While the holiday season is known for bringing joy and good tidings, it can also serve as a tidal wave of triggers for those coping with mental illness. At any moment in the United States, approximately 6.7 percent of adults struggle with severe depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Despite the pervasive nature of depression and other mental health disorders nationwide, there are still many harmful myths that prevent people from seeking help. Increased awareness on the realities of depression can help individuals be alert to warning signs in loved ones this holiday season.
There is a common misconception that depression is characterized by “feeling sad” for an extended period of time. Sadness does not begin to describe what many with severe depression face on a daily basis. A more apt description is emptiness, hopelessness and general apathy toward people, events and living. Depression also has physical effects, from fatigue and muscle aches to indigestion. This condition often co-occurs with anxiety and other mental health issues.
There are various potential causes of depression, including situational triggers and abnormalities in brain chemistry. Mental health professionals are steering away from the description of depression as a “chemical imbalance,” as many believe this oversimplifies the mood disorder. Multiple factors, including stress, trauma, family history and change in seasons, can contribute to depression. Azadeh Aalai, Ph.D., of Queensborough College in New York, elaborates, “The simple way of reducing a complex mental illness into a series of neurotransmissions, or lack thereof, in the brain has been perpetuated by pharmaceutical companies that tout their products as the ultimate ‘quick fix’ for depression.”
In reality, there is no “quick fix” to treat depression or any mental health disorder. As the NIMH reports, “The parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior appear different” in individuals with depression. Some people experience a reduction in symptoms with cognitive behavioral therapy alone, though many benefit from antidepressants. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are the most widely used antidepressants on the market today and typically take weeks to kick in. It can take additional weeks or months to determine the right dosage for the individual. Depression resulting from seasonal changes, or seasonal affective disorder, is most common during winter months and is rarely treated without the use of medication.
The holidays can prove challenging for individuals facing mental health issues. Whether triggers come from reconnecting with extended family, celebrating the holidays while coping with the loss of a loved one or myriad other seasonal circumstances, it is vital that those struggling with depression seek help. If you or a loved one is coping with depression this holiday season, call Sovereign Health Group today to speak with a professional.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health writer
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