I may not have had an ideal childhood but I know there’s a lot of others who’ve been through a lot worse than I have. There are many people in this world who’ve had to endure some pretty horrific things growing up or are going through a rough time now. Those kinds of things affect us deeply. How could they not?
In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the previous twelve months¹. Depression is very prevalent and yet it can also be very individualized.
Each person’s root cause for depression is different and usually extremely personal. By that I mean, even though we may have things in common that we’re going through or that happened to us in our childhood, such as abuse or alcoholic parents or abandonment that could be determined as the root cause or trigger for our depression, each person’s experiences, environment, personality, and coping mechanisms, are unique.
Different personalities mean each person copes in their own way, too. A strong personality may respond with anger (I’ve heard that depression is anger directed at oneself) whereas a mild personality may respond with tears or withdrawal. Sometimes our brain may even block a traumatic event from our consciousness, and that’s a coping mechanism the body does on its own for some people.
Depression can be a result of a chemical imbalance, too, although I’m of the belief that stress in itself may alter the chemical balance in our brains. Major life changes, childhood trauma, and other situations that are out of our control such as getting a debilitating illness or being a victim of a natural disaster — all sources of prolonged stress — can cause physiological changes², such as high blood pressure, increased blood glucose levels in diabetics, stomach ulcers, and even strokes and heart attacks³, so it stands to reason brain chemicals such as serotonin could be affected, too.
Also, people respond differently to the various treatments and medications, and even to individual psychiatrists, medical doctors, or counselors. It’s important to keep trying till you find one, or a combination, that works for you.
There are things in common, though, for those who suffer from depression:
- Isolation makes it worse and that’s often one of the first responses to depression. Depressed people don’t typically want to be around other people. The other side of that is a lot of people don’t want to hang around someone who is always depressed, negative, or complaining either. Unfortunately, there is still a bit of a stigma surrounding depression, as well. I’ve worked in healthcare for over thirty years and, even these days, I hear medical professionals, who should know better, make negative or derogatory comments about those who come in with suicidal ideation or after a suicide attempt. As one who’s attempted suicide twice in my life, it angers me and saddens me when I hear those misperceptions verbalized.
- Focusing on yourself and your problems only perpetuates the downward spiral. I realize it’s difficult to get out of your own head when you don’t want anything to do with anyone else, but just as a car will eventually follow the driver’s line of sight, we tend to follow our thoughts. When you focus on someone other than yourself, it can help alleviate that to some degree. When you don’t have time to dwell on your own problems, your mind becomes distracted from the loops of negative thinking. This can be especially true when the focus is on helping someone who is worse off than you are. Sometimes, that’s enough to put things in perspective for us. Search out your local food bank, homeless shelter, rape crisis center, battered women’s shelter, or cancer treatment center, and see if they need a volunteer.
- Talking it over can help, too, because keeping everything in is often what causes the depression in the first place. First of all, try spilling your heart out to God in prayer because his Word says in 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) to “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you,” and in Psalm 34:18 (NLT) “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” That may be all you need but if not, try talking to a counselor, a trusted friend, or jotting thoughts down in a journal or blog. Just make sure the friend is willing to really listen. The last thing you need is someone who’s just going to spout answers to your problems and give advice or judge you for the way you feel.
- Laughter, it’s said, is the best medicine. Proverbs 17:22 says: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” There are few studies that show laughter releases endorphins (the feel-good hormones) in the brain that can help counteract the serotonin depletion found in those who suffer from depression. “A good belly laugh leads to the release of endorphins from the brain,” says Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. That release sets off a cascade of heart-healthy biological events. Endorphins, pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters, activate receptors on the surface of the endothelium, the layer of flat cells lining blood vessels. That leads to the release of nitric oxide, which widens blood vessels—increasing blood flow, lessening inflammation, inhibiting platelet clumping, and reducing the formation of cholesterol plaque⁴.
- Depression and chronic pain sometimes go hand in hand, resulting in a vicious cycle. For me, when my fibromyalgia is flaring up and my pain level is creeping up on the pain scale, the more likely it is for my depression to worsen, too. Similarly, when my depression is at its worst, my body aches a lot more. Oftentimes, if you can alleviate one of them, the other will improve as well.
So, if you’re suffering from depression, don’t isolate yourself. Help someone else, talk it over with a friend or counselor or write it down, and do something to make yourself laugh (preferably with friends!).
Always seek professional help if you become suicidal. Don’t let the devil convince you there’s no way out of your problems or that the world would be a better place without you. Neither of those things are true. In fact, my bet is the devil is trying so hard to convince you of those lies because you have a special purpose that he doesn’t want you to fulfill. Fight back and don’t let the devil win!