Climbing Out of Depression: The First Steps

Depression is an incredibly common mental illness, yet many who suffer from it never seek treatment. Estimates indicate that there are roughly 121 million people worldwide exhibiting symptoms of depression, with that number growing each year. However, in the United States, where nearly 1 in 10 adults exhibit symptoms of depression, only an estimated 20 percent of those suffering seek any form of treatment. Luckily, depression has been gaining awareness in recent decades. This means research is flourishing and new insights into humans’ inner workings are coming to light every day.  For those experiencing depression, this means more treatment options and easier access to those options.

Depressive Symptoms & Related Feelings/Behaviors

One of most common reasons people do not seek treatment for depression is that they fail to realize the symptoms they are experiencing are not normal. Many do not realize that their constant feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, low self-esteem, fatigue, insomnia, and more may indicate that they are suffering from depression. These symptoms are instead attributed to stress, a poor life situation, or some other unavoidable circumstance. Some may even assume these feelings are simply part of their nature. Luckily, if you are reading this, it’s likely you have realized that you are not feeling your best but you are ready to take the steps to fix that.

Some common symptoms of depression include, but are not limited to:

  • feelings of sadness, emptiness, or unhappiness,
  • feelings of anger or irritability,
  • feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or low self-esteem,
  • feelings of anxiety, agitation, or restlessness,
  • little interest or pleasure in once enjoyable activities,
  • loss of interest or pleasure in sex,
  • irregular sleep patterns, such as insomnia or consistently oversleeping,
  • fatigue or feeling like small tasks take great effort,
  • changes in appetite, weight loss, or weight gain,
  • clouded thoughts, trouble concentrating or remembering,
  • unexplained physical symptoms or pains,
  • frequent thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts.

Types of Depression

Depression is a broad label that encompasses a number of different subtypes, determined by which symptoms are expressed and those symptoms’ severity and frequency.  For instance, there is major depression, in which symptoms often last for a few weeks to a few months and are extremely severe. There is also dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder (or PDD), in which symptoms often stick around for years on end. Some other forms include atypical depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, postpartum depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and psychotic depression. A mental health professional can help you determine where you fall among these types and others. Fortunately, regardless of what type of depression you may be experiencing, you absolutely can be treated.

Take Action

If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, the time to take back your life is now. The following steps will benefit nearly anyone experiencing symptoms. However, because everyone is different and everyone’s experiences with depression is different, you will likely need to experiment to determine which steps benefit you the most and how you can tweak those steps to best benefit you.

All steps will take time for full effect. Stick with them as consistently as possible to give each one a fair chance. The first few steps you can start today and feel the effects of quickly. The latter steps may take more time to set up and feel the effects of but are equally crucial.

Support Network

The first thing you want to do is to speak with anyone with whom you feel comfortable doing so. For instance, a friend, family member, therapist, doctor, teacher, supervisor, or community leader would all be a good place to start. Speak as openly and honestly as possible about any and all symptoms. The goal here is to build a support network with which you can communicate and rely on in times of crisis. For many, this step can be the most intimidating but it is incredibly beneficial once completed. You should also come back to this step regularly throughout recovery to expand and strengthen your support network.

Positive Lifestyle Changes

Next, you want to take a look at your diet, exercise, and sleep habits and find ways to improve each. Depression leads many to overeat, undereat, or eat unhealthy foods. Make small changes to start and work toward an eventual goal of eating a healthy range of calories and mix of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutrients throughout the day. This will help your body to maintain stable blood sugar levels, in turn helping you to maintain more stable moods. You will also be giving your brain and body the nutrients they need to function properly, in turn giving yourself the strength to combat the mental and physical symptoms of depression.

Cutting down on caffeine, alcohol, and other mood altering substances, while difficult, will also help you maintain more stable moods long-term.


Depression sucks the motivation and energy out of nearly everyone who suffers from it. Ironically, one of the best ways to combat that lack of energy is to exercise. While exercising to build motivation and energy may sound counterintuitive, as well as extremely difficult, exercise is a natural mood, energy, and self-esteem booster, making it well worth the effort in the end. Studies have even shown exercise to be as, or possibly more, effective in treating depression as many antidepressant medications. Once again, start off small. If you are not exercising regularly, begin by taking walks through your neighborhood or local park. Work toward eventually creating a regular routine of exercise that you enjoy and gets you moving for a few hours each week.

Though often less discussed, managing rest is equally as important as managing diet and exercise. Take steps to regulate your sleep schedule. Both sleeping too little or too much can leave you feeling groggy and unable to work against the tide of depression. Setting a strict sleep schedule, reducing electronic use in the evening, designating your bedroom as a sleep-only space, and reducing caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening can all help you experience more restful and regular sleep.

Triggers and Influences

Next up, you want to begin monitoring your moods and discovering what causes a change in severity or frequency of symptoms. Diet, exercise, sleep, social interactions, medical issues, therapy, medications and supplements, stress, change in routine, and weight change are just a few of the infinite possible triggers. Maintaining a journal of daily or weekly summaries; diet, exercise, and sleep patterns; medications and supplements; and any stand out events is a good place to start. From there you can tweak what you track and how often you do so to find what works best for you. The goal here is simply to become more aware of your symptoms and what affects them. Once that is underway, you can begin to increase and decrease the triggers that help or hurt.

Mental and Physical Health Professionals

If you’ve already tried some or all of steps but your symptoms are lingering, or if you just simply cannot imagine finding the motivation to take any of these steps, it is time to speak to a professional healthcare provider. First off, speak with a doctor, such as your primary care physician, about your symptoms as well as the diet, exercise, and sleep changes you are looking to make. They can provide you with resources more specifically tailored to your individual needs, ensure the changes you’re making are beneficial, and give you an extra boost of support to make those changes. Next, speak with a social worker, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. They can help you understand the thoughts and feelings that come with depression and how to best manage those thoughts, feelings, and other symptoms. Consistent therapy will provide support, motivation, and tools allowing you to continue moving forward toward recovery.

Medication and Supplements

Another benefit to speaking with is physician or psychiatrist is the option to explore is medications or supplements. Both can give you the mental boost to begin the lifestyle changes necessary to ward off depression long-term. There are many different types of antidepressant medications, allowing you and your doctor to find one that works well for your specific symptoms. It is rare that the first medication you are prescribed will be your ideal fit so don’t be afraid to change your dose, brand, or class as needed. Keep in mind that antidepressants alone are rarely a complete solution. The best results usually stem from a combination of medication, therapy, and positive lifestyle changes.

An alternative option to medication is dietary supplements. St. John’s Wort and 5-Hydroxytryptophan (or 5-HTP) are two of the most common supplements used in treating depression. Though scientific studies have shown mixed results, many claim supplements are extremely effective in reducing their symptoms of depression. While many supplements are available over-the-counter, always consult with your doctor before starting or ending any supplement and never mix supplements and medications without an express recommendation from your doctor.

Personally speaking, prescription antidepressants (sertraline) never worked for me. They gave me unpleasant side-effects like drowsiness, slow reaction time and headaches during physical activities. What really changed my life for the better was L-Dopa and 5-HTP herbal supplements. These natural alternatives raise Dopamine and Serotonin levels faster than antidepressants with much less side effects. They cost less than prescription as well (think doctor’s appointment fees).

When I had depression (I’ve finally climbed out), I used to take the Mucuna L-Dopa (dopamine) in the morning for energy boost, motivation and concentration and take the 5-HTP (serotonin) an hour before bed time for a deeper rest. I’ve tried different brands as they are not created equal. Some were inferior to others. The most effective brands for me were Mucuna Pruriens L Dopa 20% – Keter Wellness and NatureWise 5-HTP Plus+ with Advanced Time Release. I feel like these guys use higher quality ingredients than their competitors.

For example, NOW brand L-Dopa and 5-HTP were least beneficial for me. When I took these supplements, it didn’t feel as clean and I was slightly uncomfortable in the mind. When I was on NOW 5-HTP at night, I would get cold sweats all night and more thirsty during sleep. NatureWise felt more clean didn’t give me these issues possibly because of its Time Release effect.

L-Dopa raised Dopamine in my brain which motivated me to exercise more often. (Dopamine motivates you to do things). I took it for a month and now I don’t have to take it anymore because exercise has become a habit for me. (exercise naturally raises Dopamine and Serotonin levels in your brain). I still take 5-HTP at night to get a nice sleep (I actually enjoy vivid dreams) and to curb my anxiety and tendency to worry excessively. These days I am more relaxed, optimistic and joyful.

I also started reading books. I enjoy reading self-help books. It broadens my horizon and helps me make more wise decisions. I am more optimistic toward life and humanity. I used to hate reading but now I love learning new insights. I feel like I get a Dopamine rush in my brain when I learn something useful while reading.

Depression Can Be Managed

Depression is an illness that requires attention and treatment regardless of severity. The illness can seriously impact the life of those suffering from it as well as the lives of those who love them. Luckily, with a little time and effort depression can be treated, no matter how severe. Take the steps you deserve and work toward a healthier, happier you. Reach out to those you trust and build a reliable network of support. Work toward a healthy diet, exercise routine, and sleep schedule. Monitor your symptoms and possible triggers to understand how your daily life affects your depression. Speak with a doctor about the methods to make those lifestyle changes, as well as antidepressant medications or supplements if desired. Find a mental health professional who can help you understand depression, its symptoms, and how you can manage them. Follow these steps and over time you will gain control of your depression and get back to the life you deserve.

Sometimes a picture is worth more than any words could express.

After being diagnosed with depression at age 16, photographer Christian Hopkins decided to process his experience from behind a lens. The result is a stunning photo series that captures the misunderstood nuances of mental illness. The images sum up what depression, which affects 350 million people worldwide, feels like in the daily experience of the artist.

depression 2

Hopkins, now 22, says photographing how he’s feeling is a cathartic way to manage his depressive thoughts.

“I have been using photography as a means of therapy to help deal with a lot of the emotions that I had trouble understanding at the time,” he told The Huffington Post. “Whenever I felt controlled by a particular emotion, I wouldn’t be able to think or concentrate properly until I took that emotion out of my head and trapped it in a photograph.”

depression 1

After shooting the photos, Hopkins discovered the images served as more than just an emotional outlet. They also doubled as an educational resource for those who may not understand what people with depression so often encounter.

“I hope they elucidate the more amorphous symptoms of depression, and by doing so, help people understand what others — possibly even people they know — are going through,” he said.

The photo series isn’t the first of its kind, but it’s a welcome contribution to a much-needed conversation about mental illness. Many who experience mental health disorders often feel stigmatized, which research shows prevents them from seeking the treatment they may need. Hopkins hopes turning the illness into something tangible that others can see is a good start in helping to reduce those judgments.

depression 3

Hopkins wants the photos to convey a sense of a community to anyone else who may be dealing with a mental health disorder. They’re not alone in their experience. And for those who may not know what depression feels like? Be kind anyway, he says.

“A lot of people don’t quite understand how little control people can have of their own thoughts and emotions when they suffer from a mental illness,” he said. “When dealing with someone with depression and anxiety it can require a considerable amount of patience, but these diseases can be dealt with, despite how helpless things may seem. Although it might not have an immediate or tangible effect, even the smallest gesture of support can make a huge difference.”


12 Surprising Causes Of Depression

Summer Weather
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is most commonly associated with winter blues, and it afflicts about 5 percent of Americans.

But for less than 1 percent of those people, this form of depression strikes in the summer. Warm weather depression arises when the body experiences a “delay adjusting to new seasons,” says Alfred Lewy, MD, professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland.

Smoking has long been linked with depression, though it’s a chicken-or-egg scenario: People who are depression-prone may be more likely to take up the habit.

However, nicotine is known to affect neurotransmitter activity in the brain, resulting in higher levels of dopamine and serotonin (which is also the mechanism of action for antidepressant drugs).

Thyroid Disease
When the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, it’s known as hypothyroidism, and depression is one of its symptoms.

This hormone is multifunctional, but one of its main tasks is to act as a neurotransmitter and regulate serotonin levels.

If you experience new depression symptoms –

Poor Sleep Habits
It’s no surprise that sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, but it could also increase the risk of depression.

A 2007 study found that when healthy participants were deprived of sleep, they had greater brain activity after viewing upsetting images than their well-rested counterparts, which is similar to the reaction that depressed patients have, noted one of the study authors.

“If you don’t sleep, you don’t have time to replenish [brain cells], the brain stops functioning well, and one of the many factors that could lead to is depression,” says Matthew Edlund, M.D., director of the Center for Circadian Medicine, in Sarasota, Fla., and author of “The Power of Rest.”

Facebook Overload
Spending too much time in chat rooms and on social-networking sites? A number of studies now suggest that this can be associated with depression, particularly in teens and preteens.

Internet addicts may struggle with real-life human interaction and a lack of companionship, and they may have an unrealistic view of the world. Some experts even call it “Facebook depression.”

End Of A TV Show Or Movie
When something important comes to an end, like a TV show, movie, or a big home renovation, it can trigger depression in some people.

In 2009, some “Avatar” fans reported feeling depressed and even suicidal because the movie’s fictional world wasn’t real. There was a similar reaction to the final installments of the Harry Potter movies.

Where You Live
You can endlessly debate whether city or country life is better. But research has found that people living in urban settings do have a 39 percent higher risk of mood disorders than those in rural regions.

A 2011 study in the journal Nature offers an explanation for this trend: City dwellers have more activity in the part of the brain that regulates stress. And higher levels of stress

Too Many Choices
The sheer number of options available — whether it’s face cream, breakfast cereal or appliances — can be overwhelming. That’s not a problem for shoppers who pick the first thing that meets their needs, according to some psychologists. However, some people respond to choice overload by maximizing, or exhaustively reviewing their options in the search for the very best item. Research suggests that this coping style is linked to perfectionism and depression.

Lack Of Fish In The Diet
Low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and vegetable oils, may be associated with a greater risk of depression.

A 2004 Finnish study found an association between eating less fish and depression in women, but not in men.

These fatty acids regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin, which could explain the link. Fish oil supplements may work too; at least one study

Poor Sibling Relationships
Although unhappy relationships with anyone can cause depression, a 2007 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that men who didn’t get along with their siblings before age 20 were more likely to be depressed later in life than those who did.

Although it’s not clear what’s so significant about sibling relationships (the same wasn’t true for relationships with parents), researchers suggest that they could help children develop the ability to relate with peers and socialize.

Birth Control Pills
Like any medication, the pill can have side effects. Oral contraceptives contain a synthetic version of progesterone, which studies suggest can lead to depression in some women.

“The reason is still unknown,” says Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, in New York.

Rx Medications
Depression is a side effect of many medications. For example, Accutane and its generic version (isotretinoin) are prescribed to clear up severe acne, but depression and suicidal thoughts are a potential risk for some people.

Depression is a possible side effect for anxiety and insomnia drugs, including Valium and Xanax; Lopressor, prescribed to treat high blood pressure; cholesterol-lowering drugs including Lipitor; and Premarin for menopausal symptoms.

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