by Catriona Rogers, Counselling Psychologist
Depression has been called the "common cold of mental health problems". We all experience episodes of unhappiness, sadness, or grief when loved ones die, we lose a job, suffer personal tragedy, or cannot find meaning in our lives. Most of us are able to cope with these episodes. But when the symptoms last for more than a couple of weeks, it may be clinical depression. It is distinct from feeling "the blues" and can involve a mixture of feelings: e.g., anger, fear, anxiety, despair, guilt, apathy, and grief. This more severe degree of depression is an illness that must be treated, as it affects the proper functioning of the body.
Depression is a very serious condition, but it is not a disease. Rather, it's a sign that your body and your life are out of balance. This principle is important to remember because as soon as you start to view depression as an illness, you think you need to take a drug to fix it. In reality, what you need to do is return balance to your life, addressing the external and internal issues that are causing your depression and learn skills to cope with them.
The following are the most common symptoms of depression. If you experience 5 or more of these symptoms for two weeks or longer, you are probably depressed. (Note that children will show different symptoms.)
- Persistent sadness or feeling down or gloomy, crying spells
- No interest in or withdrawal from activities, friends, and family
- Giving up on expressing hopes and goals
- Significant increase or decrease of appetite and weight.
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Feeling tired and having little energy, feeling helpless and hopeless
- Difficulty in concentrating and thinking clearly, thereby becoming indecisive
- Feeling overwhelmed and in despair, with excessive crying
- Feelings of worthlessness and excessive guilt
- Loss of sense of identity
- Feeling empty and confused
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
A combination of genetic, psychological, biological, and environmental factors are involved in the onset of depression. Such factors include individual biochemistry, life situations, personality, medication and substance abuse, and diet deficiency. Continued mental or emotional stress is also an important factor, e.g., major life events such as loss of a job, retirement, divorce, moving house; social circumstances such as being alone or having few or no friends; or suffering from a chronic or life-threatening illness.
Personality disorders and a family history of depression is also a contributing factor, as is a brain chemical imbalance that could be attributed to medications, as certain medications have mood-altering properties.
Whatever the cause, it's important to remember that depression is treatable.
The Orthodox Approach
The traditional approach to treating depression has been drugs: in the beginning with tricyclic antidepressants, and then with newer SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Recent research shows that, of those with major depression treated with these drugs, only 15% go into remission and have a long period of staying well. The other 85% end up with continuing relapses and become chronically depressed. They may suffer from a medicated/depressogenic depression, which means that the drugs cause the depression.
The IMI Approach
Finding an effective treatment for depression is not something to approach lightly. Without treatment, symptoms will last much longer and may never improve, or even worsen. With treatment the chances of recovery are quite good.
If you are depressed, whether mildly or severely, it is recommended that first you have a physical examination to rule out any physical complications that may be contributing to your experience of depression. Known examples of such physical issues include Candida infection, thyroid malfunction, acute or chronic stress reactions, allergies, drug or alcohol abuse and dependence, recent surgery, or PMS. After a physical exam, you should then consult a mental health professional.
More intense psychotherapy and medication will most probably be necessary to treat severe clinical depression, bipolar depression, or depression with other psychiatric symptoms, but these too can benefit from the support of additional alternative approaches.
A Holistic Approach. IMI offers a holistic approach to depression treatment that may include counselling/psychotherapy, complementary therapies (e.g., massage, reflexology, aromatherapy), herbal and dietary supplements, and changes in lifestyle and behaviour (e.g., meditation, spiritual practices, exercise).
Counselling/Psychotherapy involves working with a trained therapist to figure out ways to solve problems and cope with depression. Therapy is a key factor in understanding the source of your depression. Your counsellor will explore your symptoms with you and help you uncover the underlying emotional issues that have contributed to your depression. An experienced counsellor can identify if you are suffering from a mild form of depression, as can be expected at times from simply living life, or if it is sufficiently serious and pervasive enough to require referral to a specialist.
There are many counselling approaches that are able to address depression, among which are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, Psychoanalysis, Psychosynthesis, Primal Integration, Narrative Therapy, Positive Psychology, Therapeutic Visualization, and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
Naturopathy. Several non-prescription herbal and dietary supplements are used to treat depression. These supplements include St John's wort, SAM-e, 5HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D.
It is vital that you check with a naturopath before taking a herbal or dietary supplement as these can interact dangerously with other medications. Also, a naturopath can help you find the correct potency for your needs, as potency can vary from product to product and even from batch to batch of the same product.
Diet and exercise also play very important roles in depression management and studies confirm that physical exercise is at least as good as antidepressants in alleviating some symptoms of depression.
Catriona Rogers is a Counselling Psychologist with IMI. She draws on her experience of many different approaches to assist those suffering from depression. She strongly believes in a holistic approach to treating depression and works closely with her IMI colleagues to ensure that the needs of each individual client is met.
To take the Wakefield Depression Questionnaire, contact Catriona Rogers at 2523 7121.