Depression shouldn’t be a terminal illness.
According to the CDC, one in ten Americans reports having a major depressive episode. While many of us may not experience a clinical depression lasting three months or more, most of us have times where we are low.
It isn’t something we talk about readily. While more than one in ten Americans are on antidepressants, discussing mental illness is still taboo for many people. We talk about weight loss and physical health issues ad nauseum, but our emotional health is often still a subject we avoid.
For men, this cultural reticence to talk about our mental health carries a heftier risk. Fewer men than women seek help for their depression—or even recognize it as such. Untreated depression takes its toll on relationships, work performance and our physical health as well. We’ve all had those low times after a break-up or job loss. For some, these depressive episodes linger, and result in thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts. While women attempt suicide more often, men are more likely to successful. Depression doesn’t need to be a terminal illness! We need to make our mental health a big priority.
It’s time we start treating our “lows” as a serious health red flag.
Anyone with a depressed mood lasting more than three months or having repeated suicidal feelings should see a health care provider in addition to any self-care for improved mood. For those of us facing shorter term or less intense depression, self-care is a first great step, but talking with your health care provider about your mental health should be as natural a part of routine physicals as having your blood pressure taken.
Seven self-care steps we can take to improve our moods:
Get moving. You don’t need to train for a marathon to feel better, but the endorphins released through exercise can be a huge mood boost. This adds both an immediate mood improvement, and lasting benefits as well. Let’s face it though, when depressed it’s tough enough to get out of bed, let alone go for a run. Start with going for a walk and build from there.
Get a little sunshine. Getting outdoors during daylight improves our moods in multiple ways. Even if your depression is not due to a Vitamin D deficiency, the added boost will definitely help. Fresh air, sunshine and being out in nature also helps in ways that medical science cannot quite address. You don’t have to go on a full-day nature hike or head to the beach to reap the benefits; even 10 to 20 minutes outdoors during the day will help boost your vitamin D levels and your mood.
Talk with friends. While some people opt for talk therapy for depression, having at least one friend we trust with these feelings is an important step as well. When we get physically sick, we let friends help us. It’s important to reach out to the people we care about with our emotional health issues as well. A good friend can often offer a fresh perspective, and encourage us to seek professional help if depression has become more severe.
Laugh. If it wasn’t for Facebook and funny Youtube videos, all of us would be much more productive. Still, taking five minutes to laugh at something silly during the workday is a great emotional wellness habit. Children laugh nearly 300 times a day, while adults laugh 20 times on average. Call a friend who makes you laugh, watch that stupid cat video again or pick a comedy on Netflix instead of that intense drama.
Get a massage. Massage relaxes our peripheral nervous systems and helps take us out of that “fight or flight” anxious state that lingers when we’ve been busy or overworked. Besides relaxing our muscles, the oxytocin released through receiving positive touch is a huge mood boost. If not a massage, give someone a hug or snuggle up with your dog. Both giving and receiving positive touch can help release oxytocin and improve our moods and overall health.
Meditate. It doesn’t have to be anything “weird.” You don’t have to chant or subscribe to any particular religion to meditate—or for it to benefit you. It can be as simple as sitting for two minutes with your eyes closed, paying attention to the rhythm of your breath. Jon Kabat-Zinn has some wonderful resources on mindfulness meditation for reducing stress and depression.
Write it down. Journaling can help you deal with depression and other difficult emotions in a few ways. On the one hand, it’s a way to get those thoughts out rather than rolling them over and over in your mind. Putting them on paper is a way to give yourself permission to begin to let them go. Journaling can also allow you to see patterns and notice what is making you feel better or worse. It is a great tool whether in conjunction with therapy for deeper depression, or as a self-care tool when dealing with mild depression.
In Canada and the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In the U.K., ring the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.