Healing The Symptoms of Depression
Clinical BSW; Clinical Psychotherapist, Gestalt Therapist
Depression is a painful and complex bio-physiological-psycho-social experience that occurs when our nervous systems experience too much stress. Life can be stressful at times for all of us particularly when we experience loss, bereavement, demanding life changes and setbacks, or certain illness. Most of us can become vulnerable to depression at some stage in our lives. Usually the depression is temporary and our nervous systems re-balance again. For some individuals depression can become more serious where it appears ongoing and not linked to any obvious life event or trigger.
Depression can affect individuals regardless of age, socioeconomic, race, ethnicity, or social status. It is part of our human condition because how our nervous system copes with loss, change and impermanence are as central to human experience as is happiness, equanimity, and perceptions of security.
How depression is defined and diagnosed really depends upon the perception of the individual reporting the depressed condition, and how any particular society constructs a view of what constitutes a depressed condition.
What appears to be a universal experience is that depression is often associated with some feeling of suffering at a physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, energetic, and relational level.
Depression can be seen to influence a person’s:
- Mood, emotional state
- Physical Health and Immunity
- Sexual Functioning
- Relationships (with Self, Others, Life itself)
True depression is more than feeling a little down for a short period of time. Most commonly people experiencing depression report a sense of disconnection from themselves, others and sometimes life. There are consistent and prolonged reported feelings and sensations of:
- Sadness, crying
- Feeling numb, an absence of feeling, an emptiness
- Negative thoughts about oneself, others and the world
- Adisinterest in life and pleasure, lethargy
- Respiration and movement is markedly slowed down
- Wanting to sleep more or insomnia
- Outbursts of anger seemingly unrelated to any immediate event
- Loss or increase in appetite,
- Sensations of emptiness, despair, anguish
- Restlessness and irritability
- Ongoing feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism
- Difficulties with decision making, and memory
- Persistent physical symptoms, gastric, migraines, unexplainable pain
- Wanting to withdraw from people and life in general
- Wanting to escape
- Feeling isolated and disconnected: Feeling separate from life, that life is happening “out there” for everyone and you are separated from it
- Suicidal thoughts, and pre-occupation with death
- An inability to see any future for oneself
Sometimes due to the nature of depression people can be vulnerable to self- blame and shame, perceiving themselves as ‘weak’ or ‘defective’. However it is important to stress that depression has nothing to do with any perceived ‘weakness’ or ‘defectiveness”. True depression is an illness that distorts the way a person feels and thinks about themselves, others, and the world.
In many traditional indigenous societies the condition of depression is regarded as a separation from a sense of wholeness, soul loss, and the abyss of the human spirit that occurs following a distressing life event.In this regard it is a condition that compromises our vitality of soul and very Life Force. Healing depression from an indigenous perspective is a holistic spiritual, energetic, physical, psychological, and medicine approach. The focus is upon restoration of the person’s soul, Life Force, and a reconnection to the communal web of life.
In mainstream Western medicine depression is believed to be an over or under-activation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic stress-response part of the nervous system. The most common forms of healing from a western medical point of view primarily involve the use of biochemical anti-depressants that work with the serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters, and sometimes counseling or psychotherapy. Increasingly however there is greater recognition that healing depression must also include a counseling component, a focus on body orientated treatments, and community involvement. It is seldom effective to treat depression purely with anti-depressants as by virtue of the depression experience affecting all aspects of a person’s Being.We are more than bio-chemical Beings.
As suggested prior there are differing types of depression and having clarity about what specific type of depression is at play is important. This will assist in defining the most helpful healing modalities to engage in treatment. The differing types of depression can be broadly divided into two groups and within these groups there are subgroups. The two main groups defining the severity of the depression are:
- Reactive Depression: This is a state that occurs following a recent distressing event such as a loss of someone we love, a relationship, employment, even working too many long hours at work. There may be a loss of interest in the usual aspects of life, but the person still has some sense of hope about the future and life in general. There are changes in the nervous system and brain however the changes are not as pronounced as with a clinical depression. A combination of psychological, and body-orientated treatments may be used however anti-depressants are not necessarily required.
- Endogenous Depression: This is a clinical depression that involves a more significant impact upon the nervous system. There are more biochemical changes in the brain and nervous system, and there are stronger and more persistent psychological symptoms. There may have been events and situations that have ‘trigged’ and compounded the clinical depression, but quite often they are not immediately recognized. There is often a feeling of being taken over by an irresistible process of emptiness. There is a strong sense of hopelessness and the future seems futile or black. Sometimes it is difficult to contemplate a future at all. There may be suicidal thoughts. This depression more often requires a combination of treatments however anti-depressants are necessary for a period of time to help regulate the strong bio-chemical aspect of the depression.
Both categories of depression involve a unique interplay of environmental, biological, psychological, physiological, spiritual, and societal/cultural factors.
There are many causes of depression and some of these are:
- Prolonged stress
- Changes in life circumstances
- Hormones (pregnancy, post-partum, menopause, menstrual cycle changes)
- Attachment disruptions
- Childhood history of neglect and or abuse
- Unhealed unconscious and habituated response patterns
- Relationship unhappiness
- Drug and alcohol use
- Social Isolation
- Past history of clinical depression
- Thyroid imbalance
- Burn out
- Domestic Violence (receiving, or witnessing)
- Sexual assault/abuse
- Prescription medications (for cancer, pain, heart, blood pressure, contraceptive pill,etc.)
- Seasonal changes
- Learnt depression
Recovery and Healing from Depression
Recovery and healing from depression depends upon the willingness of a person to first and foremost take responsibility for their own quality of life and allow in support. Each and every choice that we make as adults is our responsibility alone. It is the choices that we make that govern and determine the direction of our health and lives. Where depression affects a child or younger adolescent it is important that parents or primary caregivers undertake shared responsibility for supporting their recovery and healing. We do not choose to become depressed but we can choose to allow in the necessary supports to recover.
Research has demonstrated that the support and understanding from family and friends, and of appropriate health practitioners is a vital healing variable.
The following is a summary of some of the helpful treatments and activities that have been suggested to assist in the recovery and healing of depression:
- Positive attachment/connection to significant others
- Psychological counselling and psychotherapy
- Bio-chemical/antidepressant treatment for clinical depression
- Good breathing habits, and particular breathing techniques for depression
- Healthy and balanced eating habits
- Certain herbal and vitamin supports
- Abstaining from alcohol and any other drug use
- Physical exercise, and anything that will keep the body moving.
- Mind/body/spirit practices such as yoga, qigong
- Some mindfulness practices
- Attention training
- Meditation for certain types of depression (please note that meditation should be only considered with skilled guidance when experiencing clinical depression)
- Time in nature, and absorbing some early morning or late afternoon sunlight. Light therapy has been shown to be effective for seasonal affected depression.
- Engaging in what would normally be a pleasurable activity, and a meaningful hobby.
- Visualisation & Imagery Healing
- Massage and or appropriate touch, hugs
- Participation in community activities
- Engaging in meaningful paid work or voluntary work
- Connecting with and caring for pets
- A spiritual orientation and practice
Participating in a few of any of the above does make some difference.
How to help someone you care about suffering from depression
The most important thing to offer is your understanding and support. Depression is not a condition that people can just ‘snap out of’ or ‘just get on with life’ – if only it was that easy then non of us would be depressed! Your patience is required. You can provide appropriate understanding by becoming informed.
Stay connected. This is a really powerful antidote for depression. Take a walk together, or engage in some other activity together e.g. watching a movie, cooking, playing a board game, gardening, and shopping.
Communicate about the normality of everyday life. Allow for the person to communicate their feelings and thoughts. However try not to become bogged down in conversations solely about the depression. This can become depressing in itself and unhelpful if there is an over-focus.
If appropriate and acceptable to the person suffering depression, extend affectionate touch. Extending your love, tenderness and care in this way can be comforting.
Encourage the person to seek professional support. If they feel like they are unable to attend an appointment alone consider accompanying them.
Sometimes due to the nature of the depression it may seem there is little coming back to you from the person suffering depression. It can also be painful listening to the depths of a person suffering particularly when you love them. This is not uncommon. If you can be patient, offer what you can and also look after yourself. Seek professional support and guidance for yourself.
Most importantly, keep in-sight that it is possible to manage and recover from depression symptoms with the correct supports and treatments.
*If you are concerned about your own wellbeing or someone you care about suffering from depression call your doctor or Mental Health Direct line for assistance.
For depression counselling and psychotherapy please call Christina or Wilhelm on (08) 9430 9533 to arrange an appointment.
Psychiatric Emergency Team: 1300 555 788 (for emergencies only)
Mental Health Direct: 1800 220 400 (for telephone advice)
A useful easy to read book about depression: “Taming The Black Dog: A Guide To Overcoming Depression” by Bev Aisbett
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