There is a lot of stigma when it comes to mental health issues, even common ones like depression. Often times when people feel depressed they feel ashamed, as if they don’t have the right to feel depressed. Many will attempt to hide the way they feel and just say they are doing “ok”. Many more will try to drown their depression with alcohol, drugs and even other people.
It’s okay to be depressed. When you’re depressed that means something in your life is not going the way you want it to go and you need to sit down and evaluate your life so that you can move in a different direction. That may mean making small changes, big changes or accepting something for what it is if you can’t change it at all.
These are some of my favorite tips on dealing with depression:
You’re not alone. Many people go through depression at some point in their lives. Some people suffer from clinical and chronic depression while others seem to bounce out of it pretty quickly. If you’re feeling down, just know that you’re not the only person who feels that way and it’s actually pretty common.
It’s okay to seek professional help. Sometimes family and friends just don’t understand why you’re not happy. They’ll say that your life isn’t “that bad” and that there are many people out there who have it worse. Most of them are trying to be helpful even when they leave you feeling like crap. People like me are trained and paid to listen and can help you maneuver your way through the pain.
Medications can help if needed, but they are not the only answer. When people start feeling depressed, many of them will immediately want medication to make the bad feelings go away. Most people going through depression do not need antidepressants, but even if you do, they may only help so much. Antidepressants are good for getting people out of deep depression so that they can intellectually and physically function enough to actually process what’s going on in their lives and attempt to make changes to feel better.
Remember to take care of yourself. Even if that means writing notes to remind yourself to do simple things such as taking a bath or eating nutritious meals. Doing the self-care things you don’t feel like doing will make you feel better in the end.
If you really don’t know what might be making you depressed consider getting some blood work done. Anything from vitamin D deficiency, low iron and hormonal issues to blood sugar problems can cause you to feel depressed and lethargic. Curing your depression can be as simple as correcting an imbalance in your body.
Learn and practice daily mindfulness and meditation. Start with something as simple as focusing on your breathing. Imagine breathing in slowly through your nose to smell a birthday cake and exhaling slowly through your mouth to blow out the candle. Focus on your breathing, try to keep your mind from wandering to all the bullshit and just be in the present moment.
Stay away from emotional vampires. You need all your energy when you’re going through the depression. You don’t have any to spare so stay away from anyone who will drain what little you have left. Instead, try to surround yourself with people who can help you refuel your energy.
Don’t envy others. Everyone is, has or will go through their stuff. You’re just going through yours. Even if someone looks happy, well put together or whatever, they still have things they are dealing with that you might not know about. The grass is not always, or even usually greener on the other side.
If you can find the energy, go for a walk. Exercise, fresh air and sunlight are great for depression. Even small steps help.
Learn to let go. A lot of times depression is about the past. Past guilt. Past disappointments. Past hurts. Learn to let go and you will reclaim so much of the strength and energy you are given up. As the saying goes, let go or be dragged.
There are so many great tips out there on dealing with depression. Hopefully this will get you started, but definitely find tips that work for you and know that you can come out of depression a stronger person.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week which was established by the U.S. congress in 1990 to recognize the National Alliance of Mental Illness’ efforts to raise the awareness of mental illness. It just so happens that last week’s police chase and subsequent shooting and killing of Miriam Carey has brought mental illness and postpartum psychosis into the spotlight.
What Is Postpartum Psychosis?
Many people have heard of postpartum depression, but not many people have heard of it’s evil sister, postpartum psychosis. When I was in graduate school I was so fascinated by postpartum psychosis that I actually did a 20 page research paper on the phenomenon.
It isn’t uncommon for women, after giving birth to feel down, sad or even somewhat depressed. This is what is known as “baby blues” and approximately 70-80% of mothers feel this contradicting negative thoughts and sadness after experiencing the joy of giving birth.
Many women don’t talk about it because they feel guilty or “bad” because of these feelings, but it’s important that they talk about the way they feel so that the “baby blues” don’t progress into something deeper like postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression basically is a much more intense and prolonged feeling of negativity, depression and mood swings when compared to the “baby blues”. This can last weeks, months or even longer.
Postpartum psychosis is the most severe and extreme form of postpartum depression and not only does it typically include the intense sadness, negativity and mood swings of postpartum depression, but it also includes the onset of psychotic symptoms after childbirth.
An example taken from a personal experience I had dealing with a client I diagnosed with postpartum psychosis is that she was extremely depressed at times and then highly erratic and impulsive other times. She was extremely irritable and was having hallucinations which included voices and delusions that her newborn was evil and needed to be killed.
Like a lot of women who deal with the “baby blues”, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, she tried to hide the way she was feeling and mask her psychotic symptoms until it got to the point that she was about to drown her child in the bathtub. It was then she went to her family for help and was taken to the psychiatric hospital.
This particular young lady ended up being okay after treatment which included therapy and a brief period of taking lithium. Her child was subsequently raised by the maternal grandparents although legally this young woman still has full custody and spends time with her daughter often.
Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare which is one reason it is not often talked about and another reason many people who suffer from it try to hide it because they are struggling to try to understand exactly what it is they are going through and may feel alone.
Symptoms of postpartum psychosis Include, but are not limited to:
flight of ideas
grandiose thinking or behavior
Other Famous Examples of Postpartum Psychosis
Although postpartum psychosis is rare, some popular cases include Melanie Blocker-Stokes, a successful pharmaceutical sales manager happily married to a physician.
On June 11, 2001 she gave birth to a baby girl and soon developed severe depression, stopped eating and drinking and no longer could swallow just four weeks after giving birth.
She became paranoid and thought her neighbors closed their blinds because they thought she was a bad mother and although she was in and out of several hospitals, was on several medications and even received electroconvulsive therapy, she killed herself by jumping off of the roof top of a Chicago hotel. Her daughter was only 3 and a half months old.
Melanie always wanted to become a mother and it’s a tragedy that becoming a mother ultimately took her life. She had written in her journal before her death: “How can I explain to anybody how something has, literally, come inside my body…I’m no good to anyone. No good to myself.”
She called some her friends and family and left what they now know were her final goodbyes and to her husband she left a note that simply read: “Sam, I adore you, Sommer and Andy, Mel.” Andy was her husband Sam’s son and her stepson and Sommer (Sommer Skyy) was her newborn child.
Her battle with postpartum psychosis helped congress pass the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act in 2010 aimed at increasing research, education and screening of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. Sadly not much has been done since it was passed, but this is the story that sparked me to write my research paper in graduate school and got me interested in postpartum psychosis.
Perhaps most famously there was Andrea Yates whose mental health seemed to deteriorate with each child she gave birth to. She had attempted suicide twice and was urged against not having any more children after being hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital after her fourth child. Never-the-least she gave birth to a fifth child and three months later she was hospitalized again twice and warned not to be left alone with her children.
However, one day she was left alone for only an hour and tragically drowned all five of her children. She’s currently committed to a high-security psychiatric hospital.
Miriam Carey was a 34 year old mother of a one year old little girl. She was a dental hygienist with plans on going to dental school. Last week she made the decision to drive from her home in Conneticut to Washington, D.C. Some reports say that she was mad with President Obama for listening to her phone conversations.
In any case, with her young daughter in tow, she drove to Capitol Hill, crashing into barricades around the White House, police cars and speeding recklessly down Pennsylvania Avenue before she was shot and killed by law enforcement after attempting to use her car as a weapon.
It’s unfortunate that Miriam Carey was shot and killed, especially with her one year old daughter in the car. After listening to her family talk on CNN last week talk about her struggles with postpartum psychosis and a family history of mental illness including schizophrenia, I wish something could have been done sooner although she was apparently taking medication for an unknown mental illness.
It’s possible that although her family knew she was having some mental problems, they didn’t know how severe they were or even what they were because she was most likely keeping them in the dark and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) keeps doctors and mental health professionals from being able to discuss a persons medical and mental issues with family members which helps explain why her family members and friends where all shocked that she was behaving so erratically and reckless especially with her daughter in the car. They were all shocked to learn that she had even driving to Washington, D.C. out of the blue.
They may have known she had issues, but never suspected that they were as severe as they turned out to be.
According to everything I have read as reported by her family members and her boyfriend, her main symptoms were paranoia and delusions. It’s a good chance that her mental health problems existed before she was pregnant and that her pregnancy exacerbated the condition and developed into postpartum psychosis.
For example, she could have been suffering from bipolar disorder or a mood disorder previously and possibly stopped taking her medication to prevent them from having side effects on the baby and then everything just snow balled out of control with the natural hormonal and mood changes that occur with pregnancy.
Many women who develop postpartum psychosis already have other underlying mental health issues
Her death however is not in vain as it helps bring attention to postpartum complications like “baby blues”, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis so that maybe more women who are suffering silently will speak out and reach out for help.
If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression of any kind, have them speak with their doctor. For more information visit http://www.postpartum.net/ or call 1-800-944-4PDD.
As we discussed in part 2 of this series, according to cognitive behavioral therapy, our thoughts control our behaviors and thus control our feelings, but sometimes it is very difficult to control our thoughts for a number of reasons.
On average, we have about 50,000 thoughts a day! Some of them, despite our best efforts, are bound to be negative thoughts that make us angry, fearful, anxious, sad, pessimistic, etc.
Ideally we would analyze, confront and dispute each of those negative thoughts to see if they are even rational, and then use cognitive restructuring (changing the way you perceive a situation), to turn those thoughts into less harmful and even productive ones.
With 50,000 thoughts a day going through our minds, it’s not plausible to expect to be able to sit down and use the ABC’s of thoughts, feelings and behaviors on each and every one of those thoughts, we can save that for some of the bigger, more damaging ones that keep us from experiencing life fully.
So what do we do with the other dozen, hundred or even thousands of negative thoughts?
We can chose to ignore them! Yes, it’s that simple! We can chose to ignore them, pay less attention to them, dismiss them and not allow them to take over our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
We can learn to realize that thoughts are just thoughts, nothing more.
A thought by itself is harmless until we give it power (either good or bad). The same is true with feelings. We can have a feeling enter us, acknowledge that feeling, but don’t dwell on it, and in a very short amount of time that feeling is likely to leave us.
It’s only when we ponder, over analyze and start assigning that feeling/thought meaning that we start to give it ammunition to do harm or motivation to do good.
Let’s take for an example that one day at a coffee shop writing in your blog you start thinking, “I should have been a writer. I just wasted my entire life slaving away instead of following my passion.”
If you dwell on that thought and let it torment you, you will feel like a loser and are likely to start feeling sad. Or, you can recognize that it’s just a thought and dismiss it.
This doesn’t mean that writing isn’t something you should be doing and maybe pursuing more, it just means that in this moment you are choosing not to pay attention to that thought, especially since you recognize that it’s likely to make you feel bad.
It’s not a cop out. It doesn’t mean that later on you can’t go back and apply the ABC’s of thoughts, feelings and behaviors to it, it just means that in that present moment you are choosing to dismiss it and use that mental energy more constructively.
If we paid attention to all the negative thoughts we had, we would be worn out, worthless and depressed.
It’s very important not to dwell on thoughts that have happened in the past or will may happen in the future.
It’s important to be present and dismiss those negative thoughts that come flying in about the past (even if it was ten minutes ago) or about the future.
The beautiful thing is, you’ll learn that once you start dismissing and ignoring those negative thoughts, more peaceful thoughts are likely to fill their space and you’re more likely to feel at peace with yourself and your world.