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Dealing with Depression: A Guide to Improving Mental Health

Ashlyn Graff

Sep 2, 2022

With over 280 million people worldwide suffering from depression, it’s clear that it’s one of the most common mental illnesses impacting us globally. With over five percent of the adult population affected, many sufferers have learned it’s not one-size-fits-all. We know that, at the core, symptoms can feel debilitating. While some may experience depression slowly, others might be hit abruptly with it after stressful life events.

According to the Seattle Times (reported in January 2022), Seattle ranked as the country’s 15th most medicated metropolitan area for mental health conditions. As knowledge spreads about mental health and stigma decreases, we aim to create a healthier and happier city by providing a support network through times that can feel impossible to navigate. Often the first step to changing anything is to understand it better. So, what is depression?

What is Depression?

Depression has physical and mental symptoms, including fatigue and exhaustion, headaches, digestive issues, changes in appetite and weight, and feelings of sadness, hopelessness, numbness, or emptiness. People with depression may not have the insight to know that they are depressed, so knowing the warning signs of depression can be crucial.

I’m a proponent of the “spoon” metaphor, where several spoons are used to visualize the energy a person might have to meet their daily needs. Let’s say that individuals with no physical or mental health ailments start with ten spoons to complete their daily tasks. This person may be able to maintain a healthy diet (two spoons), keep up with daily and weekly tasks and chores (two spoons), go to work (four spoons), and practice physical activity relatively quickly and without straining (two spoons). This tends to change for people with depression. For each task a person with a mental illness completes, they lose energy units (meaning more and more spoons are taken away). Once all the spoons are taken, that person has no energy left.

Understanding the Different Types of Depression

When a person seeks treatment for depression, they’ll learn about their diagnosis, the differences in presentation that varying depressive disorders can have, and how to cope with them. The following are some common depressive disorders:

Mild Depressive Disorders

Mild depressive disorders tend to be less severe and have less impact on how disruptive they are to a person’s life. Symptoms may include a decrease in energy levels, negative thinking, weight loss or gain, and changes in sleep patterns. If we use the spoon analogy, a person with a mild depressive disorder may start with eight spoons instead of ten, which may knock healthy eating out of their daily routine and replace it with fast and affordable eating (making them feel worse).

Major Depressive Disorder, Mild

In a mild depressive disorder, fewer symptoms may be present and less severe. The person may appear sad and lethargic, but he can still complete responsibilities at home, school, or work and meet daily needs.

Persistent Depressive Disorder, Mild

Persistent depressive disorder (also referred to as dysthymia), symptoms are present for more than two years. The individual would only experience a couple of symptoms and, typically, still, be able to maintain a regular routine.

Moderate Depressive Disorders

For those experiencing moderate depression, the individual has more symptoms, and there may be more challenges in how these symptoms affect that person’s ability to complete day-to-day tasks. Individuals experiencing moderate depression may be exhausted and sad, feel less connected to others, have diminished interest in life activities, and experience an overall “brain fog?” A person experiencing moderate depression may start the day with six spoons rather than eight, indicating that they struggle with maintaining habits that contribute to mental health.

Major Depressive Disorder, Moderate

Those experiencing major depressive disorder with a moderate specifier have more intense symptoms than those with a mild depressive disorder. With this type of depression, the individual may feel exhausted and have difficulty managing stress.

Persistent Depressive Disorder, Moderate

Those with moderate dysthymia may experience unhealthy sleep patterns and eating patterns, fatigue, low self-esteem, difficulty maintaining focus, and feelings of hopelessness. Similarly, with a moderate specifier, more symptoms would be present than with a mild specifier, affecting the individual’s ability to engage in meaningful life activities such as work, school, family engagements, or hobbies.

Major Depressive Disorders

In Major Depression, the symptoms’ amount and severity are increased. Negative thoughts may take over, and small tasks may feel impossible. People with severe depression can struggle with feeling exhausted and hopeless, plus have suicidal thoughts. Someone experiencing a Major Depressive Disorder may only have enough “spoons” to go to work, while everything else depletes nonexistent energy or falls by the wayside.

Major Depressive Disorder, Severe

In severe Major Depressive Disorder, many symptoms of major depression are present, particularly impacting the individual’s life and daily functioning at school, work, and home. This can often present as laying in bed and doing nothing for several days.

Persistent Depressive Disorders, Severe

In a Severe Persistent Depressive Disorder, individuals experience excess symptoms of depression for two years or longer. At this point, individuals might feel that depression is connected to their own identity. Individuals who experience a Severe Persistent Depressive Disorder may also experience chronic suicidality.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

This depressive disorder occurs before menstrual cycles and is characterized by mood swings with anger, sadness, and anxiety, as well as typical symptoms of depression. Symptoms have to cause significant disruption in daily functioning to meet the criteria for this disorder.

Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder

This depressive disorder may occur after trying a new medication or using other substances. Typical symptoms of depression are required, as well as an indication that depression does not happen when the medication or substance is absent. The severity of symptoms must be significant to meet the criteria for this disorder as well.

5 Effective Therapy Methods for Dealing With Depression

There are several types of psychotherapy used to treat depression and mood disorders. The most common are cognitive behavioral, dialectical behavioral, internal family systems, psychodynamic, and person-centered therapy (listed below).

To decide which kind of therapy will have the biggest positive effect, it’s essential to determine the severity of your symptoms, what you want your outcome to be, and your preferences as far as therapy and a treatment plan are concerned.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps create change by focusing on the link between our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. CBT helps us look at present patterns instead of focusing primarily on the past. An essential element of CBT is forward action, which allows us to engage in new behavior to create a pattern of thoughts, feelings, and actions that truly serve one’s values and goals.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical Behavior Therapy equips patients with new skills that can help manage painful emotions and defuse relationship conflicts. These skills come from four key areas, which include mindfulness (being present in the moment), distress tolerance (increasing a person’s tolerance of negative emotion), emotion regulation (managing and changing intense emotions), and interpersonal effectiveness (assertive communication that produces results).

Internal Family Systems

The Internal Family Systems Model (IFS) is an integrative approach to individual psychotherapy that combines systems thinking with the view that the mind incorporates relatively discrete subpersonalities. IFS uses family systems theory to understand how these collections of subpersonalities are organized. Like family members, a person’s inner parts can take on extreme roles or subpersonalities. Each part has its own perspective, interests, memories, and viewpoint. The IFS method promotes internal connection and harmony to bring the mind back into balance.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic Therapy is an extremely valuable in-depth form of talk therapy that concentrates less on the patient-therapist relationship and more on the patient’s relationship with their external world. This therapy is based on the concept that talking about your problems can help you learn and create the skills to manage them.

Person-Centered Therapy

Person-centered therapy is talk therapy mostly done by the patient. The therapist does not actively direct the conversations in the sessions or analyze what the patient is saying. Instead, the therapist might repeat or restate a client’s words back to them so that they can interpret their own thoughts and feelings.

Helpful Lifestyle Improvements

We live in a fast-paced world with busy schedules, demanding jobs, and countless other responsibilities, so sometimes, we must be creative regarding self-help. If you’re a depressed person with a mood disorder, mental illness, clinical depression, etc., and you’re looking for healthy lifestyle changes to both improve mood and manage stress, here are some options:

Adjust what you put in your body

Your diet can significantly affect your mental, emotional, and physical health. For instance, did you know that it’s often difficult to think clearly or concentrate when you don’t drink enough water? If that’s not reason enough to drink plenty of water, I don’t know what is! The same goes for your food options. If you have to choose between healthy foods, such as fruits, lean meats, and vegetables, or “junk food,” always choose the healthier option. By eating whole foods and avoiding processed and ultra-processed foods, it cuts down on inflammation and disease, delivering a healthy gut, which, in turn, affects your mood.

Get up and move!

Get up and move! According to CNN Health, even small doses of physical activity, such as a fast walk, can significantly lower depression. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an activity at a moderate level, such as brisk walks for 1.25 hours a week (in total), lowered the risk of depression by 18%.

Be mindful of what your brain consumes

At times, this world can be a lot to take in. If the news is stressing you out, turn it off. If social media is consuming you, disconnect. Don’t add to it if other uncontrollable things already stress you out. Be the captain of your own ship!

Change your thinking and life

It’s easy to get caught up in negativity. We all have those people who only talk about the bad things in their lives. Whenever possible, try to have a positive outlook, and because you can pick and choose who’s in your life, think about those relationships. Like Marie Kondo says, “Does it spark joy?” So, do they spark joy?

Practice Gratitude

Sometimes, stressful thoughts, feelings, and worries can take over our minds. When this happens, try to turn that negativity into positive thinking. A great way to do this is to have a gratitude journal.

When to Seek Help Professional Help

If your symptoms of depression are causing issues with your relationships, work, family, and friends, or you’re having trouble sleeping or have a change in appetite, mood swings, low self-esteem, a lack of concentration, and/or a decrease in motivation, you may need to talk to a therapist. If you have suicidal thoughts or feelings, seek help immediately.

Once you’re evaluated, your therapist can better understand how he/she can help you, including psychological therapy or both therapy and antidepressants. Making the initial call is a step in the right direction to improve your mental health.

At Anchor Light Therapy, our depression therapists provide psychotherapy treatments to get to the root of your depression and help you pave a path forward. Schedule your free initial consultation today.

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