When a person is depressed, they experience a set of symptoms that affect the way they think, feel, and act. These symptoms are subtle at first, manifesting simply as a low and negative mood. Yet they set themselves apart from normal bouts of sadness by lasting much, much longer.
That small change – turning an ephemeral pain into a constant – has a significant impact on a person’s emotional and physical health. It affects their judgment, their self-esteem, their perception of how others speak to them. Depression can cause an individual to feel self-hatred, to feel useless, to feel superfluous – despite any and all evidence to the contrary.
That’s not a condition solved by looking in the mirror and telling yourself to get it together. Motivational speeches help many get out of a funk or work through their blues, but depression is more than that.
It’s a serious mental illness that creeps up on many yet leaves millions of Americans debilitated and unable to function. While there are many ways to treat depression, they all require two things: initiative, and professional help. The first step is hard enough, but it’s the second step that scares many.
Depression is an Illness
Being mentally ill doesn’t mean you can’t take care of yourself, or that you are beset by uncontrollable and dangerous impulses. Extreme and severe cases of mental illness require a high level of care, but these are the exception, rather than the rule.
Understanding this is important, because it helps reshape the narrative and drive home the point that depression, like other mental illnesses, is neither something you can ‘fix’ on your own, nor something that requires institutionalization and very extensive and expensive therapy.
Instead, mental illness is a matter of healthcare more so than anything. We don’t try to ‘walk it off’ when we break a leg – instead, we seek professional help. This is because the sooner we get to a professional after injuring ourselves, the better our chances of recovery. The same goes for depression.
Depression Can Be Treated
While estimates are vague at best and vary greatly from state to state, the out-of-pocket expenses for depression treatment can be too much for many to bear – depending on the details of their treatment, out-of-pocket expenses can range from $200 to over $1,500 a month.
Some don’t have the coverage needed to get the help they need, and because depression is a mental illness made much worse through stress and existential fears, it’s most common among the poor and the disadvantaged.
The fact that it requires professional treatment doesn’t make living with depression any easier. Many know they struggle with thoughts that are irrational or deeply troubling yet have neither the time nor the resources to get help.
But in many cases, such resources exist. Although limited, there are many initiatives and organizations across the country and throughout the internet that dedicate themselves to helping those otherwise unable to afford treatment find the right path to getting the help they need.
This is possible through both public and private programs involving free or low-cost medication, better coverage for depression treatment (including alternative therapies), and more.
Low-cost and sliding-scale therapies are offered by psychiatry trainees across the country, and government services like HealthFinder.Gov and non-profit organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness can help you find the right low-cost healthcare option for you.
Depression is Rising
More and more Americans are living under intense pressure from an early age, struggling to make it through school, struggling to find work, struggling to live off their wages, struggling to secure any form of financial freedom, and finding themselves bombarded from all angles by media that encourages them to spend and consume at unhealthy levels.
Each aspect of society contributes in its own way to the rise in depressive factors. Some cope better than others, but fewer and fewer are coping as well as they used to. It’s critical that we not only address the woes of our fellow people by voting for better policies, but we must make it okay to seek help for our mental problems.
Because while a rising rate of mental illnesses is one thing, the more troubling statistic is that only very few opt to seek treatment for their conditions, for reasons ranging from economical to cultural.
What Does Professional Treatment Aim to Achieve?
Treatment for depression typically involves the use of low-risk antidepressants (SSRIs) and psychotherapy. Both take time and money, yet many initiatives exist to help those who can’t afford either find ways to finance their treatment. Without treatment, depression can be life-threatening.
Yet there are cases when the first line treatment doesn’t work. Antidepressants target the brain’s use of a chemical called serotonin, ensuring that more of it remains available.
Psychotherapists use a variety of tools to help talk to patients and convince them to separate themselves from their depressive thoughts. They introduce new ideas into a patient’s life to help them manage their symptoms and see their condition in a new and better light.
Without therapy, medication alone often isn’t enough. Without medication, the concepts explored during therapy often don’t make a difference in a patient’s life. It’s the combination that works – but sometimes, it doesn’t.
Depression is complex insofar that it occurs for a variety of reasons, in a variety of ways. Some people experience depressive symptoms only during the winter months, and react favorably to ‘light therapy’, where exposure to artificial sunlight helps the mind cope with longer nights.
Others experience depression as a result of not only external factors but internal factors, from menopause to tumors and endocrine illnesses. Some brains don’t respond to antidepressants but respond well to other treatments, such as deep transcranial magnetic stimulation, which targets a variety of different spots in the brain to disrupt erroneous brain signals traveling through the limbic pathway, effectively adjusting a patient’s mood for the better.
The aim of any treatment is to cause the regression and complete remission of depressive symptoms. When that isn’t possible, many instead aim for at least a way to manage symptoms in the long-term and make life livable again.
Yet it takes time for each treatment to take effect, and more time to observe the changes that occur when one treatment is swapped out for another.
Just because professional help can be slow doesn’t mean it isn’t effective – but it also highlights the importance of non-professional help. Going to a doctor is an important step in treating a depression, but treatment won’t work if the home environment is excessively stressful or unhelpful.
Changes in diet, amended relationships, a better work environment, a purpose in life – these are things that heavily affect a person’s mood, especially when depressed. It’s the combination of all factors that ultimately treats depression, not just a focus on one or the other.