Dr. Val Farmer
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Get help when life turns out to be overwhelming

Life has its share of frustrations, struggles, setbacks, defeats, losses and outright tragedies. These events test our character, courage, ingenuity, and faith. Through these trials, we learn and we become better, more compassionate people.

Sometimes we are overwhelmed and discouraged by what has happened to us. We get depressed.

What is depression? In a clinical depression, a person usually experiences four or more of the following symptoms for a period of two weeks or longer: change in appetite. loss of energy, change in sleeping pattern, agitation or increased activity, loss of interest in daily activities and/or decreased sex drive and social withdrawal, inability to concentrate, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness and guilt, and thoughts of suicide.

A bereaved person can have many of these symptoms and is not considered depressed. Sometimes physical illness produces symptoms that resemble depression. Medical attention is important to rule out physical causes for these symptoms.

There is a separate form of depression where low moods occur at regular intervals and may alternate with periods of joy and overexcitement. They are not connected to particular events in a person’s life.

A person who is depressed feels helpless and hopeless. Such a person does not feel he or she can change things for the better. In depression, confidence in the effectiveness of one’s actions has been undermined. “Why do anything if it’s not going to make a difference anyway?”

A person without hope doesn’t expect the future to be an improvement over the painful and-miserable present. If plans, dreams and strivings are no longer believed in, what else is there to look forward to? Why try?

The less a depressed person tries, the worse he or she feels. Less effort generally means fewer opportunities to experience pleasure or to notice that actions can make a difference. Without hope, nothing gets done.

There are several traps that keep the vicious cycle of low mood and diminished activity alive.

• Trap 1: A depressed person often wrongly interprets his or her experience.

• Trap 2: A depressed person sees himself or herself as unworthy and ineffective.

• Trap 3: A depressed person sees the world as frustrating and unfulfilling.

• Trap 4: A depressed person sees the future as hopeless.

* Trap 5: A depressed person stops acting appropriately in interpersonal relationships, cutting off the needed sources of support and pleasure.

With most other problems, it is easier to attack and solve the problems oneself. With depression, the ability to help oneself has been undermined by the disorder itself. Because of these thinking traps, perhaps the worst outcome is that a depressed person stops trying to help themselves.

Seeking Help. Fortunately, most depressions cure themselves. An episode may last weeks or even months and then run out of steam, so to speak. When that is the case, normal moods and behaviors return, and former productive ways of thinking and acting come back.

A person going through a major depression doesn’t realize that. Depression is a terrible experience. A depressed person ends up believing that the depression will never end. A temporary condition is judged to be permanent. That is why suicide is so tragic. With more time, the depression and suicidal thinking go away. 

Medications and counseling speed recovery from depression. Improved biological functioning affects psychological functioning and vice-versa. Research indicates that medications improve appetite, sex drive, and energy level while counseling helps with mood. work, thinking and interests. Treatment is effective with one or the other, or in combination.

Anti-depressant medications generally take two weeks to be i fully effective. They are essential for treating someone who is severely depressed. These prescribed drugs are non-addictive.

Counseling works best with milder and briefer depressions. This form of treatment helps the depressed person clarify feelings, improve interpersonal relationships, test the reality of their perceptions. alter expectations, organize behavior to work for goais, enhance self-esteem, and overcome passiveness and inactivity.

Counseling is especially important in helping build coping skills that will prevent further depressive episodes. Common treatment strategies often include trying to help the depressed person create movement or activity. Such short term behavioral goals help break the cycle of feeling helpless and ineffective.

Treatment may involve giving specific encouragement for improving personal relationships Through communication with others, the depressed person gains support, pleasure, and helpful ways of looking at their problems.

In short, the counselor helps create hope, hope that things will get better and that what a person does can make a difference.