Depression: Why Are We Still Not Talking About It?

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So You’ve Been Diagnosed With Depression: 5 Tips To Improve Your Mood

BY DR SARAH HUGHES

In any given year, one million Australians will have an episode of depression…so why are we still so afraid to talk about it? And why do people still feel that they need to hide their depression or apologise for it?

Depression isn't a sign of weakness...it's a sign that something needs to change

Depression isn’t a sign of weakness

Depression isn’t something to be ashamed of. Life is stressful. Whether it’s a stressful situation at work, the sleep deprivation and relationship stress that goes along with having a new baby, or the breakdown of an important relationship – sometimes depression is an understandable (if not normal) reaction to a stressful situation.

Developing depression doesn’t make you crazy, it doesn’t make you ‘mentally ill’, and it’s definitely not a sign of weakness.

Depression is really just a term to describe a cluster of symptoms. If over a two week period, nearly every day you experience at least five of these symptoms –

Low mood most of the day
A loss of interest or less pleasure from your normal activities
A loss of appetite or an increase in appetite
Trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual
Feeling tired and lethargic or restless and agitated
Feeling worthless or guilty
Trouble concentrating or making decisions
Thoughts about death and dying

…then ‘depression’ would be the label used to describe how you’re feeling.

Depression affects 1 in 6 Australians, yet despite how common it is, the word ‘depression’ makes people feel shame. But here’s the thing. It’s just a word.

If I said to you ‘you’ve been having trouble sleeping, you’re feeling down, and you can’t concentrate at work’ – would you feel ashamed? No. Yet put a label to these symptoms – ‘depression’ – and suddenly it changes everything. It shouldn’t.

The word ‘depression’ is a short-cut. It describes your symptoms in a single word so that you don’t need to list a series of symptoms to describe how you feel.

What the word ‘depression’ doesn’t do is describe your character. It says nothing about who you are or how strong you are.

Don’t be afraid of ‘depression’. Seek help. The sooner you do, the sooner you can start to feel better. In the meantime – here are our top tips for improving your mood.

Tip #1: Set Goals

When you feel down you lose interest in activities you usually enjoy and you don’t feel like doing much. Not doing things makes you feel better in the short-term, but worse in the longer term. Doing things – especially if you don’t feel like it – will help to improve your mood. Make sure though that your goals are realistic and achievable. Setting unachievable goals can make you feel worse not better. If you’re having a bad day, modify your goals so they’re realistic.

Tip #2: Schedule Pleasant and Mastery Activities

Two types of activities have a positive effect on mood: Pleasant Activities – you won’t necessarily enjoy these activities when your mood is low, but persisting with them will help to improve your mood, and Mastery Activities – activities you don’t necessarily like doing at the time, but that make you feel good when they’re finished, like exercise or housework. Make sure you’re engaging in pleasant and mastery activities every day.

Tip #3: Identify Stressors

Keep in mind that it’s possible to feel depressed even when everything in your life is going well so if you can’t identify any causes don’t be too concerned – you don’t necessarily need to know what’s caused your depression to improve mood.

If you do know what’s contributing to your mood look at whether there’s anything you can do to change your situation. For example, if your work/life balance is weighed heavily towards work this could be affecting your mood. Brainstorm how you can improve your balance – can you delegate some of your work to others? Can you complete tasks to 80% of your ability until you’re feeling on top of things?

Tip #4: Manage Your Thoughts

Negative thoughts are a symptom of depression. They also make mood worse because when you’re depressed, your negative thoughts feel more true. When you’re feeling down, write your thoughts out on paper. Look at your thoughts objectively and ask: Am I being realistic or am I focusing on the negatives? Am I drawing general conclusions from a single example? Would I be thinking like this if I wasn’t depressed?

Tip #5: Switch Off

Whether they’re true or not, negative thoughts are unhelpful. It can be difficult to switch off from thoughts when you’re depressed but try to limit the amount of time you spend thinking by keeping busy. It’s also a good idea to avoid making big decisions until your mood improves.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.


 

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