A life lived with depression can feel like a "deep, dark place," said Steve Brannon. But with a variety of pathways to recovery, hope is never out of reach — even during the toughest times.
Society often views depression in extremes, said Brannon, state director of Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Tennessee, as depression is often seen as an untreatable illness — or not as an illness at all. Depression should be taken very seriously, he said, but it shouldn't be approached in a "fatalistic" manner.
"Depression is treatable, and it responds quite well to treatment," Brannon said.
Describing depression as the "common cold of emotional mental disorders," Paul Deschenes — clinical psychologist and director of counseling services at Union University — said most people experience depression at some point in their life.
Deschenes said depression can be caused by a variety of factors, including the weather or the loss of a loved one. Because depression can be genetically based, it has the potential to be passed from one generation to the next, Brannon said.
In many cases, feeling depressed is normal, as no one is happy all the time, Deschenes said. What is not normal is when the grief and sadness continues indefinitely and begins to interfere with major areas in a person's life — signaling a more significant form of depression.
"They might experience things like negative thinking, self-criticism," Deschenes said. "They might experience feelings of hopelessness. Some people have thoughts of self-blame, and generally the thinking gets very negative, pessimistic. They might see the glass as being half-empty rather than half-full."
Additional symptoms can vary and even seem contradictory, Brannon said. Some people develop an increased appetite when they are depressed, while others may lose their appetite. Some people may sleep more often, while others experience insomnia. Some people may voice their thoughts of hopelessness, while others may not say a word.
Brannon said that a person with depression may stop bathing or using proper hygiene, and he or she may stay in the same clothes for weeks at a time. Deschenes also noted that a person may feel a loss of energy in accomplishing everyday tasks, as well as experience a decreased sex drive.
People who are depressed are more likely to develop other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, Brannon said. Their lifespan also can be shortened up to 25 years.
"It might affect their relationships," Deschenes added, because people experiencing depression often decline invitations for social engagements or drop out of church. "Ultimately, left untreated, some depression might get so bad that it turns to suicide."
Deschenes said a depressed person often wants to sit at home and be alone with their thoughts, which can fuel negative feelings. As a result, he said people should get out of the house and begin taking small steps to return to a healthy level of functioning.
Picking up an enjoyable hobby or volunteering can help ease depression, Deschenes said. Because depression can cause distorted thinking, spending time with positive people can halt irrational and harmful thoughts as well.
Exercise also can help people overcome depression and could be as effective as medication in some cases, Deschenes added. In addition, he encouraged people to return to church if they have stopped attending, as a person's faith speaks to issues such as hope.
"Whatever help an individual goes for, we recommend that folks not only be very religious about medication but also go to counseling," Brannon said.
With new medical treatment options introduced regularly, Brannon said treatments can include transcranial magnetic stimulation, in which part of the brain is stimulated with magnetic waves. While the success rates can vary, he said the results have been encouraging and the technology is expected to continue improving.
Brannon added that people with depression should develop a support group. The individuals who form a person's support group need to check up on how the person feels emotionally, know whether the person is taking his or her medication and be available to talk whenever the person may need them.
The support group also needs to be able to recognize the symptoms of depression, as well as know when the depressed person is in need of medical attention, Brannon said.
Noting that teenagers and the elderly are more susceptible to suicidal tendencies, Deschenes said people should not be afraid of causing a suicide by asking if someone is suicidal. If someone is hinting at suicide or displaying suicidal tendencies, he said family and friends should approach the situation seriously and take the person to a mental health professional.
People also should not think that a suicide is inevitable for someone experiencing suicidal thoughts, Deschenes said. Most of the time, a person averted from a suicide attempt and helped by professionals can regain and lead a normal life.
"When people get into a deep, dark place like Robin Williams did, trust seems to go away," Brannon noted, as a dangerous sign of suicide is when a person stops trusting others to help them manage their depression. "It is times like that the support network has to realize that they can't help this individual they love — they need someone to call."
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached at , is a valuable resource for people contemplating suicide, Brannon said.
Brannon noted that Jackson also has a mood disorder support group, called "A Better Tomorrow." Meeting at 6:30 p.m. each Monday at St. Mary's Catholic Church, the group provides encouragement, education and information services for people with depression, as well as their family and friends.
The group often becomes like an extended family for members, Brannon said, as people with depression can understand what other group members face.
"It's something about being understood that's healing in itself," Brannon said. "That is so valuable for someone living with depression. You can't put a price on that."
To learn more about the Jackson depression support group, visit the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Tennessee's website at dbsatennessee.org. The alliance also can be reached at .
Reach Beth Knoll at . Follow her on Twitter @merribethknoll.
What to know
• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached at , is a valuable resource for people contemplating suicide.
• Jackson's mood disorder support group, called "A Better Tomorrow," meets at 6:30 p.m. each Monday at St. Mary's Catholic Church. The group provides encouragement, education and information services for people with depression, as well as their family and friends.
• To learn more about the Jackson depression support group, visit the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Tennessee's website at dbsatennessee.org. The alliance also can be reached at .
Steve Brannon(Photo: Submitted)
Paul Deschenes(Photo: Submitted)