Worldwide, depressive disorders afflict millions—people of every age, race, religion, and education. More people are suffering from depression now than in previous generations. In a desperate attempt to cope, billions of antidepressant drugs and tranquilizers are gulped down each year. Yet the problem only continues to grow.
The World Health Organization reports that by the year 2020, depression will likely be the second leading cause of disease burden worldwide. This is a sobering thought. The condition of the mind affects the health to a far greater degree than many realize. Many of the diseases afflicting humanity are the result of mental depression. Negative emotions, such as grief, anxiety, discontent, sorrow, and guilt all tend to break down the life forces and invite physical disease and death.
Did you know that heart attacks are much more common among depressed men? And that depression can cause the bones of even young women to lose dangerous amounts of calcium? In cases of serious depression, brain functions become deranged, and various brain cells shrivel and die to the extent that key areas of the brain shrink and atrophy. As a consequence of depression, the whole body suffers, exerting its depressive effects upon the whole person—mentally, spiritually, and physically.
For the well-being and happiness of all, it would be good for us to learn more about depression, and most importantly, how to prevent it.
What is depression?
While nearly everyone fights discouragement at times, feelings of depression, on the other hand, can be a symptom of a wide variety of deeper medical and psychological conditions.
How can we know the difference and tell whether it’s serious or not?
First, it’s important to understand the difference between discouragement and depression. Everyone is tempted to be discouraged occasionally, experiencing a small dip in mood that can be lifted by good thoughts, prayer, and positive thinking. The cause of discouragement is usually understood, and its feelings are only temporary. We often call these feelings “the blues.” Depressions, on the other hand, are set apart by feelings of persistent sadness and gloom. Reduced physical activity, feelings of irrational anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness are often present.
Depressed people may have other symptoms, such as difficulty in concentrating, and their sleep and appetite may also be affected. They may feel tired all the time, and may lose interest in life. Negative thinking and even thoughts of suicide can also occur with depression.
What brings on these feelings of depression?
Some cases of depression appear suddenly for no apparent reason. Others are triggered by stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or a job loss. People who are reacting to really stressful events may feel numb for a while and are less able to handle their jobs or other responsibilities. They need time to work through their grief, and to heal.
Giving the grieving person love, encouragement, helps with their responsibilities, and sufficient time to heal–these things will usually take care of such depressions. Talking with other people such as a wise friend, a teacher, or a pastor often speeds recovery. If the depression lasts too long or the person becomes suicidal, a professional counselor may be needed.
Research also confirms that many cases of depression are brought on slowly and subtly over time…by poor lifestyle habits. Science has identified several factors that can promote, and even intensify feelings of hopelessness and despair. Among them are:
- Alcohol—Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and it has been shown to increase depression, including suicidal thoughts and behavior.
- Smoking—Research suggests that smoking may play an equally, if not even more dangerous role than drinking in the development of depression. Smokers are three times more likely to experience major depression.
- Caffeine—after assessing 143,000 people, Scandinavian researchers found a significant increase in depression among women who were heavy coffee drinkers. In addition, these same women also had more problems coping with stress.
- Physical Inactivity—a major study of 8,000 adults revealed that the less active persons are, the more depressed they were likely to be.
- Improper Diet—Sugary sweets, and heavy rich meals can contribute to blood sugar imbalances and feelings of depression.
- City Living—Stressful living circumstances, overcrowding, excess noise, and pollution can all contribute to anxiety and depression.
- Food allergies—for some people, food allergies can play a role in depression. These may need to be identified.
- Medications—some high-blood pressure medications, as well as other types of medicine, can bring about depression. Consult with your doctor about this possibility.
What can be done to overcome depression?
While medication for depression can sometimes provide temporary relief of symptoms, chronic use of antidepressants and tranquilizers, can lead to physical or emotional dependency and may actually deepen the depression.
There is something better! Nearly all types of depression respond to basic, common-sense measures. For example:
- Purposeful tasks: All of us need to do some kind of productive work, whether it’s heading a corporation, washing a car, or cooking a meal. A depressed person especially needs the feeling of accomplishment, completion, and satisfaction found in doing something useful each day. Without something to get out of bed for, something to do, even the most stable person would likely become depressed.
- Structure and Regularity: Whether depressed or not, we all need structure in our lives to keep mentally healthy. Observing regular hours for eating, sleeping, and working can go a long way to promote mental and physical health.
- Healthful diet: Eating a simple diet of fresh, natural foods gives increased mental and physical energy and can be helpful in balancing the chemistry of the brain. Eating only fresh fruit for a day or two can do wonders in clearing the mind and banishing fatigue.
- Adequate Rest: Periods of quietness and calm are especially important in today’s fast-paced pressured life. Sleep deprivation can set off or intensify depression. Most people feel their best with 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night.
- Daily exercise: Experts agree that regular exercise may be the most powerful natural antidepressant available. Aerobic activities such as brisk walking, swimming, and cycling stimulate the release of mood-elevating, pain-relieving natural chemicals called endorphins. Increased exercise reduces anxiety, depression, and life dissatisfaction.
- Regular sunshine.
Depression can be disheartening, but it doesn’t have to be permanently disabling. By improving physical health, choosing a positive mental attitude toward life, pursuing worthwhile activities, and developing spiritual goals and values, most people will be enabled to overcome their feelings of depression and live rewarding, productive lives.