Major depression is when a person has five or more symptoms of depression for at least 2 weeks:
- Agitation, restlessness, and irritability
- Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
- Extreme difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and inappropriate guilt
- Inactivity and withdrawal from usual activities, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed (such as sex)
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
Before diagnosing depression, the health care provider should rule out medical conditions that can cause symptoms of depression. Many researchers believe it is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which may be hereditary or caused by events in a person’s life.
Some types of depression seem to run in families, but depression can also occur in people who have no family history of the illness. Stressful life changes or events can trigger depression in some people. Usually, a combination of factors is involved.
— Adapted from Google Health
Andrew Koenig, best known as Walter Koenig’s son and for his role on Growing Pains, recently killed himself. Without telling his family or friends, Andrew Koenig had sold or given away all of his possessions and terminated his 14-year lease on his apartment. He may have seen this as preparing for his death.
Depression is hard. One of the symptoms of depression is that you really, really believe nothing can ever get better and that you don’t matter anyway. When you really believe nothing can ever get better it’s damn hard to take action to make things better!
How did I get help? Initially I was discussing how I hated my life and myself with a friend who I did not realize was in therapy for depression. He urged me to call his therapist’s office. After my first therapist moved, I called an employee help line provided by my employer’s health insurance, who arranged a referral to a new therapist.
My official diagnosis is atypical depression, because I am “mood reactive” — meaning my mood will improve if something positive happens. Yes, I have done therapy. Usually it’s been helpful. I have used antidepressants. My first SSRI just gave me headaches, but the second one worked. (This is not abnormal.) I have found other self-help techniques that work for me, like:
- Exercise, even if it’s just walking around the block.
- Getting enough sleep and keeping a regular sleep schedule (treating my sleep apnea really helped there).
- Dealing with underlying medical problems. My example: identifying and treating my vitamin deficiencies and asthma.
- Eating what my body wants.
- Support system. This includes my family and friends. I have several friends who have themselves dealt with depression (or bipolar disorder) that make for a knowledgeable support group.
- Containing the worry by a) writing down each problem; b) decide what is the worst that could happen; c) figure out how I’ll cope with it. This actually prevents me from ruminating too much.
- Checking my perceptions. Part of depression is that one’s emotions and perceptions are out of sync with the rest of the world. If I’m worried about being fired, I try to think logically about how people are treating me at work, my interactions with my boss, and so forth. If no one has mentioned a performance problem, AND I’ve gotten several compliments on my work in the last week? It might be my perceptions are just that wee bit off.
- Focus on small accomplishments. Maybe you’re writing things down, maybe you’re using Outlook Tasks or Google Tasks, but track what you need to do and that you get it done. This is a reminder that you are getting things done even though you don’t feel like it.
- Relaxation and stress reduction: for me, this is mostly stretching, reading, hot baths, laughter, and time with loved ones.
Currently I am not on antidepressants, I’m not in therapy, and I’m not experiencing symptoms. I don’t know how long this will last. A lot of what I’m doing with the above self-help is about prevention. I know that for me, a lot of stress on little sleep will induce depressive symptoms. So I avoid it.
“The only thing I want to say is if you’re one of those people who feel that you can’t handle it anymore, if you can learn anything from this it’s that there are people out there who really care,” Walter Koenig said. “You may not think so, and ultimately it may not be enough, but there are people that really, really care.
“Before you make that final decision, check it out again; talk to somebody,” Koenig said.
— ABC News