Donít Let Depression Get You Down
By Michael Plontz

Caregiving can sometimes be a depressing venture.  Not only does it usually involve someone we love deteriorating before our eyes, our own lives become completely rearranged.  Believe it or not, the fact that the holidays are right around the corner can make even those not in a caregiving situation depressed.  Imagine what that does to a caregiver. 

Depression can range from feeling a little blue to obsessing about death and suicide.  It is not just a single disorder, but a group of psychiatric illnesses.  This group of illnesses may affect your body and mind, and your mood and behavior.  Although it is a serious condition, it is very treatable.  Two symptoms to watch out for, and that doctors watch out for, are a loss of pleasure in daily activities and continuous feelings of hopelessness and sadness.  Women have a 50% greater chance of being diagnosed with depression and some types of depression may run in families. 

The three most common types of depression are major depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder.  Major depression may have many symptoms that affect a personís ability to carry out necessary everyday activities such as eating, working and sleeping.  Other once-pleasurable activities seem insurmountable.  A person can usually go on from day to day, but may have a ďdisabling episodeĒ one or two times in his or her life.

Dysthymia is long term or chronic depressive symptoms.  These symptoms may not be disabling, but usually prevent the person from felling good and functioning well.  Major depressive episodes may be experienced by people with dysthymia. 

Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic-depression, is often a chronic condition.  It causes the afflicted to experience cycles of depression, mania, lethargy, and exuberant happiness.  These mood changes are normally rapid and dramatic.

More detailed symptoms of dysthymia and major depression include the following:

  • Memory, concentration, and decision-making problems

  • Feeling irritable and restless

  • Appetite changes-eating more or less

  • Insomnia

  • Feeling hopeless and pessimistic

  • Feeling anxious, empty or sad

  • Feeling tired or less energetic

  • Thinking of death and suicide or even attempting suicide

  • Losing the ability to enjoy activities that used to be enjoyed (e.g. sex)

  • Physical symptoms that donít improved with treatment

In addition to the above episodes of depression, those people afflicted with bipolar disorder may experience the following manic symptoms as well:

  • An obvious increase in energy

  • Social behavior that may be deemed inappropriate

  • A marked increase in talking

  • Impossibly huge ideas

  • Severe insomnia

  • Happiness not befitting the occasion

  • Thoughts that race or are disconnected

  • An increase in sexual desire

Anyone who believes they are depressed should seek the help of a professional. With a combination of psychotherapy and medication, 80% of those who are depressed can be helped.  Medications include a variety of mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants that have helped many people.  The newer drugs have fewer side effects too.

Psychotherapy involves talking to a therapist to resolve problems.  Behavioral therapy involves discussing a personís actions and how they can get more satisfactory and rewarding results from them.  A patient also learns about his or her behavior patterns and how to ďunlearnĒ the ones that are self-defeating.  A severe form of therapy is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).  This is used only when a person canít take the medication or their depression is so severe that it is life threatening.

If you see any of these signs in yourself or your loved one, seek help soon. Depression is something that can become worse over time if not treated. Life is meant to be enjoyed, in spite of all its hardships. Donít let depression get you down.

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