THE STIGMA OF DEPRESSION

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Depression can be like a stark, cold, winter.

If there was a sign up sheet for perfect health all of the time, I'm sure all of our names would be on it. Although no one wants to be ill, some afflictions are more socially acceptable than others. Depression can be the uninvited party crasher that humiliates the host by taking over the party, turning it into a surprise funeral. Suddenly the cake is replaced by a casket. The guests are confused and don't understand why the host doesn't take control of the situation and bring back the cake. They have no understanding of how powerful this party crasher is.

While external events such as loss, trauma or other life changes can trigger depression, it can also arise for no discernible reason. Often there is a family history of depression or some other type of mood disorder. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting approximately 121 million people. Symptoms of depression include inability to concentrate or make decisions, irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue, changes in weight and eating habits, feelings of hopelessness, withdrawal from pleasurable or necessary activities and thoughts of suicide.

In addition to the challenge of functioning under these circumstances, those who suffer from depression often feel tremendous shame, self hatred and self blame over their inability to function as they did before the onset of their depression. It is difficult to fathom the powerful effects of an imbalance in the brain's chemistry. While the diabetic is generally encouraged to seek appropriate care to regulate their body chemistry, those who suffer with depression are often expected to pull themselves out of it as though discipline and will could instantly shift the imbalances in the brain.

The medical model treats depression with antidepressants and psychotherapy. Medication addresses the brain chemistry. Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy provides a structure, based on measurable goals, to slowly shift behavior to a more functional level. There are, of course, a variety of integrative approaches such as herbs, acupuncture, aromatherapy, energy work and other therapies that can provide relief. No single approach works equally well for everyone and it is important to find what is most effective for the individual.

From a holistic perspective, depression can be the soul's demand for spiritual growth. People who suffer depression are forced to stop participating in the external activities that comprise their life. It is important to take this time to look at what is out of balance. Have they been ignoring a deeper part of themselves that is demanding expression? Are they overly responsible in their commitments to others?

The energy field of those suffering depression is often collapsed and there is a lack of grounding. This may be why physical exercise has proven to be one of the most effective responses to depression. Exercise fosters grounding and when we are grounded our field can expand in a healthy way.

Depression can be like a stark, cold, winter. In northern climates winter forces a retreat. External activity ceases so that new growth or life can be nurtured. Like winter, depression is a stern master that forces us out of the sunshine into the depths of the self. Like winter, we control neither its arrival nor its departure. We must yield, not by giving up on life but by reviewing its meaning and reaching for new ways to restore balance.

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By Barbara Saber Willis, M.A.

Barbara Saber Willis works with individuals to support growth and healing through holistic counseling. Her education includes Certification in Brennan Healing Science and a M.A. in counseling. She had a healing practice for over 10 years and is a registered mental health counselor intern. Call her at 813 924-5771.

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