Depression is a very complex reality, but I will not look at it in all its complexity in such a short blog.
Depression is a painful feeling of ongoing sadness, low mood, no motivation and no sense of joy or happiness. It is a sense of being in a dark hole, powerless and helpless. When we are depressed, especially if it is extreme, we lose pleasure in everything, we feel tired all the time, we would prefer to stay in bed late, and doing small tasks can seem very difficult. It can also affect our appetite either by increasing or decreasing it. One of the most disheartening aspects of depression is a tendency to withdraw from other, being in an internal world of darkness and hopelessness. Sometimes it can make us angry as men, or in the case of women, tearful.
It also affects our thinking processes where concentrating can be difficult. Sometimes, especially with females it brings on rumination (asking questions that have no answer), so that we are on a treadmill of deadness. Sometimes in severe depression, the emotional pain is so great that we consider escaping from it by taking our own lives. Suicidal ideation often accompanies depression.
It can range from mild to extreme and can have a genetic or an environmental aspect or both. When I say environmental, I mean it is caused by adverse or stressful circumstances in our life, particularly if a person had a childhood of neglect or criticism. Generally, depression is an early onset complaint, and people get it in their late teens, but there is a late onset depression, which is rarer and generally stems from hormonal or medical conditions as we age. Early onset depression tends to occur in episodes that generally fade and then recur. Sometimes the time between the episodes lessens and the depressive stress increases.
Clearly, when we consider the lockdowns and restrictions that we are currently suffering during the Covid 19 crisis, it is easy to see how depression can be made much worse. These restrictions are in some cases traumatic, where we, as social beings, have been deprived of human interaction and social contact. When we feel imprisoned, particularly if we live in urban areas, it can quickly lower our mood. We are meant to be free, in a psychological sense, and taking away our freedom can be traumatic for some people. I think there will be a great deal of depression following these relatively long lockdowns, so I want to look at how to deal with it.
It can be very difficult for a person to handle the depression of a partner at the best of times, and during our current ‘imprisonment’ that can be almost impossible. So, people who live with a depressed person should be cognisant of the importance of self-care, as outlined in my last blog. Looking after ourselves in an emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual sense will enable us to cope better with someone who is depressed.
What a depressed person needs is not to be fixed, but a level of empathy from a partner, and certainly not criticism such as ‘snap out of it.’ Empathy is an emotional understanding of the other, a simple statement such as ‘this is very hard for you.’ it shows the depressed person some level of support. Criticism only drives the depression deeper and makes it last longer.
A depressed person needs to be heard, and counselling can be very helpful, where a non-judgemental stranger in a safe place listens and empathises and offers some suggestions if necessary. As well as addressing the inner world of the depressed person, a counsellor will help the person examine the root cause of the depression. Processing them can take the depressive symptoms away. Currently many counsellors are working online. I do not do that, there is nothing like face to face interaction in a safe setting. Counselling is complex and cannot be packaged in a screen, in my opinion, but it may be the only option available at the moment.
As with anxiety, a good diet is essential to ease depression, so plenty of greens, fruits, and lean meat especially fish are useful. There is a myth that nicotine can ease depression. It does not and can keep you on the treadmill, as you may experience a momentary escape from the depression and then back it comes! That is how addictions are created.
A recent study has shown that fresh air on its own can help raise one’s spirits. Combine that with exercise and you have the prescription to ease depression. Exercise is essential. Of course, it can be difficult to drag oneself out of bed and go for a walk or a cycle, but being depressed does not deprive us of choices. A partner can be of great help in this.
Finally, there is the question of medication, of anti-depressants. When my child was killed my doctor prescribed some anti-depressants, but I would have to say that it is best not to take these, unless things become intolerable.
So, during the lockdowns and later on try to get out, force yourself to get up early, have a simple plan for the day, set achievable goals (set small steps), practise positive self-talk and get some therapy.