Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. An estimated 1 in 10 adults in the United States suffers from some kind of depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There is still stigma and silence surrounding depression as an illness. So let’s talk about the elephant in the room: what is depression? Why is it problematic? And is there anything that can help?
(Let's keep in mind, everyone's experiences may differ, and I am not a medical physician offering any sort of diagnosis)
Okay, let’s start with what depression isn’t: a couple bad days, a brief period of mourning after a loss, or a pessimistic outlook on life. It consists of a period of more than two weeks of a bad mood, decreased interest in things that one normally finds enjoyable, and can also include fatigue, changes in weight, difficulty concentrating, inappropriate guilt, and even suicidal thoughts. While two weeks is the minimum length for defining depression, it can continue for months, years or even the course of a lifetime.
Are there different kinds of depression?
Yes. Major depression is an episode of depression two weeks or longer that messes with your ability to function throughout the day. People can have multiple episodes of major depression throughout their lives. Postpartum depression is a depressive episode that occurs after a woman has given birth. Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated SAD) is a form of depression during the winter months, when there is less sunlight, something we're all too familiar with in the midwest. Recurrent Depressive Disorder involves repeated depressive episodes. During these episodes, the person experiences depressed mood, loss of interest and enjoyment, and reduced energy leading to diminished activity for at least two weeks. Many people with depression also suffer from anxiety symptoms, disturbed sleep and appetite, and may have feelings of guilt or low self-worth, poor concentration and even symptoms that cannot be explained by a medical diagnosis. Depending on the number and severity of symptoms, a depressive episode can be categorized as mild, moderate or severe. Manic Depression (also called bipolar disorder) involves cycles of depressive lows and manic highs. There are also mild forms of depression that do not meet all the requirements of major depression.
What are some of the health consequences of depression?
Aside from just feeling like poop on an emotional level (entirely bad enough on its own), depression can also have other serious effects on a person’s health. People who suffer from depression are more likely to engage in negative habits such as smoking and excessive drinking. They are also less likely to get sufficient exercises, and are more likely to stop the physical activities they used to participate in. Depression can disturb sleep schedules and also negatively affect one’s professional and personal relationships, resulting in more stress, which leads to its own host of health issues. It’s a truly nasty cycle.
So why aren’t we all talking about this?
Mental illness has always been something of a taboo subject. Those with more severe problems are seen as crazy and unstable, while those with more mild issues can be accused of making it up for attention, or using the term as an excuse for ordinary laziness. Frankly, maybe it's personal fear of opening up too much emotional "baggage" regardless of what side you're on. It’s easy to ask a friend if she’s taking painkillers for her broken leg. Asking her if she’s considered antidepressants? Not so much.
Is there anything that helps with depression?
Absolutely, and the first step is diagnosis. The right physician will be able to speak intelligently about options like therapy, medication (if necessary), and other treatments and lifestyle changes, such as proper diet, and movement (e.g. gentle yoga).
Massage for depression?
How does massage fit in? Can it help? Absolutely. Massage has been found to reduce in people of all stripes and spots. Why does this work? Well, that’s still being researched. Likely, the large amount of endorphins released into the bloodstream during a massage has something to do with it. Endorphins boost the immune system, relieve pain + stress and ease the process of aging (another bonus). Caring touch does seem to have a real effect on mood, whether it’s from a loved one, a massage therapist, or a favorite pet. Of course, if you’re a regular recipient of massage, you can judge for yourself: is your mood improved after a massage? And if you haven’t received a massage lately (or ever!), this is a great opportunity. Do it for science! Or, do it for yourself. Because everyone deserves to feel better, including you. Wouldn't you agree?