Depression is not an uncommon malady. It is sometimes ironically known as the “common cold” of mental health diagnoses. Depression can be triggered by many environmental events, and it often has genetic origins. The question of when to get help is an important issue to consider. Many people will experience seasonal depression a little later this year, and it is important to have an outlet to discuss these feelings. Seasonal depression is often an exacerbation of underlying depression which, when one is deprived of full spectrum light, will spiral down to a clinical depression.
Just having a safe outlet to discuss such feelings is, in itself, the start of healing. Some people find it hard to admit that they are suffering from feelings of depression. I always recommend that people have a “same sex” partner with whom they can discuss such things in a very candid manner. Accountability partners can help us to keep promises we make to ourselves. For example, if I commit to getting up early and exercising, and I consistently do not keep that promise to myself, I end up feeling bad about myself. I begin to feel like I cannot trust myself. This can lead to lowered self esteem, and ultimately to depression.
Having another person help us to stay accountable is a way of ensuring that we do what we say we’ll do. That other person also is one to whom we can confide feelings, and get feedback, encouragement, etc. I often see people in counseling who tell me that they sought counsel because someone important in their life, a spouse or a close friend, encouraged them to do so. That other person saw some things that may have been invisible to the other, and they recommended help for their friend.
Seeking help for depression can begin with a discussion with a pastor or the family physician to get started on a plan of emotional healing. Family physicians are very often the first people to recognize and treat depression. Upwards of 30% of people seeking help from their family doctor are actually suffering from depression. Family doctors are, by far, the top prescribers of antidepressant medication.
At my counseling practice, New Creation Counseling Center, we have excellent relationships with many family practice physicians who refer their patients for counseling in addition to antidepressant medication. Nearly all clinical studies indicate that medication alone, or counseling alone, is often insufficient treatment for depression. A comprehensive approach, which includes counseling, medication, a discussion of spiritual or existential issues, and proper diet and exercise are critical for real success in overcoming depression.
One more point must be made in looking at the holistic approach to treating depression. A good physical examination should always precede treatment for depression. Many physical illnesses, such as diabetes, thyroid conditions, metabolic disorders, and a host of other physical problems can cause feelings of depression. We typically encourage people to talk with their family physician before undertaking a course of treatment for depression.
The one thing that always makes depression worse is social isolation. Unfortunately, many people, when feeling depressed, avoid other people at the time they need most to have healthy interactions with others. Having a strong support system may be the best indicator of long term success in treating symptoms of depression.
In summary, if feelings of depression have persisted for several weeks, and have caused some disruption in any life areas- work, school, family, or other relationships- a discussion with a trusted friend or spouse should take place. A visit to the family doctor could come next, followed by plans to treat the depression in a comprehensive manner.
Taking such steps will usually result in a successful conclusion in dealing with depression.