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More than Sadness: the Physical and Mental Effects of Depression

December 12, 2016
"I'm so depressed."

People are quick to throw this phrase around when their favorite show gets cancelled or after a bad day. But people who suffer from clinical depression, also known as major depression, are dealing with much more than sadness. They may experience a deep feeling of hopelessness that persists for weeks. It is all-consuming and often starts to have a negative effect on their normal activities and relationships. Other symptoms can include fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, impaired concentration, insomnia, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

Depression can also manifest itself in physical ways: significant weight loss or gain, headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain. There is even mounting evidence that depression can take a more serious toll on physical health, in the form of stroke or coronary artery disease.

People who are suffering from untreated clinical depression may feel unmotivated to take care of their health, follow doctors' orders, or attend healthcare appointments. If you know someone who is struggling with depression and may not be caring for themselves mentally or physically, it's important to choose your words wisely.

Don't Say:
"Pull yourself together." "Snap out of it." "You should be grateful for what you have."

This type of advice is not beneficial and could possibly cause harm, leaving your friend to feel even more misunderstood or stigmatized. What may seem irrational to you is reality to someone who is depressed. They do not have a choice to "just feel better" because they may have a chemical imbalance in their brain which they cannot control.

Do Say:
"I'm here for you." "What can I do for you?" "Would you like me to go with you to an appointment?"

Depression is so disorienting that it can make even the most commonplace daily tasks seem insurmountable. Just letting someone know that you're there to listen (without prying) or take a chore off their hands (without judgment) might mean the world to them. Encouraging a friend or family member to seek treatment can be awkward, but offering to accompany them to an appointment, whether a therapist, primary care physician, or even just the pharmacy, shows that you care about their wellbeing. It illustrates that you're being supportive and acknowledges that they're suffering from a medical condition, which isn't something one can easily shake off.

Most primary care physicians can assess the physical symptoms of depression and make referrals for mental health care. In the Baltimore County area, there are several resources available to help residents treat depression. Call the Baltimore County Department of Health at 410-887-3828 or email The National Hopeline Network is a 24/7 national phone hotline specifically for people suffering from depression.
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