Dealing With Depression
By Shannon Harsh, The Review, Published November 11, 2015
With plans for Thanksgiving feasts being made and Christmas inching closer, it should be the most cheery time of the year. But for those battling depression, that isn’t the case.
“Holidays can be a wonderful time, but they can also be a very difficult time,” Trina Arnold, licensed social worker who works in the Alliance Community Hospital’s geriatric psych unit, said when she spoke to the diabetes support group Nov. 4 at the hospital.
Arnold was on hand to discuss the symptoms and types of depression, as well as offer ideas on what to do when struggling with depression, particularly during the holiday season.
She said symptoms include feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness or helplessness; irritability; anxiety; feelings of guilt; loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy; feeling tired/ lack of energy; difficulty concentrating/ lack of focus; having difficulty making decisions; difficulty falling asleep or sleeping all the time; loss of appetite or overeating; and thoughts of self-harm/ not wanting to live or making a suicide plan.
“All I can say is if you ever reach that point, call help immediately,” she warned. “If you live alone, call the police or call an ambulance; get yourself to the hospital. If you have family living with you, get them involved; get them to get you somewhere. Please reach out for help if you have any thoughts of harming yourself.”
Arnold said depression can also manifest itself physically, such as through aches and pains, gastric problems or hair loss. “I always say to people if you keep it in and you’re trying to keep this front up like you’re feeling okay, it’s going to come out somewhere,” she said.
While everyone has times they are down, she said it doesn’t mean it is depression. “Not every day of our life are we going to be positive, so having an occasional down day is quite normal for people,” she explained. “But a clinical depression is different than that.”
Major depression is diagnosed when a person has approximately five of the signs and symptoms consistently for at least two weeks. She said those who are seeing several of the signs should make an appointment with their doctor.
Minor depression is diagnosed less often when a person has only a few symptoms, but they’re still affecting their life consistently for a prolonged period.
Arnold said when a person has a depressed mood and symptoms for two years or longer, they may be diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder. “I refer to someone like that as having a sad soul, where there’s just sadness with them all the time. It’s a difficult way to live,” she said.
Another possible diagnosis is adjustment disorder or situational depression, which she said may come about because people have difficulty adjusting to changes in their life. “Life can hit us in the face. There can be things happening in our lives that are very difficult,” she explained.
“Life always changes, doesn’t it? Nothing stays the same. So when the changes are what we want and they’re good, there’s nothing wrong with that; we embrace them, and that’s great. But there’s often life changes that we have no control over and that’s not what we want, and during those times a person has to adjust.”
Arnold touched on the difference between depression and grief after a loss. “Grief is natural. We all have to process grief. It comes through stages, and we all grieve differently,” she said, adding that there is no timeline, but sometimes people get stuck in a stage of grief, which can lead to depression.
For those dealing with depression during the holidays, she offered the following tips to help prevent them from having a blue Christmas:
- If on medication/anti-depressants, make sure to continue to take it and have the prescription refilled.
- If connected with a counselor, don’t miss appointments.
- Don’t set expectations too high. Don’t expect things to be perfect.
- Allow yourself to have a “cry” day to get your emotions out.
- Make changes to traditions to make it easier.
- Totally change your activities or plans, such as going to the movies or volunteering on the holidays.
- Reach out to friends/family; don’t isolate yourself.
- Know your triggers (finances, relationships, irregular schedule, etc.) so you can protect yourself from them.
- Keep a daily routine throughout the holidays.
- Eat sensibly.
- Focus on the true meaning of the holiday season.
- Get sufficient sleep.
- Try journaling what you are feeling, thinking and hoping, which offers a good release.
She handed out “gratitude journals,” which she explained are used for listing both big and small things for which you are grateful.
“Sometimes, if you’re in depression, it’s really hard to find something you’re grateful for, but there is something,” she said, adding that journaling is a powerful tool to use right before bed to end the day on a positive note. She said often depression can consume you and you go inward and are thinking of yourself, but this gives you a reason to look outside of yourself.
Arnold stressed the importance of seeking help when dealing with depression. She said there is help out there through medication and counseling, and no one needs to be suffering with depression. While it might feel hopeless, she said, it is possible to get over the mountain.
“If you find yourself struggling throughout this season — and there are many people that do — please reach out for help. Know you’re not alone,” she said. “I think often you think you’re the only person with these feelings and these emotions, and that is by no means the truth. There’s a lot of people struggling with this.
“It’s hard to reach out; it’s hard to say, ‘I need help,’ but just that one call or that one visit to a friend is really all that’s needed, and once it’s out there, you’ll find it’s not hard, and you’ll find that people will help you.”
Trina Arnold talks about depression at the Diabetes Awareness Group meeting on Wednesday at Alliance Community Hospital (Courtesy of The Alliance Review, Nov. 11, 2015).