According to the mental health charity, MIND, in a study published in June 2020, each year 1 in 4 people in England will suffer with mental health problems. Plus, in any given week, 1 in 6 people will report a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression.
When the true impact of coronavirus, lockdowns and social isolation are known, I shudder to think what the figures be.
With depression being so widespread, here are 5 things that can go some way to help alleviate the crippling effect it can have.
I know it's a cliché but it really does work. Getting exercise releases endorphins. Those 'feel good' chemicals that can help relieve pain and boost feelings of happiness. You don't need to run a marathon or spend fortunes joining a gym. Just getting outside for a walk can do this. If you have ever confided to a friend that you're struggling or feeling low, they may have responded that you should go for a walk. Depending on how the advise is given, it can sometimes come across as condescending, but the truth is that it helps. Some people also report a greater sense of wellbeing for just coming into contact with nature or breathing different air.
2. Speak to someone
Depression is hard enough to deal with in itself. To try to do it alone just compounds the problem. The cruel paradox is that you can feel embarrassed or even ashamed about how you feel so the last thing you want to do is reveal this to someone who you think won't understand or may judge you. From experience, it is worth taking time to consider who it is you are thinking of sharing your emotions with. You want to believe it will be ok and that they will understand so you should try to approach someone you have reason to believe will treat you sympathetically. However, it is a sad fact that many people look at their family or friends and believe that none of those people would be the right person to have an open conversation with. In these times you may prefer to look for 'professional' help. You may want to talk to your GP, contact a counsellor or even call a helpline such as Samaritans.
Whatever you feel is best for you, the important thing is that you don't bottle it up and struggle on alone. Try to summon the courage to share how you are feeling with someone. They are unlikely to have the answers for you but at least you will no longer be alone. There will be at least one other person that knows what you are going through and cares about you. Your feeling of loneliness and hopelessness can be lessened, ever so slightly. This is something else you will need to battle your depression.
3. Basic self care.
When depression has a hold on you, in addition to the intense sadness, you may have a low self opinion. You may start to feel that you are a burden on those around you. You may doubt your own self worth which can lead to a feeling of hopelessness. Many people report that they stop taking care of themselves. They stop eating properly and personal hygiene starts to take a hit too. "What's the point in 'self care' when you're such a burden and nobody is interested in how you feel anyway?" Aside from the fact that your view is probably distorted, self care is hugely important.
Just getting up at a sensible time and getting showered and dressed can have profound psychological effects. You are introducing a routine, which can often be helpful in itself. You are reminding yourself that you have not given up and telling your brain that you are worth the effort. You may feel more inclined to leave the house to get some exercise, and you may be less likely to feel embarrassed or awkward if somebody were to see you. These are all positives that can help in the battle against depression.
4. Avoid alcohol
Having a drink when you are depressed can seem like a good option for some people. It can temporarily raise your mood and even help you to briefly forget your troubles. However, alcohol is a depressant. It changes the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, which can worsen feelings of depression and anxiety when the effects of the alcohol wear off. That relaxed feeling as your inhibitions lowered when you first had a drink can soon be replaced with intense feelings of depression. In the long run, regular alcohol intake is likely to significantly worsen your depression.
5. Acknowledge your 'Wins'
When you are feeling so low, it is easy to think that nothing is going right and there is absolutely no reason to feel positive. This is why it is vital to acknowledge anything that can be classified as a positive. One day this week you got out of bed before midday. That's a positive. You got around to cleaning out that drawer in the kitchen. Well done. You said hello to your neighbour and had a short conversation. Great.
These things may not seem like much but to a person that is suffering with depression they are huge. These are things that they genuinely think they are not capable of so when you prove to yourself that you can do something you thought you couldn't, this needs to be acknowledged. Don't underestimate the power of being able to say to yourself at the end of the day "I still feel crap but at least I did that." Just being able to say that sentence tells your brain that the situation is not entirely hopeless.
If you or someone you know is suffering with depression and you think it will help to speak to a trained professional then you should look for someone registered with a professional body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. You can see my membership profile here. Alternatively, you could get in touch with me directly through the contact page on my website.