Dealing with Depression

Lots of situations bring on sadness, but if feelings persist for several weeks, that is a sign of clinical depression. Being diagnosed with depression may seem like it would make matters worse, but for some people, it can be a relief.

“Knowing that they have a legitimate and treatable condition removes the self-blame for being lazy, or lacking ambition, or feeling worthless and hopeless­—feelings that can paralyze one’s life,” explains geriatric psychiatrist Helen Lavretsky, MD, Department of Psychiatry at UCLA. “Frequently, people feel responsible for pulling themselves out of misery by their own bootstraps—and feel like a failure when they can’t do it. Knowing that there are effective treatments, and hope for the prognosis, can elevate people from the low point of hopelessness and helplessness.”

A Plan for Feeling Better

Like other chronic conditions, depression can be managed successfully. A treatment plan is a multi-pronged approach and typically includes:

Psychotherapy. This involves honest conversation to identify problems that are causing depression. These sessions help patients learn problem-solving strategies, develop new ways of thinking, and build specific skills that can reduce depression and help prevent relapse.

Medication. Antidepressants are typically the first drugs prescribed. They improve mood by adjusting levels of neurotransmitters (the brain’s chemical messengers). It can take a few weeks before medicines shift mood.

Mindfulness Meditation. This approach teaches you to accept your immediate thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a non-judgmental manner. It has been shown to be particularly effective for mental health issues.

Exercise. Physical activity triggers the body’s own feel‑good brain chemicals called endorphins. Studies suggest that even low levels of exercise, such as walking or gardening for 30 minutes a day, can help ward off depression.

Healthy Diet. Eating mostly fruits, veggies, whole grains, and low-fat meat and dairy is an ideal way to build a healthy eating plan that can improve overall wellness.

Don’t let depressed feelings linger. “If left untreated, depression can lead to disability, dementia, and early death,” warns Dr. Lavretsky. “It can also worsen outcomes of coexisting medical illnesses.”

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