are herd species, which means that we need humans to sustain our mental state and our levels of happiness. Sometimes, even one friend or relative may be enough to get out of depression. Their affection, acceptance and kindness can work wonders. Do not become anti-social. Find such a person in your environment and establish a trusting relationship with them.

3. Happiness on a plate

Food affects our well-being. If the diet is based on unhealthy foods, the chances of getting out of depression are almost null. Changing your eating habits is difficult, however, it can be done if performed in small steps. Replace soft drinks with water and fresh juices, pizza with cereal bread, sweets with fruits and nuts. This way, you will be able to gradually turn your healthy eating habits into a healing diet. Beware of the temptation to drink alcohol. It may provide some temporary relief, but at the end of the day, it will only make the condition worse.

4. Running towards happiness

As there is no happiness without a healthy diet and there is no happiness without physical activity. You don’t have to spend half a day at the gym. A short walk three times a week is enough to revive the body. The oxygenated brain produces endorphins, which are hormones responsible for happiness. This is why runners feel euphoric after a run. All that is needed is vigorous exercise, preferably outdoors. Exercise for at least 30 minutes, 3-5 times a week.

5. Happiness in domestic animals

Pets help people to get out of depression. It’s hard to deny the soothing power of domestic animals. Communication with dogs helps to maintain a positive mental attitude, reduces stress levels and increases self-esteem.

With an animal in the house, people focus on it instead of negative thoughts. Pets give warmth, unconditional love and joy, never condemn and always forgive. Therefore, their positive effect in the treatment of depression remains undeniable.

6. Cleanliness of the surroundings

In a difficult state, we sometimes do not notice how cluttered the space around us is and how chaotic our life is. Declare war on depression by starting a big cleanup. Try to get rid of things that you haven’t used in over a year. Perform the same procedure with your documents. Organizing an archive of papers, letters, photographs will provide a feeling of stability and control over your own life, and will definitely improve your mood.

7. Connecting with nature

When everyday life is full of worries and problems, nature may give a person the strength to overcome them. Fresh air, the trees and the sun, as well as trips to beautiful places, could all be an amazing cure.

Nature-orientated therapy helps to relax and reduces stress levels. Gardening may help to improve mental health. The city of London has even got a special park called Sydenham Park where healing gardening sessions are held. According to a woman who first came to the park as a patient and now works there as a volunteer, “this is an oasis of peace. When you come here, the outside world ceases to exist for you”. This is a great example of using nature as a cure.

How to help your loved one to overcome depression?

If your family members are depressed, do not turn a blind eye to it. The main thing is to see a doctor who will help establish a diagnosis and a treatment plan. This should be done if only the patient does not recognize the symptoms that are clear to others and is not able to help themselves on their own.

Treatment for depression is the moment to release tough emotions. Decreased motivation to carry out daily tasks or to interact with others are the most common symptoms of the disease. The support of a loved one is expressed in being there when needed, not judging, showing empathy, and helping on an everyday basis.

It is surely often a hard process. Nevertheless, you should certainly try hard, since, in such situations, health and even life can be at stake. It is important to convey the notion that you are there for your loved ones if they need help.

What should definitely not be done?

As we have already stated, depression is not the same as a bad mood. Depression is when a person does not want to carry on. They do not see any reasons to wake up in the morning. They do not care how they look and they have no willingness to perform the simplest actions.

Someone may say that a person has simply gotten lazy as this condition is often wrongfully associated with laziness. The most damaging thing for people with depression is a misunderstanding. Therefore, it is so important not to say things that may make a person feel even worse.

Which phrases are to be avoided?

1. “You are overthinking it”

This essentially means that you think that the problem is non-existent and that it got invented. By saying that nothing serious is happening, we make the other person feel guilty. We let him know that their reality simply needs to be reconsidered and that they do not want to make any effort for this.

2. “Don’t be childish”

Behaving like a child means not being able to cope with difficulties on your own. Adults experience much more difficulties than children who are not yet aware of them and are more emotional with the problems. They perceive irritating factors differently, the same goes for awareness and other emotions.

3. “Oh well, you will sort it out”

One can deal with the clutter in their room, but not the clutter in their soul. Depression is not cutlery that can be stored in a kitchen drawer. Together with admitting to this psychological condition, a person has to deal with a huge number of problems, including problems that are with them since their childhood. Even with the help of a psychologist, such a process can last more than a year.

4. “Go out more often”

Being active is highly recommended to treat depression. However, you are dealing with a person who struggles to simply get out of bed. Therefore, you shouldn’t try to drag them out. Most likely, you won’t succeed. Meeting people is the last thing a person wants if they feel bad. Hence, you have got to respect their decision if they refuse to leave the house.

5. “Normal people don’t have any problems”

It is normal to sometimes experience unpleasant feelings, as well as to understand the situation and be willing to get out of it. All you can do is help them with this matter. However, if you don’t want or can’t do it, step away and don’t make it more difficult for them.

6. “You are not busy enough”

It is naive to think that depression can be cured with simply a busy work schedule and some willpower. It is certain that work allows to keep busy and not to think about negative things, at least for some time. However, it’s not enough to get out of bed and to find something to do, in order to make the problem go away. In the best-case scenario, the depression will go away for an hour or two.

7. “Stop complaining and pitying yourself!”

Why not? Anyone has the right to do so. Problems, bad mood and problems with well-being often cause the need to cry and complain. In this case, we have got to bear with the person and be there for them.

8. “It is hard for others too!”

You argue that a person has no right to feel bad, whilst stating that such issues may happen to anyone. This way, you deprive them of the right to their own experiences, and make them feel guilty because there are global problems such as wars, hungry children and the coronavirus in the world. Nevertheless, the point is not that it is difficult for everyone now, it is that it is hard for a particular person in this case.

9. “I can only imagine what you’re feeling now”

No, you cannot imagine. A person who has not experienced depression themselves and has not been close to someone who suffered from it usually does not understand what they are dealing with. Being angry with your boss or simply feeling tired is not at all the same as feeling depressed.

10. “Don’t do this, you look deplorable”

This is one of the most selfish things to say, it means that you are essentially saying “I don’t care how you feel, it is not important to me. However, looking at you makes me feel bad”. This is the mood that you are broadcasting to a person. Even in the best sense, it means that you are sorry for them. Think about these words and whether you would be willing to hear them if you were in a similar situation?

Useful books

In order to understand the nature of depressive disorders, as well as the different facets of it, we have chosen a few books which may be useful to you:

1. Jon Kabat-Zinn “The mindful way through depression”

Psychiatrist Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about practices that stem from the meditative traditions of Buddhism. He has proven the effectiveness of this meditative therapeutic method for treating depression.

2. Antoni Kepinski “Melancholia”

This is a book about depression, sadness and neurotic conditions that arise in the lives of people of different ages. Despite the fact that the Polish psychotherapist wrote it in the 1970s, the issue is still relevant today.

3. Michael Cunningham “The hours”

This novel has been awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, however, it is totally eclipsed by a film adaptation starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman. Nevertheless, the book version of “The hours” goes deeper into the corners of the mind-controlled by depression, presenting the various types of it. It concludes that everyone suffers from depression in different ways.

4. Robert L. Leahy “Beat the blues before they beat you”

It is a guide written by a practitioner and a professor of clinical psychology and psychiatry. Robert Leahy discusses common problems associated with depression and explains how to solve them. This is a must-read for those experiencing symptoms of the disease and those who see no way out of it.

5. Matt Haig “Reasons to stay alive”

The true story of the author, of a man who survived a crisis, defeated depression, survived and learned to live anew.

6. Loretta Breuning “Habits of a happy brain”

Almost everything that makes us feel at our best is associated with one of the hormones that are responsible for the feeling of happiness. The author, a clinical psychologist and researcher, offers several ways to increase the level of those hormones. The book will teach you to experience happy feelings and to adopt positive thinking, even when the world around you is not giving you many reasons to smile.

Depression is a serious chronic illness with a tendency to relapse. It will not go away on its own, it is a condition that requires treatment. The sooner the person is assisted, the greater are their chances of recovery. It is important for people to remember that life is very important, and that they are not alone. With the support of doctors, relatives and friends, the chance that the disease can be cured is high.

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