Telling people to ‘be happy’ does not magically cure depression

Autumn Hyatt

agreer@uccs.edu 

Feeling sad sucks. Feeling utterly hopeless sucks. Feeling tired all the time and not enjoying your favorite activities, or even your life, sucks. Having these symptoms consistently for two weeks or longer not only sucks, but it also means you may be struggling with depression, a mental disorder  

     According to Healthline, 8.1 percent of adults in the U.S. experience depression at some point in their lives. This number may seem small, which is important to note, as it shows how this is a serious disorder; feeling sad or down for a bit does not necessarily mean you are depressed.  

     It is normal to feel upset over certain situations. It is even normal to feel upset sometimes for seemingly no reason. (Thanks, hormones!) Signs that something more serious may be going on include having multiple symptoms for two weeks or longer.  

     There are two main types of depressive disorders: major depressive disorder, which is severe and includes five or more symptoms for a minimum of two weeks, and persistent depressive disorder, which is milder but chronic with symptoms present for at least two years.  

     Symptoms include: moodiness; feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness; loss of interest in things previously cared about; reduced sexual desire and performance; difficulty concentrating, thinking, completing tasks or remembering; disrupted sleep patterns such as insomnia, restless sleep or excessive sleepiness; decreased energy; fatigue; appetite changes; body or muscle aches, headaches and thoughts of suicide, according to Healthline.  

Smiley faces showing different emotions.
Stock photo courtesy of PixaBay.com

     Depression can be caused by a multitude of different factors, such as experiencing traumatic events, drug abuse or having a chronic illness. Other risk factors include a family history of mood disorders, brain structure (i.e. a less active frontal lobe), low self-esteem, a personal history of mental illness, certain medications and stressful events.  

     Other health problems, such as thyroid problems or vitamin D deficiencies, can also trigger depressive episodes, according to Healthline. 

     It is not unusual to experience bouts of depression after stressful or major life events, such as losing a loved one or going through a divorce. However, external causes do not need to be present for one to experience depression.  

     Seeking help when experiencing depression can be scary and even frustrating, as many people do not fully understand the disorder. Receiving feedback such as “you just need more fresh air!” or “be grateful for what you have!” can make those experiencing symptoms feel unheard, misunderstood or ignored.  

     However, not seeking help when needing it can lead to further issues such as weight fluctuations, panic attacks (see my article on anxiety), substance abuse, relationship problems, social isolation, physical pain and self-harm.  

     Depression can also worsen pre-existing conditions such as arthritis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity, according to Healthline.  

     Though depression may cause you to feel hopeless, treatments to treat the disorder do offer hope. At-home strategies to help prevent or treat depression include doing physical activity (throw some weights around!), getting adequate sleep, focusing on things you enjoy and spending time with loved ones.  

     Also, if you are overwhelmed, say “no” to your friends when they ask you to throw them a birthday party, or to your bosses when they plead with you to come in on your day off. Set boundaries and make sure you are taken care of before taking care of others. 

     There are also prescription medications and therapy options that can improve symptoms of depression. Some over-the-counter supplements, such as St. John’s wort, Omega-3 fatty acids, essential oils (see my article on essential oils for more information) and vitamins B and D have been shown to improve symptoms. However, the best person to talk with before pursuing any of these options is your doctor.  

     With mental health crises on the rise, awareness of disorders and symptoms is crucial. Mental health is as important as physical health, so ensure you are taking care of your mind as well as your body. 

     If you are concerned that you may have a disorder, be brave and seek help. And if someone comes to you struggling, listen to them! Show them empathy and help them get the help they need. Use the resources below if needed.  

UCCS Wellness Center: 719-255-7515 

Colorado Crisis Services: 844-493-8255 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255