Health Tip – Understanding and Treating Depression

News of comedian Robin Williams’ suicide and long-term battle with depression sent shockwaves around the world. While the loss of such a beloved personality is tragic, his death has served to educate millions about a condition many suffer from in silence.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in 10 adults in the United States has depression. The most common of mental disorders, depression is far more than just feeling sad. People with this illness may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities; significant changes in weight; insomnia or excessive sleeping; lack of energy; inability to concentrate; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Depression can stem from a number of causes-including life and medical events like divorce, death, abuse, medications, chronic health conditions and genetics. So it’s important to have a conversation with your physician to determine the best course of action. There also are other considerations when battling this medical condition.

Studies clearly show depression impairs both physical and mental health. But depression is very treatable so seek help earlier rather than later. Most primary care doctors are comfortable at least initiating treatment and can refer patients to specialists if necessary. In addition:

  • Find the right kind of social support. While social isolation increases the risk of depression, research shows that the wrong friendships may increase the problem, especially among young girls. A study with elementary and middle school girls found that levels of depression and anxiety actually increased when girls spent too much time dwelling together on their negative feelings, also known as “co-rumination.” Experts say finding the right mix of social support and activity is the key.
  • Exercise on a regular basis. While the most common treatments for depression are psychotherapy and medications, most psychologists agree that exercise belongs in this category. Exercise is obviously good for weight loss, improved self-image and heart health, but it also releases endorphins, or “feel good” chemicals, in the brain. Work-outs don’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial. In fact, walking just 30 minutes a day can help.
  • Try something new. A regular routine is important for most people with depression; however, breaking out of that routine can be equally beneficial. Try a new activity or travel to a different place. New experiences can alter dopamine levels in the brain and increase the sensation of pleasure and enjoyment.

If you or a loved one is struggling with depression or issues of self-worth, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number at 1-800-273-8255. The call is free and confidential.