We all react differently to the change of the seasons. But for some of us, the shorter days, colder weather, and lack of sunlight at this time of year can have an impact on our moods.
About 11% of men and 16% of women in Canada will experience depression at some point in their lives. Most people feel sad once and a while but clinical depression, sometimes called major depression, is a complex mood disorder. There is no single cause of depression, instead, a variety of factors, including genetic predisposition, personality, brain chemistry, and major stress in a person’s life can lead to someone developing depression. Depression can also be the result of physical illness or disability, such as cancer or arthritis.
It is important to understand that depression is an illness, and it can be treated. Depression is not a personal weakness, and treating depression is not as simple as telling someone to “cheer up”. While depression can suddenly go into remission, depression is not something that people can “get over” by their own effort.
The main symptom of depression is a sad, despairing mood that is present most of the time, lasts for more than two weeks, and impairs performance at school, work or in social and family relationships. Other symptoms can include fatigue, trouble concentrating or making decisions, a loss of appetite or difficulty sleeping, thoughts of suicide, and frequent headaches or stomach upset.
If you or someone close to you is experiencing depression, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. In Ontario, you can connect with a registered nurse day or night by calling 811 or visiting Health811 – Health811 (ontario.ca). You can also find a list of mental health resources at Find mental health support | ontario.ca.
Unfortunately, depression can’t be diagnosed with a stethoscope or a blood test. Your healthcare providers will ask you a series of questions about your mood, and whether or not your interest and pleasure in doing things has changed recently, to determine whether or not you may have depression. They may also ask if there’s a history of depression in your family, if you’ve had depression or been treated for a mental health issue in the past, and if you are experiencing any physical health problems. Depending on your answers, your healthcare provider may order medical tests to rule out any underlying physical condition that may be affecting your mood.
The most common treatment for depression is usually a combination of counselling and anti-depressant medication, but every person is unique and what worked for one person may not work for someone else. Never be afraid to speak to your healthcare provider if you feel that your treatment is not working or making your symptoms worse. Support from family, friends, and co-workers can also make a big difference in helping people with depression recover.
It’s not uncommon for people with depression to feel ashamed or embarrassed by their condition. How often have you heard someone tell someone to “just cheer up”? But depression is not just a feeling and people with depression can’t “snap out of it”. The stigma around mental illness can keep some people from seeking help for depression and other mental health issues. For example, men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health issues, and parents, particularly new mothers, can have trouble admitting that they’re struggling with their mental health. Some people feel like they have to hide their depression from their employers—in Ontario, employers are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of mental health and have a duty to accommodate an employee’s disability-related needs. Depression is a serious condition that needs to be treated and managed like any other health condition—you wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to “toughen up” instead of taking their insulin.
If you are currently experiencing depression, the best thing you can do is talk to people you trust about how you’re feeling and seek help from your doctor or local healthcare provider. Try to stick to a healthy lifestyle. Staying physically active, eating a healthy diet, reducing or avoiding alcohol, and sticking to a regular schedule for meals and bedtimes can help alleviate the symptoms of depression. Keep in touch with the people you are close to and ask them to check in with you, if that’s something that will help you, and try to do one fun thing a day, whether that’s reading a book, watching a favourite TV show, going for a bike ride, or playing your favourite video game. Most importantly, be kind to yourself.
If you would like to learn more about depression, the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction has an online tutorial for people who are concerned about their own mental health, family or friends, or who encounter people with mental health problems through their work.
For information about mental health support available in Ontario, including resources for kids, and culturally-competent resources for Indigenous people, please visit Find mental health support | ontario.ca.
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