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Should I be concerned about feeling down? How do I know if this is Depression?

It is the normal human experience to feel a range of emotions from elation to deep sadness. Some people feel this range of emotions to a lesser degree (find it hard to feel intense emotions) while others feel it to a greater degree (find it hard not to feel intense emotions). Typically, by the time a person has reached adulthood, he or she has some sense of the likely emotional patterns that they experience. A common experience that makes people feel alarmed is when they have an unexpected emotional experience. For example, if a person generally copes well with stress and adversity and s/he all of a sudden has an unexpected reaction to a stressor.  I have heard many people say something to the effect of, “I usually bounce back after a setback, but this time I’m not bouncing right back.” Whether the change is due to the situation or to the person, the fact is something is different.

One of the most common mistakes we make as human beings is assuming that the thing we used to do to address a problem a year ago (or two decades ago) will still be an effective solution today. In short, things change and we need to adapt. It is simpler to reuse a technique than to evaluate what the best technique would be each time. We all do it. It’s part of our nature. The trouble arises when we get a clear indication that our tried and true technique is not working this time, but we don’t look for a more effective solution.

Take the fictional case of Bob. Bob is a hard worker who believed in his ability to recover from setbacks on his own. In the past, whether it was in his professional or personal life, when he faced a setback he would usually feel discouraged and down for a day or two. His technique was simply to wait a couple of days “for things to pass.” After those couple of days, he felt better, more encouraged, and generally optimistic about his future. Then one day Bob experiences a setback, but this time his feelings of discouragement don’t relent after a few days. Instead he continues to feel discouraged, becomes more pessimistic, finds it more difficult to do the things he needs to do, finds he has less interest in the things he once liked, and worries that this new emotional state will remain for the foreseen future (which makes him feel even worse).

Obviously, Bob’s old “wait and see” technique is no longer working. Bob might be experiencing clinical depression. Depression is the experience of a significant negative change in the way we think, feel, and behave. The experience of depression often includes negative thoughts (discouragement, lack of hope, thinking that things will not get better, etc.), negative feelings (sadness, lack of joy, lack of motivation, lack of enjoyment in things once liked, etc.), and negative behaviors (change in sleeping pattern, change in appetite, isolation, tearfulness, lack of activity, etc.). Some studies have shown that law students experience depression 4-5 times the general population by the end of law school and that lawyers are more than 3 times more likely to suffer from depression than the general population. Simply put, law is stressful.

So what is Bob (or someone in his situation) to do? When someone feels symptoms of depression, often times the things that help the most are the things that feel the hardest to do.

1.)    Talk to someone. When you are feeling depressed, it is easier to withdraw but most helpful to connect with others. Although it takes effort, connect with at least one other person to talk about your experiences. I recommend talking to a licensed therapist. Having a trained professional to offer a supportive, objective, and nonjudgmental perspective can be very helpful.

2.)    Exercise. Physical activity has a positive impact on your mood through the release of mood boosting chemicals in your brain. It can be very difficult to exercise when feeling depressed, so try to start small by doing low impact exercise (for example walking).

3.)    Vitamin D. Whether it is through sunlight or vitamin supplements, vitamin D helps improve our mood. During winter months with less sunlight it can be difficult to get outside for very long. Ultraviolet lights are also an option.

4.)    Medications. Antidepressants can offer an individual added assistance in improving their mood. This is most effective when accompanied by therapy.

Whether you address feelings of depression through the use of professionals or not, the most important thing is to evaluate whether your technique is working. If it is not, be open to evaluating other methods that might be more effective. Depression is a treatable condition. Don’t put it off. Call LCL today!

 

Shawn Healy, Ph.D.

 

 

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