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Posted on: October 16, 2020 | Benjamin Carney, LCSW

An outpatient of depression therapy looking afar from a rocky ground
October is National Depression Awareness Month. Lots of people have heard of depression, but most don’t understand what it really means, and it can tricky to fully understand. The first thing to realize is that it’s completely normal to feel depressed. The human brain isn’t wired to feel happy 100% of the time. We’re supposed to feel sad or depressed after a pet dies, or after we lose a job, or at the end of a romantic relationship. But most people have learned how to cope with those kinds of emotions, and our mood usually bounces back.

People are often surprised to hear that our mood is supposed to go up and down throughout the day. But think about it: we might wake up grumpy, but then a jog makes us feel energized and happy. Then we go to work and our boss criticizes us and we feel down, but a good lunch resets our mood and then we feel good again. These so-called “mood swings” are healthy and don’t mean that we have depression or bipolar or any other mental health disorder. It’s just part of life.

However, there are some red flags to be aware of that might indicate that something else is going on. Indicators that might push normal feelings of sadness into clinical depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder or MDD. This may occur when we feel depressed for at least two weeks, and we lose the ability to feel any kind of pleasure from things that usually make us happy.

Let’s say you feel depressed for a few days, but then you hang out with friends, you’re laughing, and you’re having a great time. That means you aren’t in the middle of a major depressive episode because you’re feeling pleasure. If you’ve been depressed for weeks, and when you went to see your friends you didn’t cheer up at all, and playing with your kids isn’t making you feel better like it usually does, then that could mean you have MDD. People dealing with this disorder often feel empty or hopeless, and even activities that are usually fun instead feel like a chore. It’s a very scary feeling, and in more severe cares, MDD can make people want to die or even attempt suicide.

It’s important to note that depression doesn’t always look like sadness. Especially in teenagers, we’re more likely to see anger instead of sadness, but we don’t usually think of depression as something that causes anger. Other symptoms may include changes in sleep, difficulty concentrating, significant weight changes, loneliness, frequent crying, and isolation. As you can imagine, this can be extremely difficult to manage.

Most of us have been taught that we aren’t supposed to talk about mental health issues, and so we often feel alone when clinical depression occurs, but it’s actually very common. In 2015, over 16 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. About 13% of men and 21% of women will develop MDD in their lifetime. This is a widespread issue that affects all ages, genders, classes, and races. I spent years working on a suicide prevention hotline, and I learned that depression can happen to anybody. People would call in and tell me that their life was perfect on paper: they had a loving spouse and kids, no history of mental health issues in their family, a successful career, etc. but their depression had flared up and now they were suicidal but couldn’t tell me why. They just knew that they were in pain and wanted that pain to stop.

That’s the most sinister part of depression: it tricks us into thinking that there’s no hope. That nothing is going to get better. That’s not true. There are actually some very good treatments for depression. A combination of talk therapy and psychiatric medication has been shown to be a very effective treatment. Keep in mind that medications alone are better than nothing, but they can take 6-8 weeks to show their full effect, and talk therapy is a crucial part of treatment for depression. If you think that you may have clinical depression, you can call the national suicide prevention hotline anytime, day or night. You don’t even have to be feeling suicidal. It’s free and anonymous, and they can help you figure out a plan to start feeling better. Better yet, you can schedule an appointment with a therapist, and they can help you get started on the path to more permanent change. Please give us a call today!

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