Overcoming Depression : Finding Hope

By | August 15, 2014


Actor Robin Williams – ‘Goodwill Hunting’

The recent media attention and tragic loss of actor Robin Williams, one of the most remembered actors of all time, has raised significant discussion around mental health in America. I think of one of his films, Goodwill Hunting, albeit intense, is one of my personal favorites something that’s had a significant impact on my thinking and perceptions of therapy, change, trauma, and healing. Two of my favorite lines, “You’ll never have that kind of relationship in a world where you’re afraid to take the first step because all you see is every negative thing 10 miles down the road.” and “You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” Sadly, Robin has left us but in his passing he stirred up significant discussion, the nation over, about depression, suicide, and the strong emotions most have around this sensitive issue.

Many factors contribute to a person becoming clinically depressed. Brain research shows that inadequate mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful events, past trauma, and distorted thinking all play a role in provoking depressive symptoms. Depression impacts more than just the mind, it impacts the body. It disrupts sleep, appetite, concentration, energy, and sexual functioning.

Depression’s Invisible Hold
Clinical depression is characterized by feelings of extreme sadness and a lack of energy and/or hopelessness that can persist for months and even years at a time. A person suffering from depression may notice that he or she has little to no interest in activities that, at one time, were enjoyable. Excessive sleeping, changes in diet, sexual energy, and social relationships are indicators that depression may be present. Depression often shows up differently in people depending on how they cope with sadness and hopelessness. Some individuals may cope by overeating to self-soothe while others cope by sleeping to avoid the depressive feelings. For those that are not depressed it can appear that the individual that is depressed is lazy and a victim, this is not so in most cases I have worked with. Depression is a mood disorder that is treatable but for those struggling it can feel like their world will never ever be happy, that peace and meaning is something they will likely never have.

Depression is Treatable
When working with an experienced and licensed therapist, most people can expect to begin healing and learn to manage depression. Many people find that the combination of medication and counseling is the most helpful when done together. Depression causes people to believe that their hopeless and distorted ways of thinking about themselves and the world are completely accurate and correct. Counseling and therapy for depression even protects you from occurrences of depression flaring up in the future. It is also clear that counseling is as effective as medications in treating depression. Learning new ways of thinking while uprooting and tossing old self-limiting beliefs, like medication, has been shown to have positive effects on brain chemistry. Also, here’s a gem quote from Ann Voskamp, “There’s no guilt in mental illness because depression is a kind of cancer that attacks the mind. You don’t shame cancer, you treat it. You don’t treat those hurting inside as less than. You get them the most treatment.”

Medication and Supplements
Most medications treat depression by increasing the availability of neurotransmitters, which are brain chemicals that assist in improving and elevating emotions. The most common types of antidepressants are SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These medications treat depression by altering the amount of serotonin found in the brain. This category of antidepressants is one of the newest forms of treatment; Lexapro and Zoloft are commonly prescribed SSRIs. You can speak to your primary care doctor about medications and they can inform you based on your medical history which medication might be helpful for you. Suppliments can also be of help for depression too. St. John’s Wort, SAM-e, Tryptophan and 5 HTP, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids. In some recent studies Turmeric has been shown to be as effective as one of the older antidepressant meds, Prozac.

Changing Up Your Routine
There are small yet significant things I recommend to my clients that are depressed and or anxious. Counseling is far more specific and tailored to each individual than the recommendations below yet these are some general guidelines that help almost all individuals who are depressed and trying to battle it.

1. Get into a routine
Set a daily schedule for yourself to counteract the effects of depression that seem to throw your life into disarray. Structure in your day helps keep the brain from wandering and getting lost walking down paths of hopelessness and doubt. Start with a few tasks: Depression often causes people to feel as if they cannot accomplish anything and leads them to feel like they or their life is worthless. Set small tasks for yourself, maybe 2-3 tasks per day so that you can feel empowered as you achieve them. When you get up, with a poor sense of the day and what you will do it in you’ll only feel more overwhelmed, more lost, and more self-deprecating.

2. Exercise, get out of your head and into your body
Decades of research studies have shown that exercise increases endorphins, which contribute to feelings of happiness. Research also indicates that regular exercise may encourage the brain to rewire itself in positive ways. When you engage in exercise your brain jumps out of gamma wave states (where anxiety, fear and doubt flourish) and into alpha and theta waves. This simply means that your mind begins to operate in measurable frequencies that contribute to overall well-being. Exercise, has been scientifically proven to keep the brain at or near theta brain waves which can and will take the depression head-on.

3. Eat healthy
Depression often causes a person to engage in disordered eating, too much or not enough; so having control and a plan for your diet may be beneficial. It has not yet been proven, but foods with omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and tuna along with foods high in folic acid such as spinach and avocado may help ease the symptoms of depression.

4. Get enough sleep
Depression often makes it hard for a person to get an adequate amount of sleep, which may worsen the symptoms of depression. In order to start getting more sleep each night, begin making some changes to your overall lifestyle. Make sure to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, and avoid taking naps in the afternoon.

There is Hope
Depression can and is absolutely treatable. If you are suffering and want help, relief can be yours. Learning to think in new ways, working through past trauma, establishing new ways of living, changing your brains thinking, can most assuredly cause depression to fade away. It takes work but it need not be debilitating and limit you from living your life.

More Information
You can get more information on about counseling and therapy for depression in the depression treatment area of my site.

Carpe Diem!

Copyright: No part of this article in section or full may be reproduced without permission from the author Justin Stum, MS LMFT. The one and only exception is for educational purposes and only if the contact information below for the author is fully cited here in article. Justin Stum, MS LMFT, 640 E. 700 S. Suite 103, St. George Utah 84770, 435-574-9193 http://www.justinstum.com

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