At some time during the course of daily affairs, almost every human being experiences feelings of depression — sadness, a funk, discouragement, the blues. These are common, normal feelings that come and go — mild melancholies that can be seasonal or event-related, or simply part of the warp and woof of life’s cycles. Unhappiness, despair, and hopelessness becomes a mental illness when symptoms worsen and linger over an extended period of time.
Last week events involving Ms. Miriam Carey, RDH, brings an opportunity to have a conversation around mental health disorders.*
According to the February 2010 Issue of Harvard Mental Health Letter:
“Mental health problems affect many employees — a fact that is usually overlooked because these disorders tend to be hidden at work. But the stigma attached to having a psychiatric disorder is such that employees may be reluctant to seek treatment — especially in the current economic climate — out of fear that they might jeopardize their jobs. At the same time, managers may want to help but aren’t sure how to do so…As a result, mental health disorders often go unrecognized and untreated — not only damaging an individual’s health and career, but also reducing productivity at work.”
Symptoms of common problems — such as depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (see related Director’s Message), and anxiety (see related article) — are all detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). But symptoms tend to manifest differently at work than they do at home or in other settings.
Depression can be treated and managed, and nearly two-thirds of depressed people don’t receive proper treatment. Even with all we know, some still believe depression is a personal fault or weakness, and that the person who is suffering could just “snap out of it” if he or she wanted to.
Like many other illnesses, denial that anything is wrong may be one reason help is not sought. Other times people don’t seek help because they don’t recognize the symptoms — in themselves or in others.
Following are some characteristics of depression and some suggestions if someone you care about is experiencing mild depression.
Some Symptoms of Depression
- Persistent sad or “empty” feelings, feeling discouraged, blue or down.
- Negative feelings – feeling guilty, unworthy. Self-criticism or self-blame.
- Loss of interest in ordinary activities.
- Decreased energy, feeling fatigued, restless, irritable or lethargic.
- Increase or decrease of sleep, insomnia; awaking earlier or later than usual.
- Loss of interest in sex.
- Changes in appetite — eating more or less, gaining or losing weight.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions.
If symptoms persist and the following additional symptoms appear, then professional help is needed.
- Excessive weeping or crying.
- Thoughts of suicide or death.
- Persistent physical symptoms such as headaches, chronic pain, digestive disorders.
When depression is mild, what should a person do?
Try to be with other people, especially supportive, understanding people. Go to movies or ballgames or other cultural or recreational activities that you have always liked. Participate in social activities or community gatherings. Do something physical — go for walks, take in the outdoors, work in the yard, plant some flowers. Try mild exercise.
Also, break large tasks into smaller ones; set priorities. Only do what you can and check your expectations of yourself. Talk about how you’re feeling with friends and family. If you feel like you want to talk to a therapist, by all means, do so.
What are things someone with depression should not do?
- Don’t isolate or hide out.
- Don’t tackle difficult goals or take on too much responsibility.
- Don’t expect too much of yourself.
- Don’t set yourself up for disappointment or failure.
- Don’t make crucial life decisions — changing jobs, getting married or divorced — without first consulting with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
- Don’t expect to instantly get over the depression. Mostly likely feeling better will happen gradually.
- Don’t accept negative thinking and feelings as reflecting your true situation.
When these symptoms last more than a few weeks or if a person’s character becomes extremely depressed, there may be a question about the severity of depression and or a diagnosis of the disorder. Professional help may be the next step.
Kristine A. Hodsdon RDH, MSEC
Director, RDH eVillage
* A clinically diagnosable illness that significantly interferes with an person’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities. The diagnosis of mental illness is usually made according to the classification systems of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD)
For further references and a list of resources, please see: