The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Sustaining this state of well-being can be a challenge even when the stresses of life are normal. But global stressors such as a pandemic can make it even more difficult to maintain this sense of well-being, and we may become susceptible to mental health conditions such as depression during this time.
What is Depression?
Depression has to do with mood: our state of mind or how we are feeling. Mood can fluctuate during normal, non-stressful times and even during the course of a single day. We may have a range of feelings that vary from feeling very happy, joyful, competent, and hopeful to feeling sad, discouraged, frustrated, or lonely. While we all have different ranges of moods or feelings, most of the time our moods stay within certain limits, allowing us to function so we can participate fully in our lives.
Sometimes, however, mood can begin to drift outside this normal range. Some people can get so happy and overexcited that they are not able to focus on their daily activities, or they are not able to sleep at night. This condition is referred to as mania.
Depression is the opposite of mania. Depression sets in when someone feels sad, discouraged, afraid, alone, and down, usually for more days than not. These feelings seem to persist even when the person is engaging in activities they usually enjoy. Depression tends to linger as an undercurrent throughout every aspect of a person’s life, and they often feel helpless and hopeless as attempts to change how they are feeling produce little difference. There are, however, strategies and treatments that can help.
Treatments can be divided into two categories: self-help and professional help.
Self-help strategies involve actions that you can take on your own to help with depression. They can include talking to someone close to you, perhaps a dear friend or family member, and sharing what you are feeling. A good listener and an offer of caring support can sometimes be enough to help turn the tide of a depressive mood. Other self-help strategies include reading positive books, listening to uplifting music, or even reading books about depression that provide step-by-step exercises to begin making a change.
Many self-help books focus on making a change in thinking or cognitions. Mood is powerfully affected by the things we think, and if we are able to make changes in our thoughts, becoming more positive, hopeful, realistic, and fair, our mood will often improve as well.
Sometimes, even with our best efforts and those of other people close to us, we may find we are not able to change a depressed mood. Someone may find they are tired all the time and have no energy. They may sleep too much, or they may sleep during times when they want to be awake, and then not be able to sleep during times they want to be sleeping. This may go on sometimes for days, weeks, or even months.
When a depressed mood reaches this level of constant disruption, and when we are not able to change it, we likely need to seek help from a professional who is trained to treat depressed moods. Family doctors or psychiatrists can help identify whether or not an antidepressant medication may be warranted. Professional counselors, therapists, or psychologists can help provide not only understanding and listening, but also individualized strategies to help lift someone out of their depressed mood. Most people who are struggling with depression who fully engage in counseling feel better over time, especially if they also take a properly prescribed antidepressant medication.
Time spent isolated and disconnected from normal routines during a pandemic can sometimes foster feelings of depression. It is important to recognize depression early on and then to seek help when it is indicated.
The Center for Mental Health is a resource for community members to get help when they need it. Please contact The Center for Mental Health at 970-252-3200 if you would like to work with a professional counselor regarding depression.