According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression affects one in ten adults, making it one of the most common mental illnesses in America. Seasonal Affective Disorder (“SAD”) is a special kind of depression where symptoms only occur during seasons having less available daylight; symptoms dissipate when daylight becomes longer. SAD is most common in places where there are long winter nights with less daylight hours available during the winter months. If you have experienced this kind of pattern of depression for two or more years, it is possible that you may be experiencing SAD.
Symptoms of SAD or depression are similar in that they both can include
- feeling blue or sad;
- depressed or irritable mood;
- anhedonia (not able to feel pleasure in anything);
- low energy and motivation;
- insomnia or hypersomnia;
- lack of appetite or excessive eating;
- feelings of hopelessness or helplessness;
- poor attention/concentration;
- frequently thinking about suicide or wishing oneself to be dead.
Depression and SAD both affect people emotionally, physically and behaviorally. Although it is not uncommon to feel “blue” or sad for a day or two, when these feelings or symptoms persist for two weeks or longer, depression or SAD should be considered.
It is important to remember that no one person experiences depression or SAD exactly the same way. I have worked with a female client in the past whose only symptoms were chronic poor concentration and lack of motivation. Her symptoms contributed to her poor work performance and consequent pervasive sense of failure. Others who I have known felt sad for no apparent reason and had crying spells several times per day. A young man who I worked with would periodically lock himself into his own house, refusing to see or talk to anyone whenever he became depressed. During these depressive episodes, only in absolute necessity would he emerge from his house, rendering him utterly non-functional.
Whatever the constellation of symptoms may be, depression can be debilitating, and it can wreak havoc on a person’s career, relationships and prevent enjoyment of daily lives. Depression is, on the other hand, one of the most treatable illnesses. Yet many people suffer in silence.
What would be an alternative to suffering silently from depression or SAD? The first step is to recognize that it is depression. This sounds simple, yet this can be the most difficult step for many people.
Why Is it that recognizing depression may be the most difficult step for many people? In many cultures (including this one), there is stigma attached to mental illness, including depression. The term “mental illness” itself evokes a negative image (such as people wearing flimsy hospital gowns and walking around aimlessly in a mental institution, uttering non-sensical things). It is difficult to place yourself or your loved one into that category. That is understandable.
In contrast to the imagery within many people’s minds, the faces of depression that I have been privileged to have worked with are virtually indistinguishable from others not suffering from depression. Many depressed people, knowing that there is something wrong and not feeling “like themselves” put their misery aside, putting on brave faces and going about their daily obligations. Only while in the safety of a psychotherapist’s office do they admit how distressed they are, how impossible their lives feel and what internal battles they fight on a daily basis.
Once you have come to accept that you may be depressed, the second step is to seek help. Help and support can come from many places: friends, family, ministers, and of course psychotherapists. Many people would not attempt to manage diabetes or other serious physical illnesses entirely on their own without seeking help from medical professionals. Yet, many depressed people hide their symptoms for months and sometime years before seeking help. On average, people wait more than four years before seeking treatment for depression! Many have confided in me that they felt it to be a sign of weakness to be forced to seek help for depression, as they believed that the only weak people seek counseling or psychotherapy. I would say that that is nothing is further from the truth. The difference between those who show up at a psychotherapist’s office and those who suffer in silence is courage. It takes courage for people to show up and open themselves up to the process of psychotherapy, so that they may begin to envision a life that is free from depression.
What happens next after you get yourself into treatment for depression?
The third step toward recovering from depression is to persist in your efforts. For many people, depression is associated with prior trauma, struggles in important relationships or unremitting stressful life circumstances. In order to obtain a comprehensive understanding, it is important to understand the significant current and past challenges. It is also important as well to learn to utilize internal and external resources. In my experience, depression is often a consequence of long-term struggles in life. Thus, one or two psychotherapy sessions are not sufficient to “cure” depression. Some prefer to only take medications; however, research shows that taking medication alone is not as effective as combination of psychotherapy and medication utilized together. Many people experience some improvement within 4-5 psychotherapy sessions, but others require a few months or more to work through their issues, so that depression no longer has a powerful grip on their lives.