Depression is an extraordinarily common condition, affecting about 15 out of every 100 people. Although there has been a progressive expansion over several decades in the variety of treatments available for depression and increased awareness of its impact, there are still many people who don’t come forward for treatment, or in whom treatment is delayed for long periods of time.
Second, it is critical to recognize that depression is a treatable condition, it is not a weakness or character flaw, but something for which it is important to seek help, and as soon as possible. The sooner you get help, the sooner you will be on a path to recovery, regaining control of your life.
So how do you know that it is appropriate to seek help and how should you do so?
1. If you have any thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
These are clearly an important and urgent warning signal that it is time to get help and they should not be ignored. If you are having thoughts of suicide you should reach out to a crisis service, hotline or at a minimum speak to someone you trust to help as soon as possible.
2. If you have symptoms of depression that persist over time.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression and they have not resolved spontaneously after a number of weeks, this is a pretty good indicator that is worth speaking to someone.
3. If your attempts to help yourself are not working.
You will want to seek assistance if you have been trying to help yourself, and this isn’t working. Some people will find that exercise, engaging with friends and family, establishing a healthy lifestyle and meditation can help. However, even if you wish to continue to try these things, it can be helpful to get an assessment to see whether you’re on the right track.
4. If depression is having an impact on your day-to-day life.
If you are having trouble with work, studying or interacting with friends and family, this is a pretty good sign that it is worth reaching out for help.
5. If you are having to use alcohol or other drugs to help you cope with the way that you are feeling.
Drinking or using drugs can temporarily numb your feelings, perhaps even make you feel better for a short period of time. However, in the long run they will make things worse. Many drugs, including alcohol, can directly worsen depression. Problems with addiction or the consequences of impaired judgement are also likely to make it harder to recover in the long-term.
If you have made the decision to seek help, there are a variety of ways to do this. If you feel able to do so, it is always good to have some support on this journey, of a friend or member of your family, someone you feel you can trust.
The most common starting point for seeking help is to reach out to your primary care doctor. They will be able to explore with you whether you actually have depression, whether this may have been caused by some sort of physical illness or medication, and the sorts of treatments that might be helpful.
They should also have an idea of the mental health professionals available in your local community. These can include psychiatrists, psychologists and licensed clinical social workers and other counselors.
Although most mental health workers provide services in person, there are an increasing range of therapy and other resources available online. These are often best used as a complement to an individual treatment plan developed with a doctor or mental health professional but may be a critical part of your treatment if you’re in a community with few professional service offerings available.
Finally, it is advisable to note down hotlines that you can call if you are feeling in crisis and require immediate assistance. Examples include:
United States: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
United States: NAMI HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
United States, Canada: Crisis Text Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741
Paul Fitzgerald, PhD, MBBS is Director of the School of Medicine and Psychology and a Professor of Psychiatry at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. He completed his Medical Degree at Monash University followed by a Masters of Psychological Medicine and professional training in Psychiatry leading to membership of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. After a fellowship at the University of Toronto, he completed a research PhD in Psychiatry. Paul has conducted extensive research developing new treatments for depression and other conditions while continuing to practice as a psychiatrist and has established multiple clinical services in the provision of new treatment methods. He is the author of Curing Stubborn Depression: Emerging & Breakthrough Therapies for Treatment-Resistant Depression.
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