Federated Health Charities’ mission is to improve the health and quality of life of all Ontarians by supporting 21 different health charities providing critical services to those experiencing, or affected by, illness. We believe education and prevention are key parts of supporting the health of our communities so our weekly Health Hint series strives to provide tangible and easy to implement hints and tips on how to maintain your health, prevent disease, and enjoy increased quality of life. Check out our latest Health Hint on ‘Dealing with Depression. We hope you find it helpful. If you would like to join our efforts to support the health of Ontario please consider a donation to Federated Health Charities.
Everyone feels down or miserable at certain times in their lives, specifically, when facing disappointment or loss. Sometimes it’s hard to cope with certain situations but mostly these feelings are situational, will pass and we move forward and gradually take pleasure in the enjoyable aspects of life again.
However, if it is impossible to shake off the feelings of gloom and misery, this could be indicative of a more deeply rooted problem and could be signs of depression. Feelings of despair, helplessness, and lack of hope, often unrelated to specific situations, are some signs of it.
Depression is a chronic disease, and like any other chronic disease, requires ongoing support and treatment by the person living with it to mitigate progression and further negative impacts. This is like how a person with diabetes needs to monitor their food and exercise on an ongoing basis (O’Connor, 2001).
Working with a professional is a great first-step to outlining what daily practices would best support a person’s mental well-being, but as an example, some daily practices might include things like:
– Management techniques to help cope with triggering emotions
– Detachment techniques to not let feelings overwhelm
– Practice intimacy to increase connection
– Set priorities
– Practice self-care by developing a daily schedule of activities
– Find community to reduce isolation
Levels of depression:
There are four levels at which depression occurs and some key behaviours associated with each (Marsh, 2020). To reiterate, many of these feelings are experienced by people on a regular basis when confronted with difficult situations, but where these symptoms become concerning are when they are not in relation to life circumstances, are ongoing, and when a person possess multiple symptoms at once.
1. Depression in thoughts:
– Inability to make decisions
– Slower thinking
– Lack of concentration
– Poor memory
– Thoughts of death or suicidal plans
– Expecting the worst
2. Depression in body:
– Lack of appetite or eating more which leads to weight change
– Sleeping disturbances
– Loss of interest
– Lack of energy
3. Depression in emotions:
– Feeling of sadness or emptiness
– Feelings of hopelessness & despair
– Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
– Crying more than normal or becoming numb to cry
– Loss of pleasure in enjoyable things
4. Depression in behavior:
– Avoidance of people or situations that might cause stress
– Avoidance of formerly enjoyable activities
– Lack of initiation or motivation
Psychiatric diagnoses are based on the symptoms rather than the causes. If you have enough symptoms, you qualify for a diagnosis that then has standardized treatment recommendations. The point is that making a diagnosis without knowing the cause can send a healing plan in the wrong direction. As you will see below, there can be alternative causes that present with symptoms like depression. It is important for health care providers to conduct holistic assessments to ensure they are accurately diagnosing the root cause of the symptoms.
Essential causes of depression:
– Unreasonable stress
– Childhood adversity and trauma
The two causes that mimic them are:
– Medical problems
Examples of medical mimics:
– Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
– Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
– Pituitary adenoma
– Common cold
– Urinary tract infection
– Lyme disease
– Multiple sclerosis
– Parkinson’s disease which can lead to depression.
Once we have eliminated medical illness and addiction as possible causes of distress, we are left with three essential causes of depression.
Stress is not an illness, but if it is severe and stays longer (prolonged), it has potential to cause an illness. Everybody has a stress threshold, which is a point at which too much stress gives rise to symptoms of illness. Depending upon one’s Achilles heel (psychological weak point), one might develop an acid reflux, low back pain, migraine headaches, panic attacks or depression (Wanck, 2019). Our stress threshold is our epigastric trigger point, where high levels of cortisol or circulating inflammatory factors cause unwanted genes to be expressed, in case of too much stress for too long, there could be a risk of switching on those genes.
Fortunately, we do have an early warning system in our bodies which shows symptoms to direct us to reduce stress, some ways to reduce stress include:
– Saying no to unnecessary activities
– Avoiding unnecessary relationship drama at work and home
– Spending more time with kind people
– Exercising regularly
– Getting enough sleep
– Spending less than you earn
– Remembering to breathe and bring yourself back into the moment whenever possible
These are not the definite ways to overcome stress, however, along with professional help, if needed, we can bring ourselves back to our normal selves.
Effects of childhood adversity/trauma, whether abuse or neglect, can be so severe that they look like a more permanent genetic form of clinical anxiety or depression. Healing is possible by using guidance in the form of psychotherapy, body or energy work, or spiritual guidance. It may take a long time but can lead to partial or even complete relief of depression symptoms.
Conditions that have a risk of genetic transmission include major depressive disorder (clinical depression), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, alcoholism, other chemical or non-chemical addictions, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Pure genetic depression usually responds to medicine and sometimes to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Therapeutic lifestyle change to deal with depression:
Treatment for depression is multi-faceted and as more research comes out on effective treatment strategies, there is more support being given to the impact of lifestyle changes on depression symptoms. Again, working with your health care provider to determine the best lifestyle changes for you is a great first step, but here is some information on a treatment approach developed by a clinical research team at the University of Kansas (Ilardi, 2012). As stated in their research, therapeutic lifestyle change comprises of six elements:
1. Dietary omega-3 fatty acid:
Mainly found in fish, wild game, nuts, seeds, and leafy vegetables, as our brain needs a steady supply of omega-3s to function properly, people who don’t eat enough of these fats are at an increased risk of many forms of mental illness, including depression.
2. Engaging activity:
Depression is closely linked to a toxic thought process called rumination-the habit of dwelling on negative thoughts, turning them over and over in mind. Rumination for a shorter period in upsetting events is natural, problems arise when people start ruminating for long stretches of time, going over the same thought again and again. Then any sort of engaging activity can work to interrupt rumination; it can even be simple.
3. Physical exercise:
Exercise increases the activity level of important brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, the same neurochemical targeted by popular drugs like Zoloft, Prozac, and Lexapro. Exercise is also essential in increasing the brain’s production of a key growth hormone called Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The level of this hormone is decreased in depression and some parts of the brain start to shrink over time, this may lead to impaired learning and memory. Exercise reverses the trend and protects the brain in a way nothing else can.
4. Sunlight exposure:
Simply going outside on a sunny day can brighten our mood. An even deeper link exists between light exposure and depression, involving the body’s internal clock. Our brain gauges the amount of light we get each day, and it uses that information to reset our body clock. Without enough light the body clock eventually gets out of sync, as a result it will reflect on our energy regulation system, sleep, appetite, and hormone levels.
5. Social support:
Family, friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers are part of the social system. There is a connection between social contact and mood, when it comes to depression, relationships do matter. People who lack a supportive social network face an increased risk of becoming depressed, and of remaining depressed once an episode strikes. Fortunately, we can do a great deal to improve the quality and depth of our connections with others, and this can have a huge payoff in terms of fighting depression and reducing the risk of recurrences.
Sleep and mood are intimately connected, after just a few nights of poor sleep, most people are noticeably less upbeat. And when sleep deprivation continues for days, or even for weeks, it can interfere with our ability to think clearly. It can even bring about serious health consequences. Disrupted sleep is one of the most potent triggers of depression. Not only poor sleep causes depression but depression can cause poor sleep, fortunately we can take numerous steps to improve quality and quantity of sleep by conditioning our body to sleep, setting bed and awake timings avoid caffeine or other stimulants and avoid taking our problems to bed with us.
Depression, like many illnesses, comes with many treatment options and selecting the appropriate option for a specific individual should be done between them and their health care provider. Do your research, take in information like we have provided above, and determine the right approach for your symptoms.
We hope you have enjoyed our latest Health Hint!
Written by Nadia Mumtaz
Ilardi, S. S. (2012). The depression cure: The 6-step program to beat Depression without drugs.
Tantor Media Inc.
Marsh, J. (2020). Dealing with depression: Simple ways to get your life back. ReadHowYouWant.
O’Connor, R. (2001). Active treatment of depression. Norton.
Wanck, B. (2019). Mind easing: The three-layered healing plan for anxiety and Depression.
Health Communications, Inc.