Recently, the effects of COVID-19 saw many people experiencing mental health issues. Isolation cut us off from our normal lives and activities we enjoyed, as well as our friends and family. There was a very real fear that going outside was unsafe, plus the regular pressures of work (and working from home). It was the perfect storm for an increase in depressive episodes.
In fact, researchers found that during COVID-19 Canadians who stated that their anxiety was “high to extremely high” quadrupled from 5% to 20% and the number of people self-reporting depression more than doubled from 4% to 10%.
According to Statistics Canada, major depression affects approximately 5.4% of the Canadian population, but surveys done during COVID-19 saw that number increase with 15% of Canadians experiencing symptoms associated with major depression.
While the worst of COVID-19 may be behind us, the reality is that once someone suffers a major depressive episode, they are 50% more likely to experience a recurring episode.
Depression can refer to a particularly low mood that passes with time, but it is also a medical disorder that can negatively impact one's life. If you’re feeling blue, but it goes away in a day or two then you may have learned how to cope with mild depression. However, if these feelings are devastatingly strong, will not go away, and prevent you from living your life because you are unable to get out of a slump, then it may be time to discuss treatment options with a doctor.
Knowing how to deal with depression is a good tool to have in order to help yourself or your loved ones get out of depression.
Symptoms of depression
Depression can affect anyone and doesn’t discriminate based on socio-economic background or race, but The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) details a major depressive episode may be present if someone exhibits more than five of the below symptoms daily for more than two weeks:
Sleep disturbances such as an inability to fall asleep or sleep not being a deep REM sleep, leading to an overall lighter sleep which can result in sleep deprivation.
Changes in appetite and weight.
Energy changes, often seen as either agitation (restlessness) or a total loss of energy (fatigue).
Interest/pleasure reduction which can exhibit itself as a feeling of apathy or a loss of engagement in things that used to excite someone. This can lead to a feeling of hopelessness or helplessness.
Feelings of guilt or worthlessness. A preoccupation with failures which leads to a loss of self esteem.
Concentration or attention Impairment, which looks like slow thinking, forgetfulness, and trouble concentrating or making decisions.
Suicidal or homicidal thoughts or ideations.
Depressed mood such as a general malaise or sadness.
Psychomotor disturbances, where those hand-eye coordination tasks such as catching a ball or accurately applying the perfect cat-eye liner that you’ve been able to do for years all of a sudden become harder to execute.
The most common indicators are an overall sadness and irritability that makes one sensitive to comments from others, and those suffering from a depressive episode often find little to no relief in reassurances from friends or family.
Types of depression
There are a vast number of depression types, ranging from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), postpartum disorder, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder to name a few subtypes, but the three main types of depression are major depressive disorder, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder.
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the most common type of depression that is exhibited as feelings of sadness, worthlessness, guilt, and the inability to feel sadness. Diagnosed by the signs and symptoms above as listed in the DSM-5, MDD is the persistence of these symptoms, with the likelihood of recurrent depressive episodes. It can be a lifelong disorder but can be managed through a combination of therapy and medication.
Dysthymia (dysthymic disorder) is a consistently low mood that can continue for a period of one to two years without experiencing a major depressive episode. A person experiencing this usually has a number of the symptoms of depression such as fatigue, difficulty making decisions, low self-esteem, and an overall feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness. Someone who has dysthymic disorder and does experience a major depression can be said to be experiencing adoubledepression.
Bipolar disorderis a mood disorder characterized by periods of high (manic) and low (depression) episodes. People suffering from a manic episode may seem impulsive, feel invincible, sleep less but have more energy and racing thoughts that can make them seem irritable and disconnected. Occasionally a manic episode can include hallucinations or delusions that are not based in reality. These manic periods are usually followed by a major depressive episode where they are then forced to deal with the consequences of actions taken in the previous impulsive state.
Causes of depression
There is no known cause for depression, but the general consensus is that it can be caused by an imbalance of serotonin in the brain, physical issues such as hormonal imbalances (including PMS), hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, or adrenal issues that affect stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Because anyone is susceptible to depression, the number of risk factors and the level of stress placed on a person can greatly impact whether they are susceptible to a major depressive episode. This stress-vulnerability model calculates a number of elements such as a family history of depression, traumatic childhood, psychological behaviour (such as your personality style when dealing with stress), life events (i.e. divorce, financial stress, relationship issues), and environmental stressors which are all factors that can contribute to a likelihood of depression.
How to get out of depression:
If you’re feeling general malaise and know that you need a boost, there are several self-care activities that you can utilize to give your energy and emotional state some love.
Doing something that you love is one of the best tips that can help you get out of a funk, but depression isn’t known for being the most inspiring. Consider paint-by-number instead of painting from scratch, or baking instead if you’re more of a maker. If you’re not feeling creative, activities such as journaling your goals, thoughts, and feelings can help to get those emotions out and empower yourself, while being a record that you can refer to later.
Mindfulness and meditation
Breathing exercises and connecting to your body are the basic tenets of mindfulness. Guided meditation apps blend soothing background music with words of empowerment that can help to quiet negative thoughts. While you can practice meditation from any comfortable position in your home, many meditation and mindfulness apps now offer walking meditation which helps you connect to the world around you while also getting you outside.
Additionally, practicing mindfulness in everything you do allows you to be more present in the moment and focus on the task at hand, preventing feelings of being overwhelmed at everything going on around you.
Get outside for some sun
Getting fresh air and sunlight is super important in attempting to boost your mood, and even throughout the winter the easiest way to increase your serotonin levels is to get some sun. Of course, clouds, cold, snow, and slush make that less enjoyable in the winter, so getting a SAD light and focusing it on your face for 20-40 minutes a day can increase your mood and drastically limit the impacts of depression.
Reach out to a friend
Having a trusted ally in your corner who knows what will cheer you up is super important. Reaching out can be hard, but knowing that you’re not alone does the mind good. Plus, who else is going to do their best to make you laugh or be there to commiserate?
Whether you’re walking, dancing, playing tennis, doing reps at the gym, or running around the block, incorporating physical activity into your day has been shown to decrease depression and anxiety. So grab your headphones, throw on your favourite playlist, and take a brisk walk.
The World Health Organization recommends getting 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week for overall health benefits, which ends up being 5 hours a week on the higher end. Totally manageable, right? Focusing on activities that you enjoy such as dancing or playing a sport are definitely ways to easily incorporate exercise into your daily life while boosting your mood.
Focus on a diet including tryptophan-rich foods
Reaching for tryptophan-rich foods such as salmon, eggs, spinach, mozzarella, soy, and seeds may actually help increase your mood. One study found that an increase in tryptophan in participants' diets lessened anxiety and irritability, making stress manageable. Sounds like as good a reason as any to make spinach quiche for breakfast and salmon for dinner.
Talking it out with a professional is one of the most recommended ways to address depressive feelings, and they’ll come armed with tips and methods to help you with how to get out of depression. At the very least, they will have some great insight on how to cope with depression.
There are a number of different types of therapy that your therapist can utilize to help during your sessions. These types include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which focuses on learning, identifying, and questioning thought and feeling patterns; interpersonal therapy (IPT) addresses current issues and relations; and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) focuses on teaching people both acceptance and change in order to build better lives.
When medicine may be needed
Depression isn’t always resolved through self-care or talk therapy, and could very well be the result of a chemical or hormonal imbalance, making medication a necessary tool when you’re wondering how to get out of depression. The most commonly prescribed medications for depression are antidepressants that can work to restore a chemical imbalance in the brain and promote the normal functioning of neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.
There is a wide variety of antidepressant medications, but discussing your symptoms with a doctor will help them prescribe the best treatment for depression.
It’s worth noting that depression medication and getting your meds to work for you is not a perfect science and can often take some trial and error. A dose that works for one person may not work for another, plus, every different brand of medication has different side effects that may impact you differently than someone else. Effects are not immediate, but signs that it’s working include better sleep patterns, appetite, and an increase in energy, while mood improvements follow. It's also important to be aware that all medications come with the risk of side effects.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek help immediately by going to your nearest emergency department or by calling 911. You can also contact Crisis Services Canada's national suicide-prevention hotline at 1-833-456-4566 if you are considering suicide or are concerned about someone who may be.