Expert Tips on Managing Depression

A local professional in the mental health space shares coping mechanisms and advice for depression during Mental Health Awareness Month.
Young Worried Woman Looking Out Of The Window

 

If you’re not feeling well you might go to the doctor, but if you’re feeling down, you might be more hesitant to seek mental health services. And that’s one thing experts are trying to change during the month of May especially, which is recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month. The movement brings awareness to mental illness by showing how common it is across the world and by trying to banish the stigma associated with common mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and more.

And to shed more light on depression specifically, BERGEN chatted with Lara Zucker, program coordinator of Bergen County’s Intensive Family Support Services (IFSS) and president of NAMI Greater Bergen in Hackensack, to answer our burning questions on this topic.

Keep scrolling to find out what categorizes depression as situational or more long-term, ways to cope and stay connected during COVID and how to get yourself or a loved one help right now.

Q. What are some signs to look for when it comes to depression?

Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood; feelings of hopelessness or pessimism; feelings of irritability, frustration or restlessness; loss of interest or loss of pleasure in hobbies or activities; decreased energy; fatigue; difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions; intrusive thoughts or irrational fears; sleep disturbances; changes in appetite and weight; aches and pains; thoughts of self-harm.

Q. How can someone help a family member who they suspect may be suffering?

Try to have an open conversation with that person without being critical or judgmental in any way. It would be helpful to have a short list of resources ready for the person in the event that he/she is willing and ready to accept help. If the person isn’t ready yet, be prepared to approach the topic again or have another trusted person approach the topic in the near future. Don’t just let it go.

Q. What are some of those resources on a local level?

The Intensive Family Support Services (IFSS), like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), can provide support and assistance to families who have adult relatives with mental illness. There are still many Bergen County residents who don’t know of the program’s existence despite the fact that it’s been helping families in our county since 1999! The IFSS is based at CBHCare in Hackensack and can be reached at 201.646.0333.

Q. Depression is more common than we might think. What are the general statistics for depression?

Major Depressive Disorder, also known as clinical depression, affects about 17.3 million American adults, or about 7.1 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s more prevalent in women than in men. And adults with depressive disorder have a greater risk of developing coronary artery disease.

Q. Some people (men especially) may be hesitant to get help due to the stigma associated with mental illness—what do you say to those people/how can we banish the stigma?

The way to banish stigma is through education. Communities have become “stigma free;” posting signs to show people that stigma won’t be tolerated and it’s safe to ask for help. But we have a long way to go to banish stigma entirely. We need to be careful to not use derogatory terms such as “crazy” and “psycho.” Stigma is most certainly spread by mass media, which does a great disservice to people who live with mental health conditions every day.

Q. How does one know if their depression is situational due to COVID or something more?

This depends on whether or not the depressive feeling was brought on by something specific, such as with the pandemic, a divorce, a job loss, a death of a close friend, etc. Most people who experience situational depression begin to have symptoms within 90 days of the triggering event. Therapy and/or medications could be recommended for this type of depression.

On the other hand, Major Depressive Disorder can last for a long time and may require more long-term management and an in-depth treatment plan.  A doctor may very well recommend a combination of therapy and medication. Outpatient programs and sometimes even hospitalizations are necessary to stabilize the depression.

Q. When do you recommend someone seek out a mental health professional?

It’s recommended to see a professional when someone is finding that his/her symptoms are interfering with daily functioning and affecting their quality of life.

Q. What can we all do to make ourselves feel better emotionally?

Practice wellness, which includes getting outdoors, eating well, getting enough sleep, doing things that we enjoy, moving our bodies and staying connected with others. It’s all very easy to do, but we often neglect to do much of it.

Q. So how can we stay connected and cope with our emotions?

Find support online! If you’re looking for any kind of mental health support for yourself or a loved one in Bergen County, go to naminj.org.

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