For Americans, depression is a mental health issue that is particularly prevalent, occurring in over five percent of the population every year. Types range from postpartum depression to PDD (Persistent Depressive Disorder), and can rise in any one of the millions of Americans at any time. A variety of risk factors, from being a social minority to media representation, along with hereditary links, can lead one to develop any type of depression throughout life, manifesting in different ways. Unfortunately, social stigmas oftentimes prevent treatment or worsen one’s condition, leading to detrimental effects.
Depression, a disease that 85% of the population will experience at least once in their life (Moreh, & O’Lawrence, 2016) is typically characterized by disturbances in sleep and eating patterns, energy levels, changes in behaviors, moods, and cognitive functions, and more, ranging into more life-threatening things like self-harm, reckless behavior, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders. For myself, this meant emotionally isolating myself from people and hiding the signs and symptoms associated with it for years.
I was already at risk for developing depression and anxiety, as some unknown mood disorder affects my mother, who had been taking medication for it for several years. Genetic links are one many risk factors (Moreh & O’Lawrence, 2016) predispose one to a variety of issues, mental health included, but they can be prevented with the right knowledge and care. However, I did not have this knowledge, and I had a variety of other risk factors affecting me, ranging from sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation (making me an at-risk minority), to my family environment, which is, in large, verbally and emotionally abusive.
This meant that I was at a higher risk, which is not unusual as people in minorities (race, gender/sexual orientation, ethnicity) and in abusive situations or who experience traumatic events tend to develop depression at a higher rate than average. For teens and children, who are already far more vulnerable emotionally and mentally, this can lead to a lifelong battle against mental health complications that can be detrimental for self-esteem, education, careers, and general success and a sense of fulfillment in life (Patras, Martinsen, Holen, Sund, Adolfsen, Rasmussen, & Neumer, 2016).
While this disease is very prevalent, it is also very treatable, usually done through a variety of psychotherapies that may be accompanied by medication to help alleviate symptoms and alter a person’s biology. One example of this can be seen with a study conducted centering around mindfulness-based cognitive therapy compared to those without treatment (Lenz, Hall, & Smith, 2016).
This study showed that those who went through the cognitive treatment saw their symptoms lessen, while the untreated patients they were compared against saw little or no positive change throughout the course of the study. Another, done through a seven-module internet treatment system that focused on behavioral-cognitive therapy, saw similar success, with a significant difference between the treatment and control groups, persisting even six months after the initial seven weeks of treatments (Richards, Timulak, O’Brien, Hayes, Vigano, Sharry, & Doherty, 2015).
Following this, the majority of people seek professional help with school counselors, psychologists, or psychiatrists, who can arrange for a treatment option between different cognitive therapies and medicine combinations. I am a part of this population, having been with a private psychologist and a school counselor, and prescribed medications for anxiety and depression in order to help mitigate symptoms. These practices are often accessible to a large portion of the population – however, some people refuse treatment.
This is often due to the stigmatization of mental health issues and seeking treatment for such. Many seem to believe that mental illness is not real despite how many it affects annually, and when people attempt to seek treatment, particularly with medicines, they are ridiculed, told they do not need it, or that it can be ‘prayed away’. However, the effects of untreated depression are very real, and very harmful to people driven away from help by stigmas, lack of money, and their own fear of it.
Depression has an extensive list of harmful symptoms that “when untreated these problems can become chronic or recurrent and interfere with an individuals’ everyday life” (Moreh & O’Lawrence, 2016). When depression is treated, patients are usually given SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which allow for more serotonin to be available for the brain, which is often a problem for those who are depressed. In a 2013 study, patients who were untreated were compared against those who received a type of SSRIs, the duration of the depressive episodes before remission recorded.
What was found was that those left untreated experienced longer episodes before they recovered fully from it, while those who were treated with SSRIs and therapy achieved remission from depression at a quicker rate (Bukh, Bock, Vinberg, & Kessing, 2013). This backs up years of research that treatment, consisting of therapy, which may be combined with drugs, is extremely effective in treating a disease that visibly affects brains when viewed under PET scans. The effects of drugs can also be viewed through these scans, pinpointing which areas are affected, and even which treatments should be used (Goodwin, 2015). (PET)
I, like many others have received a combination of therapy and an SSRI to assist with my treatment at one point, and the two, when working together, allowed me to reach a more stable mood than before, suffering less from the symptoms of anxiety and depression. My personal experience, as well as years upon years of research and scientific proof of mental illness and the benefits that come from treatment are concrete, and the modern world is more willing to accept this, leading to movements such as #endthestigma, a campaign against the idea that mental illnesses like depression are dangerous, or that treatment should not be an option.
This, in turn, has led to more awareness, particularly for the prevention and minimization of depression and its symptoms. Prevention comes from knowing the causes of depression. Having family members with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and a few other disorders put one at a disadvantage, as they may have inherited the genes that caused their parent(s) to develop the disease. Other things that may trigger types of depression are major losses, such as a death, a miscarriage, or traumatic events throughout life.
In other instances, social pressures from media representation, bullying, and impractical ideals that society presses onto young, impressionable youth. To prevent these pressures and events from impacting a person so much that they fall into depression, they should be taught positive coping skills to turn to, such as reaching out to counselors, friends, and anyone they can confide in, meditation, exercise, and other such activities.
This helps to prevent people from turning to substance abuse, isolation, and self-harm, all of which can be detrimental and dangerous in the long-term if there is no treatment or communication. Sometimes, people do not have access to these coping skills and knowledge of them in time though, or they are not able to cope effectively because they may have become overwhelmed.
If this happens, measures can be taken to help reduce the symptoms of depression, ranging from taking SSRIs and seeking counseling to keeping communication with people and practicing forms of self-care. For myself, cleaning and rearranging my room often works, but for the most part, I turn to writing. Doing so allows for me to put my emotions onto a page, providing a cathartic effect, which is why many people who are depressed tend to find release in writing, playing music, or some form of art or hobby, as well as with exercise.
These activities help to stimulate the brain and allow for one to focus on another task for a time, which can significantly improve one’s mood and promote the release of serotonin and other beneficial neurochemicals into the brain. While it is a disorder that affects millions every year in a wide variety of ways, depression is an extremely treatable disease, though it faces stigma and backlash, leading to those diagnosed struggling to seek and persist with treatment.
Thankfully, the climate towards this and other mental health disorders is slowly beginning to change, allowing for people to more freely have access to therapy, medicine, and support groups, such as the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), among many others. This makes it easier for those afflicted to find support and achieve remission quicker than ever before, and presents a good outlook for those afflicted with any kind of depression in the modern world, something I look forward to as a frequent sufferer of depression.