Depression is one of the most common reasons people come to counseling. Depending on the severity of symptoms, depression can impact all areas of a person's life and can become quite debilitating. If you find yourself feeling discouraged, stressed or worried and find that these feelings are having a negative impact on your life, you might be a good candidate for counseling.
Symptoms of Depression
- Persistent feelings of sadness
- Unexplained irritability or restlessness
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Loss of interest in things that used to bring you joy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping excessively
- Loss of appetite or excessive eating
- Isolation from others
- Loss of sex drive
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
Depression in Men vs. Women
Although many of the symptoms are similar, men and women do sometimes respond differently to depression. Men are more likely to isolate and are less likely to seek professional help. Men with depression may be more inclined to seek out reckless behavior and are more likely to self medicate with drugs and alcohol. Depressed men may tend to distract themselves by working longer hours as a means of avoidance. Men with depression often exhibit "stealth symptoms" that are not readily identifiable as being related to depression. They may tend to down play the severity of their symptoms while trying to tough it out on their own. In men, depression will often manifest as anger or irritability; they project their feelings outward at those around them and often demonstrate a decreased ability to understand the feelings of others. Men are also more likely to commit suicide.
Women with depression on the other hand are more likely to experience co occurring symptoms of anxiety. Women tend to ruminate more when depressed and will often project inward and blame themselves. Women with depression are more likely to experience hypersomnia or, excessive sleepiness as well as an increase in appetite. Three specific types of depression are unique to women: Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), Perinatal Depression and Perimenopausal Depression. Although symptoms of depression can be just as severe as for women as men, women are more likely to turn to their friends and seek out professional help.
Here's a Short Video That Explains the Science Behind Depression
The first thing I usually recommend when someone presents with significant symptoms of depression is to get an annual physical that includes blood work to rule out deficient vitamin levels and imbalances in the endocrine system or blood sugar levels. There are several medical issues that can produce similar symptoms so it is good to rule those out at the beginning.
How Can Counseling Help With Depression
- Adjust to a crisis or other current difficulty
- Identify negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones
- Explore relationships and experiences, and develop positive interactions with others
- Find better ways to cope and solve problems
- Identify issues that contribute to your depression and change behaviors that make it worse
- Regain a sense of satisfaction and control in your life and help ease depression symptoms, such as hopelessness and anger
- Learn to set realistic goals for your life
- Develop the ability to tolerate and accept distress using healthier behaviors
What Can You Do About Feeling Down
- Stay Action Oriented: focus on mastering desired behaviors rather than how you feel or what you're thinking. It's hard to do what feels counterintuitive but depression has a way of getting us to engage in behaviors that reinforce the depressed feelings.
- Eat Well: it may seem logical to maintain a healthy diet in response to symptoms of depression but we often find ourselves craving processed foods or snacks high in sugar as a means of comfort. Increasing your intake of tryptophan rich foods such as turkey, foods rich in vitamin B such as beef or soy, whole wheat and high protein can help to stimulate the production of norepinephrine and dopamine. Those are good things.
- Connect With Others: isolation is the perfect breeding ground for depression. You don't have to be the life of the party but interacting with others can help open up your world a bit and challenge perspectives.
- Exercise: it is fairly well established that physically active people have lower rates of anxiety and depression. Some studies suggest that regular exercise works as well as medication in relieving the short term symptoms of depression so find something that works for you and stick to it. Partnering up with someone else for exercise accountability can help you stick with it. The folks I've seen who were most successful in establishing an exercise regime participated in scheduled exercise programs that also had a social component.
- Practice Mindfulness: the simplest definition of mindfulness is paying attention to your experience in the present moment. It involves observing thoughts and emotions from moment to moment without judging or becoming caught up in them. During a practice session, when the mind wanders, the meditator ideally takes note of where it goes, and calmly returns to the moment at hand, perhaps focusing on breath, bodily sensations or a simple yoga move.