What the heck is Depression anyway?

Depression is not a choice. Now, before you throw your arms up and start yelling at me I ask that you consider what is and is NOT depression. With all the current light shed on to depression, suicide, and mental health I have been asked much more lately my professional stance on depression. I want to break it down much further beyond just outlying the symptoms and signs of depression. I mean, after all, we could all look at the diagnostic criteria of depression and slap ourselves with a hefty diagnosis.

Before I dive any further into the nitty-gritty, I want to establish an overriding concept that ought to be pervasive for ALL mental health diagnoses. No one is “a depressed person”, “an ADHD kid”, or “the bipolar guy.” In essence, I am saying no one is the diagnosis that is present in their life. You are you, not a diagnosis. Identifying oneself by a diagnosis forfeits the reality of who you are as a human being and causes you to limit yourself to the restrictions associated with depression. I had to put that out there before we go any further!

What is the difference between stress, sadness, and depression? Well, just because you have stress does not mean you are “depressed.” Stress means you are alive, your heart is beating. Stress drives us to perform. Too much stress overtime can possibly lead to depression but not always. A few days of stress does not indicate you are experiencing depression. Therefore, enjoy stress and try to limit it at the same time. Good luck with that ☺ Moving on to sadness. Just because you are sad does not mean you are experiencing depression. Sadness is not necessarily a negative emotion. Sure, it hurts at times, but if we didn’t  have sadness would you enjoy happiness and know what being happy even is? No! Now, if sadness carries on for an extended time you might be falling in to a depressive episode. Basically, the point I want to drive home first here is that stress and sadness happen to everyone and it does not mean you are experiencing depression.

We always see the criteria listed for depression, which are simple signs/symptoms that might indicate one is experiencing a depressive episode. That is, when one has a loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities for at least two weeks, accompanied by at least four of the following symptoms:

  1. Significant weight loss when not dieting, or weight gain, or change in appetite.
  2. Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly everyday
  3. Activity level slow down or increases
  4. Fatigue of loss of energy
  5. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  6. Diminished ability to think , concentrate, or make decisions
  7. Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or suicidal ideation, or a suicidal plan or attempt.

(The symptoms must not be due to the direct effects of medications, druges, or a physical condition, and must not be a simply grief reactions.)

***It is important to note that these symptoms best describe how depression presents in females. Frankly, psychiatry has done an awful job of describing how depression manifests in males. Thus, I am currently writing a book on “Manpression.” 

I teach graduate students how to diagnose and my question is always so what do these symptoms really mean? What the crud is really going on? Is he/she just choosing to be negative or stay sad? I want to get in to that… the stuff that is rarely talked about. The actual process that is happening physically, physiologically, biologically, neurologically, and so on. Also, what is happening with the heart rate? What is happening with hormones? The whole purpose in asking these questions, and answering them, is so you can see what depression really is. It is not just some set of symptoms.

Neurochemicals: What’s that got to do with it? Everything! 

I always hear people say that the depression they are experiencing is not just depression; rather, it is a chemical problem. #thetruth: Depression always involves chemical imbalances. When your body and brain experience ongoing (at least 2 weeks)/ excessive sadness, guilt, and other depressive symptoms neurochemicals are going to reduce in production. Your dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin decrease. Now, on the flip side it could be that an unkown reduction of these neurochemicals could lead to inexplicable depressive symptoms. This means something else in your mind/body could have led to reduction of these chemicals resulting in other depressive symptoms. Its kind of that whole chicken or the egg thing. So, it always has something to do with chemical imbalances, but that does not mean you can just use medication to overcome it. And no, I am not saying psych medication is totally bad. I am just saying depression is so complex that it would be foolish to only depend on one method ( and a method that is most often placebo)  to overcome such a complex problem.

A Medical Issue?

Depression symptoms could be a result of several medical issues. I do not feel comfortable treating a client if they have not done lab work with their med doc. Specifically, I like to hear about thyroid levels, testosterone, and vitamin D. I also would like clients to look at adrenal malfunction, Addison’s disease. In females, you will want to check your estrogen levels, just as important as men checking testosterone. I would also like to hear about Vitamin B levels. I would like to find out if the client has had concussions or suffered seizures. These are just a few things to consider. Basically, I am suggesting that you don’t want to just chalk your symptoms up to depression. Looking at all possibilities, including medical issues is absolutely imperative.

Yes, Your Food Could be a Problem

The Brain Bio Centre reports that the most significant problem in regards to nutrition causing mood symptoms is unbalanced blood sugar levels. So, What does that mean? Well, when we eat carbohydrates they turn into glucose and raise our blood sugar levels. If we eat too much carbs, or carbs loaded with gluten, our blood sugar levels spike and come down hard. This causes mood instability. Furthermore, going an entire work day without eating causes a major drop in blood sugar levels and problems with mood. Then after you don’t eat all day and get in a load of carbs at night you spike your blood sugar and then drop drastically. Continuing to do this day after day your body is dysregulated… how do you expect to have a stable mood. My advice, stop acting like your food doesn’t matter. It is your fuel.

You might also want to consider the fact you are not supplying your body with sufficient amounts of chromium, a mineral that helps insulin pump properly. Foods that can help with this are broccoli, barley, oats, green beans, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and black pepper.

You might also consider the fact your not getting sufficient sources tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin (5HTP). Foods you might want to consider would be spinach, eggs, sesame seeds, halibut, lobster, crab, quail, turkey, and soy protein….just to name a few.

We could go on and on about nutrition and mood; however, I would consider the above mention items if you feel depressive like symptoms. Actually, I would highly recommend being proactive  and getting these in to your nutrition plan now!

Could it be a Spiritual Problem?

Whether you are religious or not, is not the debate here. We are all spiritual beings for whatever that means to you. Some believe in God, Buddha, higher power, the universe, energy, and so on. The fact of the matter is that if you are out of balance/touch with your spirituality it can become a problem. This can start to look like a mild depression and make your question yourself and the world around you. It is not taboo to consider how your spirituality is affecting your mood. In fact, you need to seriously reflect on your sense of personal spirituality.

A Neurological Perspective

Technology has advanced in a tremendous manner! Those who can afford it may seek out a fMRI, which measures brain activity by looking at changes in blood flow in the brain. This a costly measure, but due to ongoing research, specialists are able to identify multiple mental health disorders through use of fMRI.

At the end of the day, depression can look like all sorts of issues. At the same time, it is important to not mistake a different medical or external stressor as organic depression. I hope this post can help you see that depression is not just simply a way of thinking. It is serious; however, it is not a life sentence to sadness or anger. It is treatable and can be overcome. Sometimes it just takes a little more than will power. One can choose to Endure and find their way forward!

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