Helping Yourself

March 29, 2010

Depression is a hard thing and it’s not something you can “just get over”. However, there are things that you can do for yourself, if you use baby steps. When you are deeply depressed, you may not feel like doing much of anything or being with anyone. But rather than hiding out and doing nothing, it’s best to be active, even though you may not want to.

Here are some things you can do to help with your depression given to us by WebMD and Depression.com:

  • Recognize early signs. It’s important to recognize and treat depression as early as possible, which decreases your risk of becoming depressed again. If you pretend the problem isn’t there, it’s probably going to get worse. You need to watch for the types of events that contributed to depression in the past, and be alert for early symptoms.
  • Set realistic goals. You may feel overwhelmed by everything you “should” be doing at home or at work. Try not to be hard on yourself. Remember that depression is an illness and that you can’t force yourself out of it. Focus on small, realistic goals to ease yourself back into your work and family routine.
  • Do what you enjoy. Even if you don’t really feel like it, set aside time to do things that you like. Get together with friends. Take a walk. Go to the movies. Take up a hobby that you set aside years ago.
  • Hold off on big decisions. Since depression can color your outlook on everything, it’s best to avoid making any big decisions—quitting a job or moving, for instance—until you feel better.
  • Avoid alcohol. Although you might think it will help you feel better, alcohol can make your depression worse. Depressed people are at special risk of developing substance abuse problems, and alcohol interacts with many antidepressants.
  • Exercise. There’s more and more evidence that exercise helps with mild to moderate depression. When you’re considering an exercise plan, don’t be too ambitious. Find an activity that you like, start slowly, and work up to.
  • Keep a Journal. Keeping a journal can be a good way to learn more about your thoughts and feelings. It’s not always easy—it can be painful to write about bad feelings—but writing a journal is one of the best self-help methods you can use.
  • Reactivate Relationships. It can help to talk about your problems with someone close to you. This person should not act like a therapist. He or she needs only to listen. It shouldn’t be someone who might make you feel worse by getting irritated with you or giving you harsh advice.
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    Attending college is a new and exciting time because of all the different opportunities and experiences that are now available to students. It can also be a very challenging time for students who may be at risk or already diagnosed with a mental illness. Accoring in the University of Michigan Depression Center, the peak for onset of depression and other psychiatric disorders is between the ages of 15-24 years of age. This means that a depressive illness can occur just when academic pressures are mounting and students are adjusting emotionally to dramatic life changes. These changes may include leaving home for the first time, forming new relationships, having greater access to alcohol and drugs, sleeping irregularly, and being forced to care for themselves. All of this at one time can be  overwhelming for many students.

    In recent years, the number of college students diagnosed with depression or bipolar illness has increased steadily. University of Michigan research shows that as many as 15 percent of all college students may have symptoms of depression, and about 10 percent of college students arrive on campus with a history of the illness.

    Here are some tips from Mental Health America specifically for college students who are experiences depression:

    Carefully plan your day. Make time every day to prioritize your work.  Prioritizing can give you a sense of control over what you must do and a sense that you can do it.

    Plan your work and sleep schedules. Too many students defer doing important class work until nighttime, work through much of the night, and start every day feeling exhausted.  Constant fatigue can be a critical trigger for depression.  Seven or eight hours of sleep a night is important to your well- being.

    Participate in an extracurricular activity.  Sports, theater, fraternities and sororities, the student newspaper – whatever interests you – can bring opportunities to meet people interested in the same things you are, and these activities provide welcome change from class work.

    Seek support from other people. This may be a roommate or a friend from class.  Friendships can help make a strange place feel more friendly and comfortable.  Sharing your emotions reduces isolation and helps you realize that you are not alone.

    Try relaxation methods. These include meditation, deep breathing, warm baths, long walks, exercise – whatever you enjoy that lessens your feelings of stress and discomfort.

    Take time for yourself every day. Make special time for yourself – even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day.  Focusing on yourself can be energizing and gives you a feeling of purpose and control over your life.

    Work towards recovery.  The most important step in combating depression and reclaiming your college experience is to seek treatment.  Your physician should communicate to you that remission of symptoms should be your goal and work with you to determine whether psychological counseling, medication or a combination of both treatments is needed.

    Teen Depression

    March 23, 2010

    It is true that many teenagers occasionally are unhappy. Their ranging hormones tend to affect their mood almost daily. However, according to WebMD, findings show that one out of every eight adolescents has teen depression.

    Medicinenet tells us that there are many reasons why teenagers become unhappy. High stress. environments can lead to depression. Teens can develop feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy over school performance, social interaction, sexual orientation, or family life. If friends or family, or things that the teen usually enjoys, don’t help to improve his or her sadness or sense of isolation, there’s a good chance that he or she is depressed.

    If your teen’s unhappiness lasts for more than two weeks and he or she displays other symptoms of depression, it may be time to seek help from a health professional. There are some additional symptoms to look for in teens. Often, kids with teen depression will have a noticeable change in their thinking and behavior. They may have no motivation and even become withdrawn, closing their bedroom door after school and staying in their room for hours. Kids with teen depression may sleep excessively, have a change in eating habits, and may even exhibit criminal behaviors such as DUI or shoplifting. You should be especially aware if depression runs in your family.

    Parenting teenagers can be very challenging. Some communication techniques can go a long way toward lowering the stress level of your teenager.

    • When disciplining your child, replace shame and punishment with positive reinforcement for good behavior. Shame and punishment can make an adolescent feel worthless and inadequate.
    • Allow your teenager to make mistakes. Overprotection or making decisions for teens can be perceived as a lack of faith in their abilities. This can make them feel less confident.
    • Give your teen breathing room. Don’t expect them to do exactly as you say all of the time.
    • Do not force your child down a path you wanted to follow. Avoid trying to relive your youth through your child’s activities and experiences.

    Teen depression tends to come and go in episodes. Once a teenager has one bout of depression, he or she is likely to get depressed again at some point. The consequence of letting teen depression go untreated can be extremely serious, even deadly.

    Suicide

    March 16, 2010

    According to eMedicine, suicide accounts for 32,000 deaths yearly in the United States and is the 11th leading of cause of mortality. WebMD tells us that the best way to prevent suicide with clinical depression is to know the risk factors for suicide and to recognize the warning signs of suicide. Take these signs seriously. Know how to respond to them. It could save someone’s life.

    Over 90% of people who die by suicide have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder. Many times, people who die by suicide have a substance abuse problem. Often they have that problem in combination with other mental disorders.

    Warning signs that someone may be thinking about or planning to commit suicide include:

    • Always talking or thinking about death
    • Clinical depression — deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating — that gets worse
    • Having a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death such as driving fast or running red lights
    • Losing interest in things one used to care about
    • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
    • Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
    • Saying things like “it would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out”
    • Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
    • Talking about suicide or killing one’s self
    • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

    The Mayo clinic gives us some advice on what to do if we think someone we love might be suicidal.

    The best way to find out if someone is considering suicide is to directly but gently ask. Asking them won’t give them the idea or push them into doing something self-destructive. To the contrary, your willingness to ask can decrease the risk of suicide by giving them an opportunity to talk about their feelings. You can ask open-ended questions about their feelings or specific questions about suicide.

    If a friend or loved one is considering suicide, he or she needs professional help. It’s important to remember that it’s not your job to become a substitute for a mental health provider. Also, don’t tell him or her that you promise not to tell anyone. Don’t worry about losing a friendship when someone’s life is at stake.

    Many types of help and support are available to people considering suicide. If your friend or loved one doesn’t want to consult a doctor or mental health provider, suggest finding help from a support group, crisis center, faith community, teacher or other trusted confidante.

    Sleep and Depression

    March 13, 2010

    Lack of sleep and depression tend to run together. You can barely keep your eyes open during the day, but the moment you lay down for the night, suddenly you can’t sleep at all. Sometimes, treating one can help benefit the other.

    According to MedicineNet, an inability to sleep, or insomnia, is one of the signs of depression. Suprisingly, a small percentage of depressed people, approximately 15%, oversleep, or sleep too much. Lack of sleep alone cannot cause depression, but it does play a role. Lack of sleep caused by another medical illness or by personal problems can make depression worse. An inability to sleep that lasts over a long period of time is also an important clue that someone may be depressed.

    WebMD says that insomnia is difficulty initiating or maintaining normal sleep. It can result in non-restorative sleep and interfere with or impair the way you function during the day. Insomnia is characteristic of depression and other mental health disorders. With insomnia, you may sleep too little, have difficulty falling asleep, awaken frequently throughout the night, or be unable to get back to sleep. Depression can affect sleep because your feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt can interrupt sleep. Or your mind may be running a million miles an hour, worrying and thing about situations over which you have no control. This causes high levels of anxiety, fears about poor sleep, low daytime activity levels, and a tendency to misperceive sleep.

    Your doctor may treat sleep disorders and depression with an antidepressant. Also, your doctor may prescribe a sedating antidepressant or a hypnotic medication — a sleeping pill or other medication that helps people sleep.

    Your doctor may prescribe one of the following hypnotics or sleeping pills to help resolve insomnia:

    • Ambien
    • Lunesta
    • Restoril
    • Sonata

    Here are some other tips to help you sleep other than medication:

    • Meditation, listening to soft music, or reading a book before bedtime can help increase relaxation while focusing your thoughts on neutral or pleasant topics.
    • Clear your head of concerns by writing a list of activities that need to be completed the next day. Then tell yourself you will think about it tomorrow.
    • Get regular exercise — but no later than a few hours before bedtime. Daily exercise, including stretching and conditioning exercises, can help to facilitate sleep and relieve the associated anxiety many people have about staying asleep.
    • High levels of arousal associated with racing thoughts, worries, or rumination may delay sleep onset. Relaxation therapies such as yoga and deep abdominal breathing may be useful in initiating sleep.
    • Don’t use caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine in the evening. Check the ingredients in any over-the-counter or prescription medications to see if “sleeplessness” is indicated. Some medications such as headache medicines contain caffeine, which can cause poor sleep.
    • Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning. Get out of bed and do something in another room when you can’t sleep. Go back to bed when you are feeling drowsy.
    • Use the bed only for sleeping and sex. Don’t lie in bed to watch TV or read. This way, your bed becomes a cue for sleeping, not for lying awake.
    • Take a warm shower right before bedtime to increase deep sleep as your body cools.
    • Keep your bedroom at a cool temperature.
    • Wear earplugs and a sleep mask if noise and light bother your sleep.
    • Get black-out shades for your bedroom to keep outside lights from bothering you.
    • A white noise machine may also help if you cannot sleep because of household noises.

    Antidepressants

    March 8, 2010

    Antidepressants are medicines that treat depression. They are prescribed by your doctor. They can improve your mood, sleep, appetite and concentration. It may take several weeks for them to help. There are several types of antidepressants. You and your doctor may have to try several before finding what works best for you.

    According to the National Institute for Mental Health, if one medication does not work, patients should be open to trying another. NIMH–funded research has shown that patients who did not get well after taking a first medication increased their chances of becoming symptom–free after they switched to a different medication or added another medication to their existing one.

    The National Institutes of Health says that antidepressants sometimes cause unwanted side effects, but they are usually not long–term. For example, when you first start your antidepressant you may feel tired, have trouble sleeping or feel sick to your stomach. Tell your doctor if you have any side effects. You should also let your doctor know if you take any other medicines, vitamins or herbal supplements.

    For all antidepressants, patients must take regular doses for at least three to four weeks before they are likely to experience a full therapeutic effect. Make sure to continue taking the medication for the time specified by your doctor, even if you are feeling better, in order to prevent a relapse of the depression. Medication should be stopped only under a doctor’s supervision. Some medications need to be gradually stopped to give the body time to adjust. Although antidepressants are not habit–forming or addictive, abruptly ending an antidepressant can cause withdrawal symptoms or lead to a relapse. Some individuals, such as those with chronic or recurrent depression, may need to stay on the medication indefinitely, which is nothing to be ashamed about.

    It can be scary to go to a doctor to talk about getting antidepressants. But sometimes you just need a little help to get back to normal and it is always okay to ask for help when you need it. Discussing your options with your doctor and a time frame for how long you might need to be on medication can help you feel better about the situation.

    Many women struggle with symptoms of depression and feeling sad after they give birth. According to WebMD, the “baby blues” strikes as many as three out of four new mothers. But nearly 12% develop a more intense mood that lingers even as their baby thrives. This is known as postpartum depression, and the symptoms are very similar to those of major depression.

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services helps to clarify the differences between the baby blues and postpartum depression.

    If you have the baby blues, you may:

    Have mood swings
    Feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed
    Have crying spells
    Lose your  appetite
    Have trouble sleeping

    The baby blues most often go away within a few days or a week. The symptoms are not severe and do not need treatment.

    The symptoms of postpartum depression last longer and are more severe. Postpartum depression can begin anytime within the first year after childbirth. If you have postpartum depression, you may have any of the symptoms of depression listed above. Symptoms may also include:

    • Thoughts of hurting the baby
    • Thoughts of hurting yourself
    • Not having any interest in the baby

    Do not be scared if you feel a little down after you have a baby. Some women don’t tell anyone about their symptoms. They feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty about feeling depressed when they are supposed to be happy. They worry they will be viewed as unfit parents. Any woman may become depressed during pregnancy or after having a baby. It doesn’t mean you are a bad or “not together” mom. You and your baby don’t have to suffer. There is help.

    Call your doctor if:

    • Your baby blues don’t go away after 2 weeks
    • Symptoms of depression get more and more intense
    • Symptoms of depression begin any time after delivery, even many months later
    • It is hard for you to perform tasks at work or at home
    • You cannot care for yourself or your baby
    • You have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

    According to emedicinehealth, postpartum depression can be preventable. Too often, depressive symptoms are dismissed as normal for a woman who has just experienced childbirth. If you have had depression in the past, or have risk factors for depression, talk with your doctor before getting pregnant or early in your pregnancy.All new mothers should be screened for depressive disorders.

    Feeling SAD?

    February 22, 2010

    We are now into the heart of winter. But Christmas is long gone, snow covers the ground, and spring is no where in sight. Many people may be feeling down right about now, but it isn’t a simple case of the “winter blues”. According to the National Institute of Health, some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and crave sweets and starchy foods. They may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up. This condition is seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Some experts think it’s caused by a lack of sunlight during winter, when the days are shorter. In the United States, it is much more common in northern states.

    SAD is most common during the fall and winter seasons, though it can possibly occur in the spring and summer as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of winter-onset SAD include:

    • Depression
    • Hopelessness
    • Anxiety
    • Loss of energy
    • Social withdrawal
    • Oversleeping
    • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
    • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
    • Weight gain
    • Difficulty concentrating and processing information

    Summer-onset seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

    • Anxiety
    • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
    • Irritability
    • Agitation
    • Weight loss
    • Poor appetite
    • Increased sex drive

    There are treatments available for seasonal affective disorder. According to Mental Health America, phototherapy or bright light therapy has been shown to suppress the brain’s secretion of melatonin. Light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85 percent of diagnosed cases. Patients remain in light up to ten times the intensity of normal domestic lighting up to four hours a day, but may carry on normal activities such as eating or reading while undergoing treatment.  For mild symptoms, spending time outdoors during the day or arranging homes and workplaces to receive more sunlight may be helpful. One study found that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was as effective as two and a half hours under bright artificial light.If phototherapy does not work, an antidepressant drug may prove effective in reducing or eliminating SAD symptoms.

    The Pains of Depression

    February 16, 2010

    Something that many people don’t realize is that depression not only affects you emotionally, but physically as well. According to WebMD, about 65% of patients report their depression is accompanied by pain. These symptoms can include:

    • Headaches. These are fairly common in people with depression. If you already had migraine headaches, they may seem worse if you’re depressed.
    • Back pain. If you already suffer with back pain, it may be worse if you become depressed.
    • Muscle aches and joint pain. Depression can make any kind of chronic pain worse.
    • Chest pain. Obviously, it’s very important to get chest pain checked out by an expert right away. It can be a sign of serious heart problems. But depression can contribute to the discomfort associated with chest pain.
    • Digestive problems. You might feel queasy or nauseous. You might have diarrhea or become chronically constipated.
    • Exhaustion and fatigue. No matter how much you sleep, you may still feel tired or worn out. Getting out of the bed in the morning may seem very hard, even impossible.
    • Sleeping problems. Many people with depression can’t sleep well anymore. They wake up too early or can’t fall asleep when they go to bed. Others sleep much more than normal.
    • Change in appetite or weight. Some people with depression lose their appetite and lose weight. Others find they crave certain foods — like carbohydrates — and weigh more.
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness.

    In an article by Psychology Today, Seattle researchers found thought a study of over 25,00 patients at 15 primary care centers on five continents that 50% of all depressed patients worldwide report multiple unexplained physical symptoms. The pain is often vague and unexplained by injury. It may show up as headache, abdominal pain, or musculoskeletal pains in the lower back, joints and neck—alone or in any combination. The painful physical symptoms of depression typically take the form of multiple somatic complaints. These physical symptoms aren’t “all in your head.” Depression can cause real changes in your body.

    What is Depression?

    February 10, 2010

    So often today, you will hear phrases thrown out like, “I’m depressed,” or “She struggles with depression.” But do we know what depression really is and what is really means when people say they the word depression?

    According to the DSM-IV, a manual used to diagnose mental disorders, depression occurs when you have at least five of the following nine symptoms at the same time:

    • a depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
    • fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
    • feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
    • impaired concentration, indecisiveness
    • insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
    • markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day
    • recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)
    • a sense of restlessness — known as psychomotor agitation — or being slowed down — retardation
    • significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)

    According to WebMD, it is estimated that, by the year 2020, major depression will be second only to heart disease in terms of the leading causes of illness in the world. It is more prevalent among the population today than most people comprehend. But people with the symptoms of depression sometimes fail to realize, or accept, that there is a physical cause to their depressed moods. And it is a hard thing to come to terms with. No one wants to feel like they are unable to be happy. Thus, they search and search for external causes of their sadness.  Left undiagnosed and untreated, depression can worsen, lasting for years and causing untold suffering, and possibly suicide.

    According the National Institute of Mental Health, there is no single cause of depression. Rather, it likely results from a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors.

    Research indicates that depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior appear to function abnormally. In addition, important neurotransmitters–chemicals that brain cells use to communicate–appear to be out of balance. But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred.

    Depression can sometimes run in families, suggesting a genetic link. However, depression can occur in people without family histories of depression as well. Genetics research indicates that risk for depression results from the influence of multiple genes acting together with environmental or other factors. Also, trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode. Subsequent depressive episodes may occur with or without an obvious trigger.

    However, no matter what the cause, depression is not something that anyone has to go through alone. Depression is a complex illness, with many different types, forms, and symptoms, but the burden all forms of depression can be lightened with the appropriate help. You are not alone and it’s okay to accept help.