In the course of following up on personal medical matters, it came to my attention that I’d been taking a narrow look at depression. Readers may recall having read about the topic in previous columns. A trusted medical adviser offered a new perspective on what we call depression, and it seemed worthy of being shared here.
Usually the word “depression” brings to mind being mopey, “blue,” or habitually sad. Depression doesn’t necessarily express itself in that way.
What we call depression is a slowing down of body functions that very often does manifest itself as persistent low spirits, but often might be limited to a feeling of being overwhelmed, not up to one’s usual activities, unable to focus, or just plain out of sorts.
The following definition from the American Medical Heritage Dictionary (copyright 2007, 2004 Houghton Mifflin Company) adds to the list of possibilities: “A psychiatric disorder characterized by an inability to concentrate, insomnia, loss of appetite, anhedonia [inability to experience pleasure], feelings of extreme sadness, guilt, helplessness and hopelessness, and thoughts of death. Also called clinical depression.”
Because there is a range of manifestations of depression, treatment also varies. If you are experiencing symptoms listed above and can relate them to a known circumstance or event, professional counseling is often beneficial.
If you are in good heart health, consider aerobic exercise, which is positively correlated with managing mood disorders. For instance, if you do a Web search on “exercise and depression,” you’ll get a sampling of interesting studies done over the past 15 years that connect physical exercise with recovery from depression, even “major” depression. As one example, check out “Benefits from aerobic exercise in patients with major depression: A pilot study” which I found at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1724301/.
Also, look at studies of people recovering from depression, showing that exercise alone was at least as effective a treatment course as exercise plus medication, with benefits lasting longer (see www.mcmanweb.com/exercise.html).
Finally, monitored administration of anti-depressant medications can be helpful. Several categories of anti-depressants are available for discussion with your health care professional — too many types and too much technical information for this column, but my personal experience with my mother suggests that it is worth persevering to identify the best medication.
The startling factor that got my attention and led me to revisit this subject was this: language used to describe depression is approximate. If you or someone you love is seeming uncharacteristically overwhelmed, lacking energy during the day, not sleeping well, unable to concentrate, or feeling persistently down, you could suggest that they talk with their doctor about the possibility of depression. It could be a worthwhile conversation.