This article examines the benefits of depression counselling.
Everyone goes through periods of feeling sad, fed up, and miserable. While these are understandable reactions to upsetting life events or experiences, there may be times when we feel this way for no apparent reason. If such feelings were to continue for an extended period, it may be a sign of depression. Whereas feelings of sadness usually pass, depression persists. I’ve previously written an article exploring the difference between sadness and depression.
Depression is not the same as the feelings of sorrow we might experience when a relationship ends or when someone we love dies. Grief and feelings of loss are a healthy – if uncomfortable – reaction, in such circumstances.. Over time we adjust to the new situation and, eventually, start to feel better. With depression, however, there is often no end in sight. Instead, the future seems bleak. Depression is accompanied by both feelings of persistent sadness and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. It can also be accompanied by physical effects such as loss of energy, sleeplessness and other symptoms (see below).
If these symptoms persist they can affect our health, relationships, and, perhaps, our work life. Our entire quality of life can suffer significant negative affects. Sometimes we may not realise how depressed we actually are. Especially when we have been feeling like this for a long time. Low moods associated with depression can be mild or moderate, lasting for weeks. Symptoms can be severe, lasting for months, or – in the worst cases – years. Long-lasting depression can thus prove extremely debilitating.
A Vicious Circle
Depression affects people not just emotionally, but also physically and cognitively. All three are linked and it can be hard to separate one from the other. They feed each other in an endless cycle that can leave us feeling both trapped and helpless. For example, we wake one morning feeling at a low ebb. We may feel sad, accompanied by a sense of hopelessness. In fact, we may not feel like getting out of bed at all.
Our low mood lends itself to physical symptoms of lethargy, heaviness and slow movement. These physical symptoms then feed back into our low mood and sadness. Because we can’t get out of bed we may miss the deadline on our latest project. Even if we could have gotten up, our mind is too foggy to work at its best; our cognition also affected. This not only makes us feel guilty, but it adds to our feelings of hopelessness, again feeding the depression. In short, we are caught in a vicious circle.
If you suffer from depression, you already know how exhausting life is. When we feel depressed, we are far from living up to our full potential.
Some Depressing Facts
Depression is common. Up to one in five people become depressed at some point in their lives. It appears more often in women than men. One in four women will suffer from depression compared to one in ten men. Various reasons have been put forward for this difference. One theory is that men are less likely to report symptoms to their doctor. Another theory is that women are more predisposed to depression because of various biological and social factors. Men, it is thought, are less likely to admit to the difficult emotions associated with depression. They often mask such feelings by turning to alcohol or drugs, or by overworking. Others mask their depression with aggression. Suicide is the ultimate expression of depression.
Though depression is less common in men, the suicide rate for men is several times higher than that for women. Irish men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide. And – for men under the age of 35 – suicide remains the most common cause of death. Statistically people with a family history of depression are themselves more likely to suffer from the illness. The debate over whether depression has a genetic component or whether growing up in a family with depressed family members is a causal factor is not yet settled.
If what you’re experiencing starts impeding your ability to work or it interferes with your relationships and social life, it may be time to consider asking for help. If you’re affected to the point where you are contemplating self-harm or suicide, professional support is needed. The first thing a professional will do is assess the level and type of depression.
Signs and Symptoms
Though experiences of depression vary, there are some common signs and symptoms. It should be noted these same symptoms can be part of the normal ‘lows’ we all experience. However, the more symptoms you have – and the longer they last – the more likely you’re suffering from depression. Official, medical criteria for depression can be found in two diagnostic psychiatric manuals – the DSM-V and ICD-11. The DSM lists eight symptoms of which five or more have to have been present for more than two weeks. At least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.
The other symptoms are:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
- A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.
The ICD criteria read as follows … “A depressive episode is characterized by a period of almost daily depressed mood or diminished interest in activities lasting at least two weeks accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt, hopelessness, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, changes in appetite or sleep, psychomotor agitation or retardation, and reduced energy or fatigue.”
Why do we become depressed?
There many reasons people will feel depressed, reasons which differ from person to person. Sometimes the cause is obvious – a particular disappointment or frustration, or the loss of a loved one. However, this is not always the case. Often there are several underlying reasons and contributing factors working in combination that result in depression. These factors include:
- Negative life events such as a job loss or financial problems; family problems or divorce
- A history of depression in your family
- Bereavement and how you come to terms with such a loss
- Childhood experiences including trauma and abuse
- Long-term suppressed anger
- Personal circumstances such as loneliness, stress, or disability
- Life threatening conditions such as heart disease or cancer
- Abuse of alcohol, drugs, or some other addiction
- Feeling isolated or not having a sufficient support network
Can I seek counselling and take anti-depressants?
Yes. Counselling and anti-depressants can go together. Many people who seek counselling for depression are also using anti-depressants. It’s important to emphasise that what works for one individual will not necessarily work for another. Some people prefer not to use medication. Others find prescribed medication takes the edge off the worst of their symptoms. This proves enough for them to then seek help through counselling. For other individuals, medication alone alleviates their symptoms to the extent they don’t seek other treatment.
In the short term, medication can be a genuine life-safer. It has proven very effective in managing some of the worst symptoms of depression. Indeed, there is evidence to show better outcomes for use of anti-depressant medication in parallel with counselling for some people. However, medication is not a panacea.
Other individuals ‘self-medicate’ depression with alcohol and/or illegal or inappropriately used prescription medication. While self-medicating can similarly relieve symptoms, the individual runs the risk of addiction. Whether the individual uses prescribed or non-prescribed medication, all the while depression lurks under the surface. Some individuals choose to address the issue through counselling.
How Can Depression Counselling Help?
Depression isn’t something we just ‘snap out of’. Anyone experiencing these persistent low feelings may wonder what is happening and if the feelings will ever end. The first step in fighting depression is understanding it, how it affects you, and what might be causing it. Understanding the particular causes of your depression will lead you on the path to managing it.
Counselling for depression will help you to:
- Understand how the root causes of depressive symptoms block positive change
- Discover the steps you can take to address the cause of your depression
- Understand how certain behaviour can fuel the symptoms of depression, and learn how to change this behaviour
- Discover strategies to stop depressive symptoms from taking over
- Discover how to prevent depression recurring in the future
- Learn to rebuild happiness and fulfilment in your life
If you are suffering from depression, things may seem hopeless and out of your control. Understanding the root causes of the depression can help you discover why you’ve remained stuck. And engaging in active strategies can help alleviate depressive symptoms, preventing them from recurring in the future. With the right help it can be possible to turn things around. By taking control of the depression you can once again take control of your life.
If you’d like to get in contact, I offer counselling for depression, Dublin city centre .