A better understanding of depression
Posted February 24
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), an estimated 16 million American adults had at least one period of time in the past year where they experienced symptoms that would meet criteria for major depressive disorder (MDD). People who have MDD, most commonly simply known as depression, can be debilitated by the disorder and are at a dramatically elevated risk to have suicidal ideation and complete suicide.
Young women are especially susceptible to the disorder as females are 70 percent more likely to have MDD than men and young adults ages 18-25 are 60 percent more likely than people ages 50 or older to have symptoms associated with MDD. I recently sat down with a young woman who has been diagnosed with MDD to talk to her about her experiences with the mental illness to gain greater insight on the subject. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
When did you first start noticing you were experiencing depressive symptoms?
Jane Doe: It’s hard to say exactly when I first started noticing symptoms of depression. It runs in my family, so my mom had been advising me since around my senior year of high school that I might have it. She would also let me know from time to time that if I ever needed it, she knew a great psychiatrist. It took me a while to warm up to the idea of going to a psychiatrist.
The first few times I went (as a senior in college), I wasn’t sure if it was “working.” But after a few visits, I realized how good talk therapy is for me. I especially noticed its power in my life when I was in one of my more serious relationships. I had a lot of questions about healthy relationships and got a lot of advice on how to practice healthy communication.
It did wonders for me emotionally and now; I feel very confident in my ability to foster good relationships with honest and kind communication. I also realized a lot about myself and what I need in life and in a partner.
My first “ah ha!” moment with depression though, was a few weeks after I had started taking medication for depression. One day it just hit me: ”This is how people without depression think and feel?!? No wonder they are so motivated and confident!” For the first time in a long time, I was kind to myself. My brain was clear of all the negative talk and now open to other more fun, creative and healthy thoughts!
I don’t think medication and talk therapy are necessarily right for everyone, but they were both truly good for me.
Can you explain what it's like to have depression to people who've never experienced it?
The main way I would describe my specific symptoms (everyone has different symptoms), is that I was constantly putting myself down without even realizing it. I only realized how negative and mean I was towards myself when the medication kicked in for the first time. I would feel hypersensitive and hyper-worried about things that I now realize were just not important.
With depression, the small things can seem like insurmountable obstacles that will defeat you no matter what you do. It makes it very hard to be motivated. I would (and still do at times) experience moments of anxiety. Pretty small-scale anxiety. But anxiety. That stuff is tough. I don’t know if it’s because I have more experience with depression, but anxiety seems much harder to deal with than depression.
When did you know it was time to get help?
Like I said, my mom was a big factor in helping me realize I should consider talk therapy. I think I was too proud before that to consider it. I was still unsure if I truly had depression (I truly do by the way).
The moment I realized I needed medication, however, came quite a while after I started talk therapy. I was against using medication. I didn’t even like taking ibuprofen for headaches. I just thought it would mess me up somehow to be on meds. There were two instances that made me think I should try medication. They happened back-to-back. I think I needed the good old 1-2 punch. They sound very simple, but were very powerful for me.
I was on a hike with a friend that I looked up to a lot. They simply mentioned that taking medication for something like depression was not a bad thing (they didn’t know I had depression, we just happened to be talking about it). Then, the next day was LDS general conference. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, whom I greatly respect, gave a talk titled “Like a Broken Vessel.” It was a sincere, thoughtful, loving talk. The whole time I just felt a burning yet peaceful assurance that taking medication for my depression is something I should do. I was scared, but it was one of the best things I could have done for myself.
What things have helped you cope with your symptoms?
As you now know, medication and talk therapy changed my life for the better. Others are low stress levels, creativity (drawing, dancing, baking, playing the piano, graphic design, listening to good music), physical activity that is fun (I don’t like the gym but I love snowboarding, yoga, walking, dancing and rock climbing), interaction with loved ones (my husband, family and friends). Speaking of my husband, he is so understanding and loving about my depression and he is very good at listening a lot and talking just enough to brighten my spirits when I am feeling down. He is also so supportive of my talk therapy and medications. I am endlessly grateful for that.
What things have hindered your ability to cope?
The biggest things for me are stress and failures (or what I perceive to be failures) and feeling overwhelmed with responsibility.
How are you doing with it now?
I am doing really well now. My medication (which has changed over the course of a few years to different brands to correspond to my needs), my diet, my activities, and my vitamin and mineral balances have all been coming together over the last couple of years. I think I have found something that works quite well for me. Having consistency at home and in my life overall has also been very helpful.
What have you learned from having this condition?
I have learned that the brain is incredibly powerful. I have learned to have sympathy and compassion for anyone who suffers from abnormal brain functions. I have learned that finding help that works for you and your needs is important for any ailment, physical or mental. I have learned that self-love and taking time to care for yourself will improve your relationships with others. I have learned that sometimes just defining a problem can help you move forward. I have learned that it’s not just OK to ask for help, it’s good. I have learned that if one solution doesn’t work, you need to keep trying until you find something that does work. I have learned that traditional medicine and alternative medicines both have importance to me.
What advice do you have for people dealing with depressive symptoms?
I would advise people not to ignore their symptoms. I would also advise them to take their time to find out what works for them. Take advantage of any free but reputable help they can get. Unfortunately, talk therapy can be expensive, but if you ask around and do some digging, you can find options that won’t cost you too much. And in the end, in my opinion, making your mental health a priority is one of the best things you can do for your well-being and happiness in life.
Author's note: For more information about MDD and for resources for you or a loved one who might be experiencing symptoms of the disorder, visit www.NAMI.org.
Dylan Cannon is a regular KSL.com contributor and can be reached at DylanCannon86@gmail.com or via twitter @DylanCannon11. Listen to his weekly podcast, "Cougar Talk," on iTunes.