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     Volume 4 Issue 41 | April 8, 2005 |

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Feeling Down?

Everyone feels a bit low sometimes - it's the mental health equivalent of the common cold. But for some people it's much more serious, paralysing their ability to get on with life.

What are the symptoms?
As with many mental health problems, there are a number of symptoms of depression and it's very rare for all of them to occur in one person. They include feeling generally miserable, as well as:
*Variation of mood during the day. It's often worse in the morning, improving as the day goes on - but the pattern can be the other way around.
*Disturbed sleep, usually waking early and being unable to get back to sleep. This is often because of the negative thoughts racing through the head.
*A general slowing down of thought, speech and movement.
*Feelings of anxiety.
*Tearfulness for no reason.
*Short temper.
*Lack of energy and constant exhaustion.
*Inability to enjoy things.
*Lack of concentration.
*Difficulty making decisions.
*Feeling that you're forgetful.
*Negative thoughts about the future.
*Feelings of guilt.
*Loss of identity.
*Blaming self and low self-esteem.
*Feelings of hopelessness and despair.
*Unrealistic sense of failure.
*Loneliness, even when around others.
*Becoming preoccupied with illness.
*Loss of appetite and resulting loss of weight.
*Reduced desire for sex.

This presents a very bleak picture. However, it's important to remember that depression isn't an absolute - it's not simply a case of either you're depressed or you're not. There's a progression from feeling blue to the full clinical illness described above. Even then, you won't suffer from every symptom. It's also important to remember that depression is treatable and, if you take the right steps, avoidable.

How common is it?
Seven to 12 per cent of men suffer from diagnosable depression, and 20 to 25 per cent of women. There are many theories as to why the figure is higher for women. The incidence of post-natal depression certainly contributes to the higher figure.

Other explanations include the low status of women and the difficulties they face in achieving life goals. It could also be that women tend to be more honest about their emotions than men, so their depression is easier to detect.

Monitoring your mood and thoughts
This is the starting point for managing depression. It will help you learn to spot an episode of depression before it's too late. Using the thought monitoring technique, you can decide which thoughts represent an accurate picture of what's going on around you - and which are unrealistic and created by your mood beginning to fall.

Ask someone you trust to monitor your mood
You won't spot every episode of depression before it happens, but those closest to you will often be able to recognise the early signs. Talking to them about this problem is probably one of the most valuable ways to deal with it. An agreement with a family member or friend as to how and when they could point out the problem, and what the two of you do to address it, is invaluable.

It's important that you go through the agreed tasks to address the problem, even if you don't feel your mood is falling - you may be surprised by what they bring out. The kind of tasks you could do with your relative or friend include: stress auditing, thought and mood inventories, and talking about any incident that's given the family member or friend cause for concern.

Ways to help yourself
It's not unusual to experience some of the signs of depression from time to time. But if the feelings are very strong all the time, there are things you can do to help yourself.
*Notice 'thinking errors'. Are you overgeneralising. For example, do you imagine every pain is a deadly disease? Do you tell yourself everything is going wrong when only one thing has gone wrong? Do you forget about the good things in life and concentrate on the bad?
*Balance frightening thoughts with reassuring statements.
*Occupy your mind. Concentrating on something can lift your mood.
*Exercise. Physical activity relaxes you and makes you feel good.
*Pay attention to the way you look.
*Eat a regular diet of wholefoods. Vitamin B6 supplements are helpful too.
*Avoid alcohol. It's a depressant, even if it makes you feel temporarily better.
*Investigate alternative and complementary therapies.

When to seek help
If your low mood or loss of interest in life interferes with your home, family or work, lasts for two weeks or more, or brings you to the point of thinking about suicide, you may be experiencing clinical depression and you should seek help. There are many kinds of help available. Talk to your GP or contact a mental health organisation

Source: BBC Health

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