Depression is a life-threatening illness that affects one in 10 adults. Because it often masquerades as a dozen different ailments, including backache, stomach problems, anxiety, or fatigue, it often goes undiagnosed or is dismissed as a simple case of “the blues.”
Research has shown, however, that depression is a legitimate disorder that may stem from certain neurological problems in the brain. Depression can be a dreadful disease. It can destroy marriages, careers, and can even lead to suicide.
As Dr. Philip Muskin says, "there is no reason for anyone's brain to hold them prisoner." Unfortunately, the stigma attached to psychiatric disorders prevents some from seeking help. Once the depressed person gets past that stigma and opens himself up to receiving treatment, he has an 85 percent chance of improvement. Follow these suggestions to prevent depression from overtaking your life:
1. Don’t ignore legitimate symptoms
If you have been feeling sad, “blue” or “down in the dumps” for two weeks or more and no longer find pleasure in activities that you once enjoyed, this might be a sign that you are dealing with depression. Some other symptoms to watch for are weight loss or gain of 5-20 lbs., sleep problems, fatigue, slowed body movement and thought processes, impaired concentration, feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of suicide. If you have been experiencing several of these symptoms you should talk to someone; if you have had thoughts of suicide you should call your doctor immediately.
2. Don’t mistake normal grief or disappointment for depression
Everyone experiences periods of sadness, disappointment or pessimism from time to time. This is a normal part of life. If you have experienced a life changing event such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or a similar traumatic experience, time is often the best cure. Allow yourself to experience the grief or disappointment that comes with these types of situations and don’t worry if it takes some time.
3. Don’t try to handle it on your own
Talk to a trusted friend or family member about how you are feeling. It helps to have someone who knows what you are going through that you can talk to from time to time. It is also important to have someone who can observe when your behavior seems out of place or extreme and can suggest medical attention if necessary. If the way you are feeling begins to interfere with your normal daily activities you should schedule an appointment to talk with a licensed therapist, psychiatrist or counselor. They can provide you with tools to deal with your depression or suggest drug therapy.
Although the stigma regarding psychiatric disorders has lifted somewhat in recent years, people who suffer with these problems still often feel as if they are somehow to blame. Try to remember that the way you are feeling is not your fault and that you can get help.
While many of us may have to face our own depression or a loved one's depression sometime in our lives, we don't need to let the illness overtake our lives. By recognizing symptoms and seeking help, we can cope with depression and keep it from taking over.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.