As the dark skies of winter pass, most of us begin to crawl out of our dens to enjoy the sights and sounds of spring. However, not everyone is able to enjoy this time of year. Depression often clouds a person's ability to capture the best that life has to offer.
In years past, depression was thought to be a personality flaw and people were told to "pull themselves up by the bootstraps" and move on. We now know that depression is a biochemical disease of the brain. Research has shown that depression can be caused by an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Other factors that can cause depression include:
- Prolonged stress from divorce, death of a family member, job issues, or serious financial problems
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Hormonal changes associated with childbirth or perimenopause
- Medications or chronic diseases
A family history of depression can predispose a person to these same chemical imbalances
There are certain signs and symptoms that can help a healthcare provider determine if you have depression. They include:
- Irritability and sadness most of the day-nearly every day
- Lack of interest or pleasure in activities that in the past were pleasurable
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Increase or decrease in weight
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Pervasive fatigue and loss of energy
- Lack of focus and forgetfulness
The most serious sign of depression is thoughts of death or suicide. If you or someone you know is having these thoughts, please contact your healthcare provider or the local emergency room for immediate help.
You don't need to be experiencing all of these signs to have depression. Depression can also vary from person to person and is often experienced differently in men and women. Over the course of a lifetime, nearly 1 in 4 women will experience a major depressive episode with the greatest peak during childbearing years. However, the most important thing to realize is that you're not alone. In fact, more than 19 million Americans suffer from depression. The good news is that there are effective treatment options available to deal with this chemical imbalance and get you back to enjoying life again! There are two main treatments for depression: counseling and medications. For some women either treatment may be sufficient, but for the majority of women a combination of the two is most effective. Counseling can take the form of individual, family, or group sessions. Therapy can help you identify ways to handle the stressors in your life and develop strategies to effectively deal with your depressive symptoms. Lifestyle, dietary, and stress management issues are often addressed as women are guided through their recovery. Many women have found that the additions of alternative and complementary therapies such as healing touch, reiki, and hypnosis have also been effective in managing their depression.
Medications are often used to correct the chemical imbalances that have precipitated the depression. These medications can take several weeks to be effective, but they work well and are generally safe. Your healthcare provider will want to see you for frequent visits during the first few months of your treatment to monitor the effectiveness of the medications as well as check for any side effects. It is important to take your medication as prescribed and not to discontinue it without first talking to your provider.
For more information about depression, you may contact the following organizations:
- National Institute of Mental Health at www.nimh.nih.gov
- National Mental Health Association at www.nmha.org
- National Alliance for the Mentally Ill at www.nami.org
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