By Thomas P. Murt
Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, making it a leading cause of disability for individuals aged 15-44. The illness is classified as “persistent sadness and a loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities for at least two weeks” by the World Health Organization.
As a condition, depression can be caused by a multitude of factors. These causes can include chemical imbalances within the brain and body, genetics, chronic pain, stress, life events and trauma. Individuals living with depression are affected in different ways and in varying degrees. During the COVID-19 pandemic, symptoms of depression may be experienced in an amplified manner due to the constant changes and unknown situations.
There have been increasing incidents of depression, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In these unprecedented times, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression.
Depression is real and should be taken seriously. Feeling depressed can often be interchanged with feelings of sadness. While sadness can be an experienced symptom, depression is a more progressive and overarching feeling that interferes with a person’s ability to complete daily activities.
Symptoms of depression vary based on the type of depression, which can range in severity and category such as postpartum, seasonal, or major depressive disorder. The symptoms of depression include, but are not limited to: persistent sadness, anxious or empty feelings, fatigue, trouble concentrating, changes in eating habits, insomnia, loss of interest, pain that won’t go away.
Depression can also cause people to experience feelings of uncertainty, unworthiness, and loneliness. This mental illness is diagnosed by a physician, following the identification of the internal and external factors associated with the experienced behaviors and feelings. It is important for a person experiencing symptoms of depression to address their health concerns directly with a healthcare professional.
When left undiagnosed and untreated, depression can have debilitating impacts on a person’s overall health and well-being. It is critical to encourage individuals diagnosed with depression to monitor their symptoms and to establish and follow treatment plans.
There is not a “one-size-fits-all” treatment approach to depression. Much like the effects of the disorder, therapy methods and medication effectiveness can vary from person to person. According to the National Institute of Health, approximately, “80% of those treated for depression show an improvement in symptoms within four to six weeks of starting medication, psychotherapy, attending support groups or a combination.”
The most common methods of treatment include taking antidepressants and counseling. When treatment options are properly implemented and followed, individuals diagnosed with depression can improve and cope with their symptoms.
By encouraging and reassuring individuals going through treatment for depression that they are not alone and that they are supported is critical to restoring their health. Physical treatment, emotional support, and spiritual strength can greatly aid a person struggling with depression.
There are holistic methods that have proven results to address symptoms of depression as well. Going outside, practicing mindfulness, exercising and focused breathing techniques are alternative methods to help alleviate symptoms of depression. Often, it takes time and patience to test out the different treatment combinations to determine the best solution for the individual in need.
I encourage anyone struggling with depression to reach out for help to get the assistance they need. I know depression and numerous other mental health ailments are highly stigmatized. It is time that we remove the barriers to seeking help and provide effective treatment options.
Living with depression is an opportunity to make changes that promote healing and healthy lifestyles. The path to recovery is challenging and can be difficult, but through faith and support, can be attained. My hope for all those struggling with mental health conditions is that they are able to acknowledge they need help, get the assistance and treatment they need, and lead a life that that they are proud of.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Thomas P. Murt, a Republican representing parts of Montgomery County and Philadelphia, is the chairman of the Human Services Committee and chairman of the Mental Health Caucus. Kailee Fisher contributed to this article.