Do you know one thing the likes of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Katy Perry, Brad Pitt, Michael Phelps, Eminem, and Bruce Springsteen all have in common? They have all spoken about their battles with depression. As we continue to speak more openly about this very real mental health challenge, many now begin to understand that there is more to it than just feeling a bit upset. After all, we all feel a bit down every now and then. Depression is when this feeling stays with us for prolonged periods of time and affects all of us regardless of our status. For too long its been wrapped up in a stigma where the response had been simply to “stop feeling down” and has led to numerous high-profile suicides over the years.
Why do you get depressed?
The truth is there is no one cause to feeling depressed. One person could end up depressed due to a certain set of circumstances and another could remain completely unaffected. But long-term exposure to some sort of stress can obviously increase the likelihood that someone could become affected. This could tie into a major life event such as getting married, having children, the death of a loved one, starting a new job, having an important exam to take, moving to a new house, divorce etc. Both positive and negative experiences can lead to depression. Someone could achieve their life goal and end up depressed or fail at everything and end up depressed. One person could feel completely fulfilled at achieving their life goal, the other feels a sense of emptiness as they now have nothing else to work towards.
Crucially there is no actual test for depression and so it can often be hard to diagnose. Very few people for example would have considered Robin Williams to be depressed. There are a couple of changes to the body, a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain being the main one, but it’s obviously very hard to look at someone and think, hmm they look like they have low serotonin in the brain. Therefore, the leading indicators of someone who may have depression are behavioural. In addition to someone experiencing feeling low, they may struggle to sleep as often as normal, lose interest in sex, stop wanting to do activities and hobbies that they used to enjoy and changes to eating habits. These can happen over time and gradually so it can often be hard to notice the changes in behaviour. The more obvious signs of depression such as constantly crying, self-harm or suicidal thoughts are all a lot easier to notice but are not always seen by others.
How can you help yourself?
If you do feel depressed, the first thing to do is to try to understand that it is ok to feel depressed. Sadly, there is still a stigma, especially among men who make up about 70% of suicides. The insinuation being that if you can’t “man up” then you are weak and less than. But if Dwayne Johnson, Brad Pitt, and Eminem can experience depression, then so can you. The average person would not argue that these individuals need to “man up”. There is no need to feel ashamed.
The next thing to do is to remember its important to talk through your emotions and feelings. This is incredibly cathartic and helps a person to feel supported by others. If you happen to not have anyone close to you who you feel comfortable confiding in, or maybe it is loneliness that has led to your feelings of depression then a quick Google will be able to provide you with a number of support groups and services for free that will enable you to talk to someone. If you are having suicidal thoughts in particular, The Samaritans are just one phone call away.
Exercise is also very helpful. This is often easier said then done, because if you feel depressed you may not want to leave the house, but it is often proven as the best natural cure for depression. The endorphins released from exercise provide a natural chemical boost that helps rebalance the chemical imbalance that leads to depression. Start small, even if it is just leaving the house for a short walk to go to the local shop and back. It is a start, and you can build from there.
Finally, it’s important to remember that people recover from depression all of the time. It can feel incredibly overwhelming at times, but gradually the clouds will life, you will begin to have these small moments where you are going for a walk or talking to a friend where things do not feel so bad. Then you will begin to have whole days where things do not seem that bad. Eventually those good days will outnumber the bad and your life will feel normal again. Those who overcome depression often go on to achieve more than before they experienced it, as they realise they are stronger for coming out of it and can now navigate tough times better than those who have not experienced it.