The Sunny Side of Depression
Written by Mallory Sample. Media by Tyler Lamb.
With the recent death of comedian Robin Williams, depression and suicide have found themselves in the spotlight. And rightfully so. With a suicide occurring nearly every 13 minutes and 20.9 million American adults suffering from depression each year, it is a topic worthy of conversation. The connection between suicide and depression is one that can’t be ignored. About 2/3 of people who complete suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths (American Associate of Suicidology).
Most of us have felt sad or worried at some point in our lives and this is normal. We should react to life’s disappointments, illnesses and losses. This reactive depression usually goes away as a we find ways to deal with life and its many problems.
The concern is when it doesn’t go away. When a person feels an intensity of negative emotion that they can’t explain. When the sadness persists and the things they normally took pleasure in (eating, sleeping, friends, activities) no longer bring happiness, are increasingly difficult or are entirely forgotten. This is clinical depression. It is a medical disorder that is caused by biological and psychological factors. It needs attention paid to it. If undetected and untreated, it can destroy quality of life, increase health problems, lead to drastic change in family and friend dynamics, cause problems with employment or education, and could even lead to suicide.
But here’s the good news…the sunny side of depression, if you will: it can be helped. There are simple steps that you can take. Little things that you can do, which by themselves may seem insignificant, but collectively can make a great impact.
Martin Seligman (pioneer in the field of positive psychology) found that doing something as simple as thinking over your day and identifying three things that went well can have a profound impact on your happiness. In a study he conducted with severely depressed individuals, those who took part in this activity had increased levels of life satisfaction and decreased levels of depression (Lyubormirsky, S., 2008).
Exercise has been found to be as effective, if not more effective, than medication when it comes to increasing the moods of depressed individuals. In one study, adults diagnosed with depression were placed in three groups: those who exercised three times a week for 30 minutes, those who only took medication, and those who did both. After a year, those who exercised only were reporting the highest levels of life satisfaction (Babyak, 2000). Exercise is so powerful in fact that psychiatrists have been known to say that not exercising is like taking a depressant. Exercise enhances your mood, raises your self-esteem, lowers stress and anxiety, and improves your cognitive functioning (Bono & Fendell, 2014). It’s so important that I’m actually thinking about starting a yoga group on campus…any takers?
Another simple step that you can take is simply to talk to someone. You are living in a community that cares, from the president’s office, to professors, to staff, on down to your roommate. Please come see me or George in counseling services if you’re not sure who you can talk to.
You can find help. You can find healing.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 reminds us that this too shall pass. Maybe in a year…maybe in an hour. In any case, we should not lose heart.
For the friends of those suffering with depression, here are some things to be looking and listening for:
Signs to look for:
Change in mood and/or appearance
Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
Significant weight gain/loss
Insomnia or hypersomnia
Recurrent thoughts of death/talking about death
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)