Depression has been described as ‘the common cold’ of psychiatry because it affects so many people. Although one in four Australians will suffer from depression at some stage in their life, most sufferers feel alone, and as though being depressed is a personal failing.
Almost everybody knows what it is like to feel ‘down’, but depression is many times worse and lasts for weeks, or months. Depression is debilitating and makes people less able to behave normally. Recovering from depression is not a matter of simply pulling one’s socks up and getting on with life.
Few people receive effective treatment for depression. Treatments for depression include psychological therapies and antidepressant medication; which is most effective depends on a variety of factors, including the severity of the depression. Two psychological therapies are particularly effective in treating depression – cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy. These therapies not only lead to an improvement in mood in the short-term, but also decrease the likelihood of the depression reoccurring. For severe depression, studies have shown that the most effective treatment for depression is a combination of anti-depressant medication and psychological therapy.
Whereas interpersonal therapy looks particularly at the network of relationships, CBT includes specific things for people to do daily. Some of these can be done by anyone wanting to recover from depression quicker. For starters, try these:
- Exercise every morning for at least 20 minutes. It’s hard to find the motivation when you are depressed, but exercise improves the body’s ability to regulate mood. If you can manage to exercise every day for two to three weeks, you’ll notice a significant improvement in mood, sleep, energy levels, and motivation. Keeping a chart to mark off when you have exercised can build motivation and a sense of achievement.
- Eat nutritious foods throughout the day (chocolate has a mild anti-depressant effect too!). Our body needs regular intake of a variety of vitamins and minerals to regular mood. If you can’t sit down to a full meal, nibble on celery, carrot, or apple pieces, nuts, or yoghurt.
- Do things you used to enjoy. They may have little appeal now, but doing things that used to be pleasurable will gradually make you feel better. Keeping involved in activities that have positive associations will remind you of better times and of who you are when you are not depressed.
- Make how you talk about things (aloud and to yourself) more positive. Depression makes it harder to recognise and remember positives, thus making the world appear worse than it is. Challenge negative statements as soon as you think them. Avoid ‘catastrophising’ and seeing things as all bad or worse than they are.
- Memorise positive statements and repeat them to yourself.
- Meditate or relax for 20 minutes twice every day. Many forms of meditation work. It takes commitment to get into the habit but the results are worth it. Simply sitting and relaxing each group of muscles, or focusing on relaxing while breathing slowly, can make a difference.
- Laugh as much as possible. It releases negative chemicals and generates feel-good chemicals. Perhaps hire your favourite movies or comedies, read your favourite cartoon strips, or watch a toddler or baby discovering the world.
- Get out and do things – with depression it is easy to avoid human contact and activity, but avoidance reinforces the negative feelings. Staying at home and avoiding people reinforces the sense that life isn’t enjoyable, so challenge that feeling by being around people you like.
If the above strategies aren’t enough to start you feeling better, seek psychological help. Psychological treatments for depression are usually relatively short-term, and generate noticeable results within a very short time. Remember that you are not alone and that you will recover from depression.