Oct 1, 2020
By Mariam Helmy, Lyra Content Specialist
Depression can feel like a difficult topic to talk about. It can be hard for people without depression to understand the pain of it, and depression involves distressing symptoms that make it difficult for an individual to communicate their needs and difficulties. Additionally, when it remains unmanaged or untreated, depression can cause a ripple effect: Individuals with the mental health issue can display seemingly sudden shifts in behavior and mood, which can subsequently alienate the affected person’s support system.
But depression is actually very treatable–and it’s extremely common, especially in the context of today’s Coronavirus pandemic and national race-based injustices and discrimination. According to NPR, 25 percent of the population in the U.S. will have experienced symptoms of depression in 2020, over triple the number of people who have experienced depressive symptoms in previous years. So what exactly causes depression, and how can it be treated and prevented?
While symptoms of depression manifest differently and to varying degrees among individuals, there are common symptoms that clinicians use to determine if a person meets criteria for a clinical diagnosis.
It is also important to note that symptoms can start as mild, but without early intervention, can progress to become more severe and eventually interfere with functioning.
There are many ways in which non-majority cultures are affected by discrimination and systematic injustice. These not only impact individual vulnerability to mental health issues–especially depression and anxiety–but can also substantially impact the accessibility of mental health care for minorities and people of color seeking professional treatment. Additionally, due to the inaccessible nature of mental health care, it can be especially difficult to find a provider who can create and hold a safe space for minorities and people of color to process their feelings around racial injustice (although you can find out more about some best practices here).
Moreover, culture can affect how individuals describe their symptoms. Due to differences in communication styles and values, depression can seemingly present differently across different cultures. Some cultural norms may make it more likely that physiological rather than emotional symptoms are emphasized. Bodily symptoms like excessive fatigue, for example, is a symptom of depression no matter the environmental background–however, it may be the primary symptom reported instead of depressed mood in a particular culture.
According to a report of the Surgeon General on culture, race, and ethnicity in mental health, “Cultures also vary with respect to the meaning they impart to illness.” This suggests that cultures can vary in their way of making sense of subjective experiences of illness and distress. The same report notes that the cultural meanings attached to illness, and what it means to be ill, have significant consequences on whether or not people choose to seek treatment, as well as how they cope with their symptoms.
Depression can happen for a lot of different reasons, with or without an instigating event. It can occur for a number of reasons, and can be precipitated by a wide range of factors, or even a combination of events. According to the UK National Health Service (NHS), some common triggers for depression are:
Medication can certainly help treat depression–but it isn’t the only effective treatment. According to a study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, the combination of talk therapy and medication was found to be most effective in treating patients with depression.
If you are a person with depression, make sure to talk to both a mental health care provider or your primary care provider about developing a treatment plan that is tailored to treating your specific symptoms. Additionally, remember that treatment plans and goals can be altered to adapt to your changing needs.
It can be difficult to admit to yourself that you may need professional help–it can be even more difficult to admit this to your loved ones and your community. Unfortunately, symptoms of depression can impact daily functioning, and while it can be hard, it can ultimately be helpful to notify your friends, family, and colleagues. According to Dr. Joe Grasso, Clinical Director of Partnerships at Lyra Health, “The key is to be specific about what you need in terms of support–for example, when you talk to your friend about your problems, are you looking for a listening ear, or practical advice? Let the person you’re speaking to know beforehand.” It’s also important to be selective about who you ask for certain types of support. Be sure to consider which people in your support system are best equipped to provide the different types of support you may need on your mental health journey.
Depression can be a difficult mental health issue to manage–but the good news is that it’s both common and treatable with the use of evidence-based therapies that can substantially alleviate the symptoms of depression. While treating depression takes some time and effort, it can also drastically improve–and even save–lives.
If you want help connecting with a therapist, Lyra can assist you. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.
DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mariam Helmy is a content specialist at Lyra Health, where she develops, writes, and plans content for the Lyra blog. Mariam has a background in writing and psychology, and has a Masters degree in educational content from the University of Cambridge.