WHO Takes a Mental Health Day to Deal With Depression

On October 10th the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates World Mental Health Day by promoting awareness of mental health issues. This year, the focus of the day is depression. In yesterday’s post we discussed the affects of mental illnesses on a company’s workforce.

Today, in recognition of World Mental Health Day, we invite our client Betty R. Wood, M.S. to share her expertise on the subject of depression. Betty has maintained a private psychology practice in Atlanta since 1989. Over the years, an increased awareness of the personal needs of her clients has led to a shift in the focus of her practice from clinical treatment to the prevention of pathology in children and adults through personal coaching and educational consultation. 

Tips for Understanding and Treating Two Lesser Known Forms of Depression—Dysthymia and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Artwork by R Agno for World Health Organization

Symptoms and treatment options for major depression are fairly well known while the general population has limited knowledge of dysthymia and seasonal affective disorder.

Both can become chronic, insidious, conditions that slowly wear away at an individual’s life until it comes to a halt.  Individuals often do not seek treatment or delay treatment since they think that the feelings of depression will pass when their lives improve in other ways.

Dysthymia does not quite fit the ‘conventional’ depression pattern.  Individuals have fewer and less intense symptoms than in major depression, but the whole episode has a longer duration.  They are depressed for most of the time for at least 2 years and often suffer from what may be described as a low-grade depression throughout life.  It is quite common in younger individuals, but its onset may be difficult to identify accurately since there may not have been a specific event that triggered the depression.  Despite the less severe symptoms in dysthymia, there is still an increased risk of suicide.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is caused by insufficient exposure to bright sunlight. SAD is nonexistent in the tropics but is reported in northern latitudes during winter.  It is thought that light sensitive neurons in the brain that are part of the circuits involved in the hormonal regulation of the circadian sleep-wake cycle do not function normally and their resulting dysfunction is the source of the depression.

Depression affects most of us at one time, or another. Unfortunately some people struggle with it for a lifetime.  Understanding the diathesis-stress medical model provides an opportunity for the layperson to hopefully, become more open to diagnosis while letting go of the guilt and shame often associated with treatment for depression.

In the diathesis-stress model, an inborn and genetic vulnerability or predisposition (diathesis) interacts with the environment and life events (stressors) to trigger behaviors or the expression of a medical condition. The greater the underlying vulnerability, the less stress is needed to trigger the behavior/condition. Conversely, where there is a smaller genetic contribution greater life stress is required to produce the particular result.

The diathesis–stress model suggests that some people possess an enduring vulnerability factor (a dia- thesis) which, when coupled with a proximal (recent) stressor, results in a diagnosable medical condition. Neither the diathesis nor the stressor alone is enough to lead to symptoms – both must be present. Diatheses and stressors can be defined broadly. For example, a genetic or biological predisposition to depression might be the diathesis, and troubled relationships could be the stressor; or a dysfunctional pattern of thinking about the world can be the diathesis, and a major life event the stressor.

Being depressed can make you feel hopeless and helpless.  Along with therapy and sometimes medication, there’s a lot you can do on your own to feel better.  Changing your behavior—your physical activity, lifestyle, and even your way of thinking—are all natural depression treatments. The first and most important step is to schedule a complete physical with your internist, requesting a full blood panel to detect any mineral/vitamin deficiencies, hormonal imbalance, or condition that may be contributing to depression.  Once you feel that you have a wellness plan for optimal health, you may then begin to make interventions to treat the depression.

Dr. Andrew Weil, one of the foremost wellness authorities, recommends treatment from a holistic perspective.  To learn more about whole health approaches to treating depression, click here.

In my work with individuals, I support your personal wellbeing and professional success by helping you create goals and monitor your success over time.  Depression can rob you of the energy to achieve your goals.  It is my hope that you will find this information to be a helpful tool for you and the people you love.

For more information on depression The World Health Organization has created these fact sheets on the topic in support of World Mental Health Day. 

For more information on Betty’s services please visit her web site