Depression is the number one cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. In America, an estimated 16 million adults suffer an episode of depression every single year. Symptoms of a depressive epsiode can include persistent sadness, fatigue, disturbed sleep, physical aches, poor concentration, loss of appetite, slow movements, and thoughts of death, as well as a strong temptation to use drugs and alcohol to cope.

Although depression can be debilitating, many people go to great lengths to hide their depression from others, as well as themselves. They may fear that acknowledging their depression is a sign of weakness, particularly if they are experiencing depression after some time sober in recovery.  

You wouldn’t hide a physical illness.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about depression is that it’s a real illness. It’s not sadness, moping, or laziness; it’s a real condition with both physical and psychological components. People often experience the physical symptoms of depression more strongly than the psychological ones. The physical symptoms include aches, slow movements, fatigue, loss of appetite and insomnia. Recent research has connected these symptoms to inflammatory markers, suggesting that depression is similar to having the flu but without the virus. Other physical markers of depression include disrupted hormonal balance and changes in brain structure. No one would llikely be embarrassed about having an inflammatory or hormonal disease because there is no shame involved. Though there is a stigma attached to mental health struggles like depression, there is absolutely no reason to ever feel ashamed for experiencing depression.

Depression has long-term consequences.

Depression is not just a matter of feeling down for a while; it has long-term effects. Studies have found that people who suffer from mental health challenges, including anxiety disorders and depression, without getting treatment are more likely to die early. And the effect is not small. Even when you remove suicide as a cause of death, you lose, on average, about the same number of years as you would if smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. There are a number of reasons for this, including greater risk of cardiovascular disease, and poorer compliance with treatments for chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Living with depression for a long time also changes the structure of your brain. Brain imaging studies have found that people who have suffered with depression for ten years or more showed less gray matter in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive functions like attention, working memory, planning, and self-control, while the hippocampus is involved with turning short-term memories into long-term memories. Both areas are involved with regulating emotional responses. The amygdala, a part of the brain involved with emotional processing, especially of fear, becomes overactive and enlarged in people with depression.

Other people are struggling too.

Although there is now much more public awareness about depression and mental health in general, there is still stigma attached to depression. This is especially true among men, who experts agree are less likely to realize they have depression and less likely to seek help. Men are more likely to engage in reckless behavior or self-medicate with alcohol or other substances. Depression is still an issue people don’t really like to talk about and so despite the media attention, it largely remains invisible among your actual acquaintances. Being open about depression, and about seeking help for depression can make others feel less alone and perhaps encourage them to seek help too.

Depression can be treated.

Although there are still many puzzling aspects to depression, there are methods of treatment that have proven to be effective. Some combination of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, and medication, typically SSRIs, improves symptoms in most people. Even in people who don’t respond to these treatments can often be helped by newer methods such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. When depression is a co-occurring mental illness with addiction, very often there is a source of trauma and a need for multifaceted, deep healing. Treatment, therapy, and recovery work through the twelve steps can help alleviate symptoms of depression, leading to a greater sense of satisfaction with all areas of life.  

Established in 1939, High Watch is the world’s first 12-Step treatment center. Every individual who walks through our doors joins a definitive culture of compassion, dignity, and respect from a genuinely caring staff dedicated to seeing the disease of addiction find remission. Providing proven therapeutic approaches and comprehensive 12-Step education, patients leave High Watch with the confidence to maintain abstinence and live a healthy, happy, sober life. Start your journey today by calling 860.927.3772.