Preventing Depression

Hello fellow Brixworthians! In today's mental well being post, I will discuss low mood, depression and how to prevent it. Depression will affect 1 in 5 UK adults at some point in their lifetime and in the current circumstances of this pandemic, more people are likely to suffer.

Depression is a mood disorder and can have many symptoms which vary in severity. It is most commonly characterised by low mood and feelings of sadness or emptiness; the second most common symptom is a lack of interest in enjoyable things and a lack of energy. Some other symptoms that people can be ignorant to are a change in appetite and sleeping patterns (can be an increase or decrease in eating/sleep), a feeling of guilt, unexplained anger or irritation, slowing of movement or speech and trouble thinking and remembering things. The most overlooked symptoms are the physical ones; many people don’t realise that mental illnesses can cause physical symptoms. Physical symptoms of depression can include stomach pain or discomfort, a change in bowel movements, headaches and body aches. Low mood becomes depression when it starts to cause noticeable issues in your day to day life.

The one “upside” of depression being so common is lots of research, medical trials and therapeutic methods have been done to help sufferers. Due to the many causes of depression, there isn't a one-size fits all treatment. For some, depression is caused by a biological imbalance of brain chemicals like serotonin. In most cases antidepressants are prescribed to re-balance the chemical levels along with some short term therapy to help with the initial recovery. Another reason can be cognitive-behavioural, where the way the person thinks and perceives the world (cognition) is negative which then produces depressive behaviours which only reinforces the negative cognitions. This is treated with antidepressants and Cognitive-behavioural therapy or CBT. CBT is key in this variation of depression to help a person to relearn positive cognition, which involves recognising the negative and inaccurate thinking and reshaping them into more positive and realistic thinking. For some, depression can be situational, something in their life at that time is causing low moods and lack of interest in life; for this counseling is often recommended so the individual can have some support and advice as they navigate this time in their life.

However, there are lots of things a person can do to prevent the onset of depression. Before I get into them though, I would like to point out that psychopathology (study of mental illness) is an ever changing discipline with different viewpoints. The advice I will be giving is from the viewpoint that I have been taught and have researched myself. Although it is the common view, please know that there are others out there.

Here are some things you can do to prevent depression becoming an issue. The first is talk. Easy to say, sometimes harder to do, but talking about how you are feeling and what's going on in your life can help. It could be family or friends, it can also be someone you don’t know. There are many text, message or call based services to talk to someone about what's troubling you. Especially in times like this, it might surprise you how many people are willing to listen as long as you ask. Secondly, remember to look after yourself properly, eat healthily, get enough sleep, exercise and maintain contact with friends and family. Lower your alcohol intake, avoid smoking and drugs, and reduce stress and anxiety. I appreciate that this is easier said than done, it can take a lot of willpower to do even the simplest of tasks like get out of bed when depression is looming. Sometimes you might need to make yourself do the good thing despite not wanting to or ask your partner or friend to make you do it. Afterwards you will feel better for it and can be proud of overcoming it. Keep sticking with your routine and make good choices everyday.

Due to the lock down, a lot of people are spending more time indoors than they normally would this time of year (and rightly so). However, sunshine is important for mental well being; our skin absorbs UV which produces Vitamin D in the blood which produces serotonin in the brain. It's important when trying to prevent depression and recover from it to get lots of sunshine. Luckily, UV rays go through glass so even though we aren't allowed outside for very long, you can sit in the sun by the window and make lots of that important Vitamin D.

Lastly I want to say that despite all that is going on, the NHS is still there for you and if you need to seek medical help please do! You may not be allowed into your GPs office but many places offer phone appointments where you can get help from there. If you or someone you know is a threat to themselves, please contact the emergency services.

Long and short of it:

  • depression can present in many different symptoms and have many causes

  • talk to a friend or family member if you are feeling low

  • remember to look after your basic needs like eating and sleeping

  • get some sunshine (even through the window)

  • Talk to your GP if you are really struggling

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