Being depressed is every bit as serious a medical problem as a ruptured appendix or broken hip. (Photo: Kiran Foster, Flickr)

Depression has been called the silent killer because it is far too often ignored. People don’t like to be different, and as a result, many have chosen to dismiss mental disorders rather than confront them. It’s one of those things you whisper about, even in the doctor’s office. Somehow, we’ve equated mental illness with failure, but it’s no more of a failure than breaking your leg or scraping your knee. Sometimes, it just happens. Yes, there are common causes that can lead to depression, but you can also do everything right and still be depressed.

What we all need to remember is depression is a treatable disorder. Feeling helpless and adrift may be part of your present, but with some perseverance, you can get better. Here’s some information that I hope will help you or a loved one in need.

The majority of people with depression aren’t receiving enough treatment.
Roughly 80 percent of people with depression are receiving either no treatment or what the American Psychological Association considers inadequate treatment. Why? Because the answer isn’t always easy, simple or fast. Finding the right drug (or combination of drugs) to treat depression can be an arduous journey filled with unwanted side effects. The result is people giving up their treatment in less than a year. Many try to “snap out of it” on their own, but mental disorders will rarely (if ever) go away by willpower alone. Because of this, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S.

Depression comes in many forms.
A depressive reaction occurs because of an external conflict arising in someone’s life. It can be brought about by the death of a loved one, losing your job or getting divorced. The symptoms are real, but the effects are usually temporary. The saying “time heals all wounds” applies here, because eventually we find a way to move on and feel better. There are plenty of natural treatments for this type of depression that can be helpful, and generally, a depressive reaction does not require medication. However, for most other forms of depression, medication is recommended.

Medicine can improve your quality of life.
We’ve all seen the commercials with people smiling while they run through a field on a sunny day. The problem is we mostly ignore that part and instead focus on the possible side effects they hurriedly list at the end. It’s hard to blame anyone for being wary of the way medicine can harm you, but that doesn’t mean every drug will come with harsh side effects. You may have to try a few different drugs to get the best possible results, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When the alternative is (potentially) an entire life filled with anxiety and hopelessness, it’s probably worth sticking it out and finding the medicine that works for you.

Your general practitioner is a good place to start, but there are other forms of treatment.
We’ve all seen TV shows or movies where someone lies down on the couch and bares their soul to a therapist. Oftentimes, the therapist is disinterested or just a pompous old man who couldn’t care less about the person in front of him. If you go to someone and catch them daydreaming, find someone else! Ignore the myths associated with therapy and start simple. Tell your GP what your symptoms are, and let them decide if you are experiencing any psychological ailments. If you are, follow their advice, but there’s no reason you can’t explore other options when it comes to treatment.

A psychiatrist is useful in deciding what medicines you may need, and a psychologist is there to listen to you when you need to talk about what you’re going through. In some cases, therapy is just as effective as medicine, but what’s important is that you go into treatment willingly and looking to get better. If you stop wearing a cast a week after you break your leg, it will never heal correctly. The same goes for your mental health. Do it all the way, or you may end up worse than you started.

Be there for family and friends who need help.
You can’t force people to take drugs for depression (unless they’re a minor, in which case you should if your child’s doctor recommends it), but you can help them realize depression is not a death sentence. Nobody wants to need help, but in the long run, medicine and lifestyle changes can make every day better. It can lead to advancement in your professional life, and healthier and more fulfilling relationships; even simple things like watching a movie on the couch will be more enjoyable. If we’re all more open and honest about our mental health, we can work to change the negative perception associated with it.

Many of us have this inherent need to see an ailment to legitimize it, but inward pain is real. It’s not just depression. It’s other ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. There are people you see every day who are suffering silently. They are doing so bravely but often alone. Find a way to let them know that even though you may not understand their distress, you know it’s real. Do what you can to make their lives better, because one day, the person in need may be you.

Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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