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As winter and holidays approach, increasing feeling of loneliness and sadness can easily occur. Depression may be described as feeling sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or down in the dumps. Most of us feel this way at one time or another for short periods. But, true clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for weeks or longer. It is NOT a sign of weakness, loss of faith, or failure. Depression can be related to other health issues. We will look at depression, possible causes and treatments.

The exact cause of depression is not known. Many researchers believe it is caused by chemical changes in the brain. This may be due to a problem with your genes, or triggered by certain stressful events. More likely, it’s a combination of both.

What Does Depression Look Like?

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
  • Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
  • Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
  • Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
  • Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
  • Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
  • Reckless behavior. You engage in escapist behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
  • Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
  • Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.

Could I Be Depressed? Is this You?

If you identify with several of the following signs and symptoms, and they just won’t go away, you may be suffering from clinical depression.

  • you can’t sleep or you sleep too much
  • you can’t concentrate or find that previously easy tasks are now difficult
  • you feel hopeless and helpless
  • you can’t control your negative thoughts, no matter how much you try
  • you have lost your appetite or you can’t stop eating
  • you are much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual
  • you’re consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless behavior
  • you have thoughts that life is not worth living (Seek help immediately if this is the case)

Some Causes of Depression:

Some types of depression run in families. But depression can also occur if you have no family history of the illness. Anyone can develop depression, even kids.

The following may play a role in depression:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Sleeping problems
  • Certain medical conditions: Underactive thyroid, cancer, untreated or chronic pain
  • Some medications: Steroids, some anti-anxiety medications, some antihypertensives, Accutane, narcotics, Chantix
  • Stressful life events, such as:
    • Breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend
    • Failing a class
    • Death or illness of someone close to you
    • Divorce or Marriage problems
    • Childhood abuse or neglect
    • Job loss
    • Social isolation (common in the elderly)

What If I Am Depressed?

Again, I want to reiterate that suffering from depression does not mean you are weak, have lost faith in God, or that you have failed yourself or your family. As you have already read, depression has many causes. I encourage you to talk to your health care provider. You may be asked to fill out a short survey to help your primary care provider (PCP) correctly diagnose what is actually going on. You will probably have blood work done. Typically, a PCP will draw thyroid stimulating hormone, complete blood count and comprehensive metabolic profile. This will help them see if there is an underlying cause of your depression.

You can discuss possible treatment options. It is important to know that if you choose to treat depression with medications. You do not necessarily have to take them for the rest of your life. Short-term therapy for depression is about 6 mos. to 1 year. Do not stop your depression medications abruptly, and always talk to your health provider before you decide to stop your medications.

Some Natural Therapies for Depression

I do not recommend you trying any therapies for depression without talking to your PCP, first. This doesn’t mean you cannot discuss some natural or non-medicinal therapies. But, you may not realize the degree of your depression. So, include your PCP in your treatment plan.

1) Exercise: You always hear that exercise releases the “good” endorphins. It is true there chemicals released in your brain that actually raise your mood when you exercise regularly. Try a brisk walk outside, aerobic exercise or use of treadmill.

2) Diet: A good health diet is important not only for good physical health, but also for good mental health. Check out one of my past blogs for details on how to get started – https://thenpmom.wordpress.com/2011/09/02/healthy-habit-3/

3) Sleep: I tell all of my patients, if you can sleep you can cope with a lot. If you cannot sleep, then you can’t. Sleep is vital – and you guessed it I have blogged about sleep in the past. https://thenpmom.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/healthy-habit-4/

4) Responsibilities. When you’re depressed, a natural inclination is to pull back — to give up all your responsibilities at home and at work. It’s a feeling you should fight against. Staying active and having daily responsibilities can work as a natural depression treatment. They help ground you and give you a sense of accomplishment.

5) Supplements: I believe there are a few supplements that can be helpful. I am hesitant to talk in depth about supplements, because depression needs to assessed before therapy of any kind is started – this due to an increased risk of suicide. SO, check with your doctor before using supplements. While lots of supplements have been promoted as depression cures, the research has been mixed. Always check with your doctor before starting any supplement, especially if you’re already on other medications.

6) Light Therapy: Getting enough sunlight has been shown to be effective for seasonal mood changes that happen in the darker winter months. Exposure to light in the morning helps the body’s sleep/wake cycle work properly. Production of serotonin, a brain chemical that key in influencing our mood, is turned on in the morning upon exposure to light. During the winter when there is less sunlight, serotonin levels can drop, making us feel tired and prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

One of the simplest ways to increase your exposure to light is to walk outdoors in the morning. Just be sure to use sunscreen to protect your skin from ultraviolet light. Another option is to use special lights that simulate natural daylight. Studies have found they are effective. These lights can be found online. There are different types available, from light boxes to visors that are typically used for 20-30 minutes a day. Look for lights with a minimum of 3,000 lux. Many experts suggest 10,000 lux. Although they are rather expensive ranging from $150 to $500, they may be covered by insurance.

7) Cognitive Therapy: Consider seeing a specialist. There are psychologists, psychiatrists, Christian counselors and others specializing in treatment of depression. Talk with your PCP about a referral to one of the above.

A Very Important Note about Depression and Suicide:

Depression is a major risk factor for suicide. The deep despair and hopelessness that goes along with depression can make suicide feel like the only way to escape the pain. Thoughts of death or suicide are a serious symptom of depression, so take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. It’s not just a warning sign that the person is thinking about suicide: it’s a cry for help.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about killing or harming one’s self
  • Expressing strong feelings of hopelessness or being trapped
  • An unusual preoccupation with death or dying
  • Acting recklessly, as if they have a death wish (e.g. speeding through red lights)
  • Calling or visiting people to say goodbye
  • Getting affairs in order (giving away prized possessions, tying up loose ends)
  • Saying things like “Everyone would be better off without me” or “I want out”
  • A sudden switch from being extremely depressed to acting calm and happy

When you’re feeling extremely depressed or suicidal, problems don’t seem temporary—they seem overwhelming and permanent. But with time, you will feel better, especially if you reach out for help. If you are feeling suicidal, know that there are many people who want to support you during this difficult time, so please reach out for help!

Read Coping with Suicidal Thoughts and Help to Get You Through or call 1-800-273-TALK now!

Finally, don’t be embarrassed to admit you are having issues coping with life. You are not the first person to ever have depressed feeling. You will not be the last. Depression can be easily treated and there are many treatment options available.