According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 1 in 10 adults in the United States suffers from some kind of depression. One in ten. Huh. To put that in perspective, that’s around the same percentage of American adults who are left-handed. But while handedness is seen today as a quirky curiosity (or sometimes an advantage, in the case of athletes), there is still stigma and silence surrounding depression as an illness.
So let’s talk! What is depression? Why is it problematic? And is there anything that can help?
What is depression?
Let’s start with what depression isn’t. It isn’t a bad day, a brief period of mourning after a loss, or a pessimistic outlook on life. It consists of a period of more than two weeks of a bad mood, decreased interest in things that one normally finds enjoyable, and can also include fatigue, changes in weight, difficulty concentrating, inappropriate guilt, and even suicidal thoughts. While two weeks is the minimum length for defining depression, it can continue for months or even years.
Are there different kinds of depression?
Yes. Just as a condition like asthma can have different flavors such as cold weather induced or exercise induced asthma, depression can vary in it’s severity, symptoms and triggers.
Major depression is an episode of depression two weeks or longer that messes with your ability to function throughout the day. And it may not be a constant. People can have multiple episodes of major depression throughout their lives. Postpartum depression is a depressive episode that occurs after a woman has given birth. While it most commonly has an onset within the first three months after delivery, it can come on anytime within the first year after your baby’s birth. As we progress through autumn, you’ll hear talk of Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated SAD), a form of depression during the winter months when there is less sunlight. Manic Depression (also called bipolar disorder) involves cycles of depressive lows and manic highs.
There are also mild forms of depression that do not meet all the requirements of major depression.
What are some of the health consequences of depression?
Aside from just feeling like crap on an emotional level (entirely bad enough on its own), depression can also have other serious effects on a person’s health. People who suffer from depression are more likely to engage in negative habits such as smoking or excessive drinking. They are also less likely to get sufficient exercises, and are more likely to stop the physical activities they used to participate in. Depression can disturb sleep schedules and also negatively affect one’s professional and personal relationships, resulting in more stress, which leads to its own host of health issues. It’s a truly painful cycle.
So why aren’t we all talking about this?
Mental illness has always been something of a taboo subject. Those with more severe problems are seen as crazy and unstable, while those with more mild issues can be accused of making it up for attention, or using the term as an excuse for ordinary laziness. Depression isn’t sexy like breast cancer (boobies!) or have the sorts of clear paths to prevention that lend themselves to awareness campaigns, like HIV. It’s not that these (and many other) conditions don’t deserve attention and awareness…they absolutely do. It’s just not as straight forward for depression. And so we’re left without the sorts of public conversations that in turn become private ones between friends. It’s easy to ask a friend if she’s taking painkillers for her broken leg. Asking her if she’s considered antidepressants? Not so much.
Is there anything that helps with depression?
Absolutely, and the first step is diagnosis. (Sorry, looking up your symptoms on Google doesn’t count.) A physician will be able to speak intelligently about options like therapy, medication, and other treatments and lifestyle changes.
Oh, and you might also want to get a massage.
Massage for depression? Really?
Yup. Massage has been found to reduce depression and improve mood in loads of folks, from children with HIV, to adolescents with psychiatric disorders, to hospice patients. Why does this work? Well, that’s still being researched. The what is often much easier than the why. But caring touch does seem to have a real effect on mood, whether it’s from a loved one, a massage therapist, or a favorite pet. Maybe it’s the warmth, maybe it’s the literal electricity and energy under a living being’s skin, or maybe it’s the knowledge that behind that touch is the intent to comfort. Regardless of the elusive why, it seems to work.
Of course, if you’re a regular recipient of massage, you can judge for yourself: is your mood improved after a massage? And if you haven’t received a massage lately (or ever), this is a great opportunity. Do it for science!
Or, do it for yourself. Because everyone deserves to feel better, including you