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The Lowdown on Depression

In this day and age depression can still sometimes be a taboo topic.

Mostly because it is still widely misunderstood.

Depression is not just feeling sad. It is not just feeling down. It is not just feeling unhappy or feeling ‘over it’ for a few days.

Many people minimize depression, and the result of this is that people who have it never get help because they feel like they will be judged.

Depression is a persistent period of time when a person feels down and hopeless. If not treated early, depression can morph from feeling bad a lot of the time to feeling suicidal.

Symptoms of depression range from consistent feelings of sadness, to losing interest in things you used to enjoy or feeling tearful or angry.

Physical symptoms include constantly feeling tired, no appetite or sex drive, not sleeping well or general aches and pains.

With the right support and treatment, depression is treatable.

A combination of talk therapy and antidepressants are usually recommended by doctors to aid in the treatment of depression.  Lifestyle changes like exercising, eating healthy, drinking less alcohol and quitting smoking can have great benefits.

Even though you won’t feel like it, try start the process by going for a walk with a friend or on your own. Natural endorphins are released, and you will notice an uptick in your mood. You might even feel motivated enough to implement other changes in your life. 

How can you help a loved one with depression?  If you’ve never been depressed, it might feel easy to tell them to snap out of it. Because it’s a clinical disorder, this is not possible and its not helpful to invalidate their feelings.

Instead, listen to them. Show empathy and ask questions. Don’t assume you know what they are going through. Help them find support in the form of counselling – help them with a list of questions to ask a therapist to find a good fit for them.

Learn as much as you can about depression and remember to set your own boundaries. Get other friends involved to create a bigger support bubble and take some of the pressure off of yourself.

Keep inviting them over, even if they cancel often. They might not feel like leaving the house, but fewer invitations leads to a greater sense of isolation on their part.

Above all, be kind and be patient. Depression can be a slow path to recovery.

The Two Sides to Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is often described as violent, split-personality disorder. Many people believe that two or more people live inside the mind of a schizophrenic – a Jekyll and Hyde situation.

This isn’t the case. Schizophrenia can cause hallucinations which makes the sufferer hear and see things that do not exist or have unusual beliefs that are not based on reality. This can lead to confused thoughts, because the sufferer can’t distinguish between what is real and what is a delusion. Other symptoms include losing interest in everyday activities, loss of interest in personal hygiene and not wanting to be around people.

Imagine your brain mistaking your thoughts for real voices outside of your body. Imagine that sometimes they say nice things and sometimes they are rude or abusive. Imagine that they want you to hurt yourself, or they tell you that everyone is out to get you.

Now imagine that no-one else can hear these voices, but you are sure they are real because they sound so real.

Sounds pretty scary doesn’t it?

Although schizophrenia is thought to run in families, there is no single gene that is thought to be responsible. A combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors seem to make someone more likely to develop the condition.

The good news is that with the right diagnosis, medication and talk therapy, psychotic episodes can be kept to a minimum and the sufferer can lead a normal life.

Support for dealing with schizophrenia normally comes from immediate family and medical professionals. Family is encouraged to take part in group therapy to learn more about the disorder, how to spot the signs of an oncoming episode and how to best provide support to their loved one.

Schizophrenia, if well managed , does not have to be the terrifying experience it is made out to be.

The Nail-Biting Reality of Anxiety

Everyone has anxiety at some point in their lives.

That gut clench in your stomach before an interview.

A racing mind before a big exam.

Feeling a little nauseous at the prospect of getting up to speak in front of people.

For situations like these, anxiety is perfectly normal – as long as the anxiety is short-lived.

But what if it’s not?

Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is a long-term condition that can cause you to feel anxious about a lot of situations or issues, and not just one specific thing or event. GAD causes mental and physical problems.

Most people with GAD don’t remember the last time they felt relaxed. Symptoms range from feeling restless or worried, trouble concentrating or sleeping and even dizziness, panic attacks and trouble sleeping.

Like most mental health disorders, the exact cause of the onset of these symptoms are unknown. Overactivity of the parts of the brain dealing with emotions and behavior, an imbalance of chemicals in the brain or genetic factors can all play a role. Traumatic experiences, long-term health conditions and drug or alcohol abuse are also thought to play a part.

Because GAD can have a detrimental effect on your everyday life, it is important to get help. Cognitive behavioral therapy and talk therapy can help immensely. Medication can be prescribed, but a combination of the two are usually most effective.

The best way to offer support to a friend or relative with GAD is to LISTEN. Don’t say things like

  • Calm down
  • Its not a big deal
  • I know how you feel
  • Just breathe
  • It’s all in your head

Simply say, “I’m here for you.” Ask if there is anything you can do to help – everyone is different and we all self soothe in different ways.

Offer them a hug, but don’t take it personally if they decline – often anxiety and panic attacks can make a person feel claustrophobic.

We are all human, and we all have bad days. Remember, kindness goes a long way – you never know what someone else is dealing with!

The Highs and Lows of Bipolar Disorder

Have you ever experienced emotional whiplash?

Suffering from bipolar disorder can feel like this at times. Having a relative who suffers from bipolar disorder can make you feel like you’re being pulled in all directions.

Especially during a manic or depressive phase.

But, what is bipolar disorder?

It is a treatable medical condition affecting the brain. A person with this disorder experiences episodes of highs and lows, or mania and depression. These episodes are separated by periods of stability, which can last months or years – depending on the person. If not treated properly, it can cause suffering.

Bipolar is a lifelong medical illness that can get worse over time if not treated correctly. Just like something like diabetes, medication is needed all the time to keep symptoms under control. Most bipolar sufferers live a normal, fulfilling life when their disorder is managed correctly.

This is not a disease that can be cured, nor is it something someone can just snap out of. Bipolar disorder is not the result of a character flaw. While the exact cause is unknown, it is widely believed to be brought on by either a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetics or a stressful trigger such as a death of a loved one or abuse of any kind.

So, how can you help?

Offer your support to your loved one. Sometimes it is enough to just be there and lend an ear. A supportive circle is the best way to help your bipolar relative and everyone else in the circle.

But sometimes, this can be overwhelming for you, and that’s ok. No one is expecting you to deal with this perfectly.

The important thing to remember is that sometimes it’s vital to take a step back for your own mental wellbeing. A manic or depressive episode can be stressful and unpredictable. If you find that you are not coping well with your loved one’s mood swings, remember that your mental health and emotional wellbeing is just as important. As bipolar is a mental disorder, it is imperative that your loved one seeks professional help and gets on to the correct dosage of medication.