Being Proactive about Depression—Promoting mental health hygiene and Treatment
Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Promoting good mental health hygiene and preparation are part of the battle, even when you’re trying to stave off or live with an illness such as depression. In the same way a diabetic can live healthily with the disease through education and understanding of his or her body’s needs and medication management, so can someone with depression.
Depression is a public health concern. And while there are many causes of the disease, the one that impacts all of us regardless of age or sex is stress brought on by loss or trauma. So it’s important for us to be aware of the connection between stress, loss, trauma and depression. When we understand this relationship from social and psychological perspectives, we can work proactively to treat it.
The Stress-Depression Connection
Many people experience depression after a major negative life event usually involving a loss or trauma. The death of a loved one, divorce, break-up, people leaving home are all forms of stress that can be the onset of depressive disorder, explains Dr. William Eaton, mental health professor at Johns Hopkins University. However, it usually takes several years after the onset of depression for half of the people who experience it to seek help, adds Dr. Kamin Mojtabi, a colleague of Dr. Eaton’s. One out of every 4 people who experience depressive episode feels they do not need help; they feel that they should be able to “control” it through will-power, or avoidance, and are ashamed they feel the way they do. This lack of perceived need is a major barrier to seeking treatment.
Barriers to treating depression
Some people are not aware that they are experiencing depression. They do not recognize the signs or symptoms. What might have started as a feeling of loss after the death of a loved one, can turn into something more serious over time, such as a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. This unawareness also becomes one of the barriers in asking for help. Some people do not know they need help. That’s why education is important. Paying attention to your feelings and emotions can help in preventing or treating illnesses such as depression. This awareness is the beginning of healing, which should lead you to seek for help in order to manage your symptoms.
Unfortunately, those who do become aware may still not seek help because they are embarrassed. “The individual with depression may believe that if he or she asks for professional help or takes medications, the family would be disappointed in them. Or they may feel embarrassed if their friends find out that they’re receiving treatment,” states Dr. Mojtabi. The shame emotion is a major barrier in mental health. Most people are comfortable talking about breast cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, but people shy away from illnesses pertaining to mental health. Stigma is one of the most difficult things to face when a person is dealing with these issues. There are many who still feel that a person suffering from mental illness can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and will be better. People with mental illness are often shamed by others rather than supported.
Another face of shame is the belief that you can deal with an illness like depression on your own; you do not need anyone’s help. Women are more likely than men to see the need for help and to seek help. This gender difference may exist because of men’s sense of masculinity. Some men believe “real men” do not ask for help. According to Hooker et al, “research across different racial and ethnic groups has consistently found that men with traditional views of manhood are less likely than women, to perceive themselves at risk for illness; believe they have internal control over their health; contemplate changing unhealthy habits; and utilize health care.” These attitudes can be reduced to one statement: getting treatment for depression means they are weak or lazy, or have given in to the disease, claims Dr. Eaton. Dispelling these attitudes and breaking barriers require us as a community to realize that we are not meant to “do life” alone and depression, like other physical health issues is something that requires treatment from a medical professional, not to be ignored and suffered through.
Promoting good mental health hygiene and treating depression
Recognizing the importance of social support is important in staying mentally healthy throughout your life. When life happens, social supports, such as someone you recognize as a confidant, become critical.
Where there is life stress and the individual has a confidant, the risk for depression remains relatively low. Social support can be a buffer in adversity. According to a study called the “Stress-buffering Hypothesis”, the onset of depressive disorder remained a low 4 percent. In the absence of a confidant, the score zoomed to 38 percent of the population being at risk for onset of depressive disorder. Thirty-eight percent, says Dr. Eaton, is a huge percentage out of the population to be at risk for onset of depressive disorder. Social support, therefore, is a stress-buffer. Having a trusted person—a psychologist, psychotherapist, counselor, pastor, priest, rabbi, friend or family member— should be a part of everyone’s support system.
We human beings are relational creatures. We are meant to thrive in community. Social connectedness is essential to our health and happiness. In a study called Bowling Alone, “people who volunteered, who attended club meetings, who entertained at home or attended church, the more they did those things, the more times per year they do those community things, those social things, the less likely they are to be unhappy, and the more likely they are to be happy,” emphasizes Dr. Eaton.
Many people experience sadness during the holidays. Colder weather, less sunlight, and the pressure of gift-giving often make the holidays a difficult time for people, especially those who suffer from a seasonal affective disorder or depression. As the holidays approach, plan to give the gift of “presence”. Although it is nice to give and receive presents, think about how you can offer yourself; your presence can be mutually beneficial to you and others. What community activities can you get involved in as the seasons approach? How we engage in life is vital to our mental health.
Here are some suggestions to get you through the holiday season:
Emphasize relationships – As much as you need someone, someone needs you. Life is about relationships: You have to intentionally slow down life to build relationships with family, friends and others
Ask for presence instead of presents – Invite someone over for dinner, a walk, a cup of tea or coffee or just a conversation.
Practice mindfulness– Stay present. Remember presence is your gift. Plan scheduled times to revisit the past and think about the future with a professional so that the time can be used constructively.
Don’t get caught off guard. Pay attention to your feelings. Awareness of how you are feeling is half the battle. Seek help if you need it. Getting help is the road to wellness and recovery. Stay in community. You are not meant to do life alone.