Nearly 7 percent of all U.S. adults suffer from depression, making it one of the most common mental health disorders.October is National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. As the days begin to shorten and activities move indoors, Neuropsychologist Derek Phillips, PsyD, MSCP, offers some advice on how to improve your own mental health and spot depression symptoms in the people in your life.
Identifying someone with depression
People with depression often experience persistent sadness and feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. These individuals lose pleasure in their favorite hobbies and become easily irritable. Eating too much or not enough, and sleeping too much or not enough can be signs that someone is depressed. Some people have concentration and memory problems as well. “A lot of young people will come to see me saying they have early on-set dementia because they can’t remember simple details. Depression and anxiety can cause these memory issues, and the good news is it’s reversible because they are relatively easy disorders to treat,” Phillips explained.
Depression does not only affect a person mentally – many people suffer from “unexplained” stomach pains and other aches that are often difficult to pinpoint by physicians.“There’s a big physical component to depression. In our brain, there are tons of receptors for serotonin, the chemical that depression medications increase. The place in the body with the second highest amount of serotonin is the gut,” Phillips said. Neuropsychologists and others are still researching the gut-to-mind connection to improve mental health science in the future. Phillips said that people who exhibit a cluster of these symptoms or start being specific about how they would potentially end their lives are experiencing a crisis and potentially need a formal evaluation.
Combating seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Neuropsychologists and other mental health professionals debate whether SAD is a separate disorder from depression. Some experts think individuals with SAD have depression that’s milder during certain times of the year. “The first step I suggest if someone is showing depression or SAD symptoms is that they see their primary doctor. It could be that they have a vitamin D deficiency or other medical problem. But if their tests come back fine, then it’s probably time to refer them to a mental health professional,” Phillips stated.
Steps to improve your mental health
Counseling is the best first step if your depression is mild. Thankfully, the pandemic has increased remote therapy access. In July 2021, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill requiring health insurance agencies to cover virtual mental health and substance abuse disorder services indefinitely and with parity to in-person services. “I definitely recommend teletherapy. It’s been a godsend during the pandemic,” Phillips insisted. Depressed people also tend to isolate themselves due to low self-esteem, motivation, and excitement. Surrounding yourself with supportive people can combat depressive symptoms. A healthy diet full of protein, exercise, and quality sleep lead to more resilient brains, too. “I would say that exercise is the best medicine we have. The problem is, it’s going to be very hard for a depressed person to have the motivation to exercise. It can prevent someone from doing the things that will make them feel better,” Phillips said.
SBL offers a wide range of mental health services including physical and neurological exams, pain management, and a wide range of mental health disorder treatments, as well as counseling for employees. For more information about the SBL Neurology Clinic, please call 217 258-4096.