Persistent low mood, or the inability to improve mood over a period of time, is referred to as Depression. People who are depressed often lose interest in activities, including things they used to enjoy, often feeling tired or exhausted. They may spend long periods of inactivity which may be associated with changes in sleep routine e.g. more or less sleep. This can lead to poor concentration and indecisiveness. Even appetite can be affected, with increases or decreases in appetite over time, and subsequent weight gain or loss. People describe feelings of worthlessness, guilt, sadness, and/or irritability. In some cases, people have thoughts of death (“suicidal ideation”) with or without more specific planning*.
Mild to moderate depression can be assisted using various strategies. It is important to maintain good sleep routines, including going to bed within the same one-hour window every day and getting up at the same time. People need between 7 and 9 hours sleep – see our blog on Sleep if this is difficult to obtain. Exercise can help with low mood; if you are normally active, try to maintain your exercise routine. In-active people benefit from going for even a short walk every day. Similarly, eating healthily can contribute to improved mood.
Although depression is associated with loss of enjoyment in activities, continuing to engage in those previously enjoyed pursuits can lead to improved mood, over time. Having a “tool-kit” of go-to activities is helpful, but note that sometimes people have to “schedule or make time” to do activities because of poor motivation when depressed. Linking in with family and friends for support is useful for many people – try online support groups if you are more isolated.
There are often worrying or negative thoughts in people’s minds. Remember that they are just thoughts and not necessarily true (“thinking errors”). Focussing on the present and accepting what you cannot change are good strategies. Psychologists help people work through difficult thoughts using Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy; this helps to train the brain by providing a “rational voice” to the often irrational ones. Watch for an upcoming blog on common thinking errors.
There is some evidence that natural products including St John’s Wart and Seremind (lavender oil) may be useful. Discuss these options with a health professional qualified in this area. More severe depression might be better assisted by anti-depressant medication. This is a personal choice which needs to be made in discussion with your doctor.
There are several reasons why people become depressed. Don’t listen to people who tell you to “get over it” or “just think positively”. Take good self-care, try the strategies above, and seek help if you need it.
*If you, or your loved one, feels suicidal, call Lifeline on 13-11-14 or visit your nearest hospital emergency centre.
Sources: Very Well Mind