Defining and preventing depression
Depression is a common but often misunderstood condition. Research indicates that five percent of Canadians will become clinically depressed in any given year and that one in five Canadian adults will experience depression at some point during their lifetime.
Depression is the diagnosis given when an individual experiences at least five symptoms over a two-week period or longer. These symptoms are more than grief over a loss and interfere with daily activities. Symptoms include:
- depressed mood
- decreased interest or pleasure in most activities
- change in appetite or weight gain or weight loss
- trouble falling or staying asleep or sleeping too much
- too little or too much body movement (e.g., sitting and staring into space for hours at a time or feeling “keyed up” with an inability to sit still)
- excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- difficulty thinking or concentrating
- difficulty making decisions
- recurrent thoughts of dying or harming oneself.
The symptoms of depression can occur at any period in life and can vary in severity.
People often use the word “depression” to describe feeling sad or blue or out of sorts. At times people who suffer from depression feel that they should just “get over it.” Occasionally they experience feelings of guilt or a sense that they are “weak” because they can’t change the symptoms by themselves. Sometimes, people who are trying to help tell the person to “look on the bright side” or tell the person that they have a good life and have no reason to feel depressed. Unfortunately, these feelings and situations result from people not really understanding what depression is and this misunderstanding can make the person suffering from depression feel worse.
Risk Factors for Depression
Depression can occur in anyone, regardless of age, gender, cultural or educational background, financial or professional status. However, a number of different factors can increase the risk of depression such as biological factors (having a parent who has been depressed), chemical imbalances, physical or emotional deprivation, major negative life events like the loss of a loved one, marital separation or job loss;significant life transitions, physical illness, chronic pain, persistent negative thinking or previous episodes of depression.
There is no one strategy that will protect an individual from experiencing depression. There are, however, a number of things that individuals can do to reduce the risk of depression:
- Build a strong support system. This can include formal and informal supports, such as family, friends and professionals.
- Engage in self-care, including eating a well-balanced diet, regular physical activity and good sleeping habits.
- Maintain a balanced lifestyle. It is important to engage in a variety of activities, including work, leisure, recreation and relaxation, and to make sure that you spend time with family and friends.
- Practice anti-depressant skills: effective problem solving, thinking realistically and reactivating your life. Learning and practicing these three skills can stop your mood from sliding down, lessen your depressed mood and help prevent depression.
- Recognize problems when they exist and try to solve them. Don’t allow them to become bigger by ignoring them.
- Recognize and change negative thinking patterns. Recognize that thinking can be distorted and doesn’t always reflect the way that life actually is. Identify more accurate thoughts and recognize positive aspects of life.
- Set goals. Identify your priorities. What goals would you like to achieve? Select one or two to begin working on. Break down the goals into the smallest steps possible to increase the chances of success. Celebrate success at each step!
These skills can help prevent depression by changing patterns that increase the risk of becoming depressed. They also help manage and reduce depressed mood when someone is suffering from depression.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression or would like assistance in using some of the strategies mentioned above, reach out for support. Manitoba Blue Cross’s counselling services are available to all Manitobans, regardless of whether or not you have coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross. Find the available support that’s right for you here.