DID YOU KNOW: 16.1 million Americans experienced a major depressive episode in the past year.

Having a hard time finding the drive to push those covers off yourself in the morning? Do your hobbies, interests, and friends feel more like burdens than enjoyment? Has your appetite diminished or do you eat more to drown the sadness? Do you find yourself lying in bed for hours feeling anxious with endless thoughts consuming your mind? Do you lack energy and focus throughout the day? Have you asked yourself, “Would life be better for me and everyone if I just wasn’t around anymore?”

If you can answer “yes” to most of these questions, you may be dealing with the “demon” of depression!

In 2015 the National Institute of Health released data that 16.1 million Americans experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. The number is imaginably much higher than that as many people do not seek care for this issue. Depression is a real experience and disease for some. Too often, suicides are the first we learn that an individual had been suffering with depression. On average there are 121 suicides per day in the United States.

To some degree, most of us have experienced sadness, despair, and hopelessness entering our lives at one point or another. Sometimes there’s a reason or cause for these feelings, and other times you may have no clue why you feel the way you do. Often times depression can stem from life events such as the loss of a family member or a close friend, illness, problems in a marriage, post-child birth, alcoholism, loss of employment, or finances, to name just a few.

How does one explain feelings of depression they may experience when there is no apparent reason or cause for such feelings? Well, the answer is probably more complex than a “chemical imbalance” or deficient hormones. Although still not completely understood, research is pointing towards intertwined causes of depression. The amygdala, hippocampus, and thalamus are thought to be areas in our brains where we experience depression. Genetics, stress, medical conditions, and even some medications also can play a significant role in developing depression.

Our brain is a complex network of connections which is constantly transmitting and receiving signals back and forth to perform specific functions. Emotions and mood are also delivered through this massive web of neurons (nerves). There is an intricate set of steps in line to transmit and receive a message from one nerve to its neighboring nerve. Messengers called neurotransmitters, act as the couriers to send messages back and forth in between nerves. Serotonin, norepinephrine, glutamate, and dopamine are some of the major messengers of the nervous system. There must be receptors at each nerve ending to accept the neurotransmitter to its side. There are channels along the nerve endings which allow for neurotransmitters to move in and out of the nerves. Any deviation, deficiency, malfunction, or break in the system can cause a communication disaster and increase chances of developing depression.

Stress can be a positive response to help us when we are in danger. Constant stress can increase risk for heart attack, weaken the immune system, increase blood pressure, and lead to depression. It is thought that stress inhibits nerve cell connections and growth particularly in the areas of the brain known to deal with emotions and feelings. This process can lead towards a break in the system and missed connections of neurotransmitters keeping one’s mood and feelings stable.

So what? What do we do with all the fancy science? Just knowing about how the brain works and how nerves “talk” does not make depression go away! Where do you start? You cannot fix a problem until you realize that there is a problem. Sometimes, we can see clearly for ourselves that we are struggling emotionally and psychologically, where other times it may take a close friend, family member, coworker, or doctor to help us realize we are struggling. Be honest with yourself! Seek help if you or someone else suspects you may be dealing with depression. Does it mean that you are going to be given a “happy pill” and sent on your way?

Although medication can have an important role in treating depression, it is not the only part of the solution nor should it be. Have a meeting with a trusted medical professional to sit down and discuss where you have been, where you are at, and where you would like to end up. It is important that your doctor hears your perspective of why you might be feeling certain emotions. It may be necessary to have laboratory work performed to look for other underlying causes of depression to include, hypothyroidism, low testosterone, or menopause.

Depression treatment may be as close as a “hop, skip, and jump away!” A recent study showed aerobic exercise can significantly help elevate mood. Research from this study showed that the very first exercise session that the participants engaged in was a great predictor of whether or not exercise in itself would help to improve depressive symptoms. Weight loss can be extremely encouraging to a person who is overweight and may be depressed from a poor body self-image. Other benefits from exercise include increased energy, restful sleep, and opportunities to meet other people and socialize. It is recommended to engage in thirty minutes of exercise a day with workouts to include jogging, running, swimming, bicycling, lifting, and spinning, to name a few.

Do not try to prepare for the Boston Marathon! Just start somewhere, such as walking. Sometimes depression can be one of the multitudes of symptoms for someone who has high blood sugar levels. Eating a low carbohydrate and low cholesterol diet can also be beneficial to keep your body’s metabolism in check.

Depression should be treated through multiple avenues and directions. Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of talk therapy, have been extremely beneficial in helping to take incorrect thinking and negative thoughts into a positive direction, resulting in behavioral change. Professional counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists are trained to help guide the process of change.

Spiritual health may be the paramount “food for our souls” when it comes to depression. There are a variety of different belief systems, forms of meditation, religions, and understanding of the greater purpose of who we are and what one’s ultimate potential might be. Who, what, and how you believe can be power motivating factors in your life for inner peace and development. Focusing on your core beliefs, prayer, and meditation can move one to change both mind and body. Spiritual struggles can be the cause of despair at times. Speaking and meeting with an ecclesiastical leader can also help guide one in steps to be taken towards spiritual healing if necessary.

Let’s bring everything back together. Depression is a real and common condition which most everyone will experience in their lifetime. For some, it is a lifetime struggle and others, episodic. It is important to understand what depression is, know our limits, find root causes, if possible, or understand there may be no cause for that matter. Seek help from family, close friends, professionals, and spiritual outlets. Forgive yourself and others. Do not carry unnecessary burdens you cannot impact or do anything about. Accept that you may be experiencing depression, but do not let it label who you are. Take one step at a time and build up to a better and more complete you!

About the author

Mario Aragon
Physician Assistant at (719) 282-6337

Mario Aragon is a Physician Assistant and former paramedic practicing in Family Medicine and Urgent Care for the past seven years.

Alliance Urgent Care and Family Practice
9320 Grand Cordera Parkway, Suite 100
Colorado Springs, CO 80924