While sadness is a normal emotion that we all experience, understanding the difference between sadness and depression can make a difference in what we can do to start feeling better. Dr. Jennifer Braden from Valley Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Integration Program answers the following questions to give us some tips on how to recognize depression and what we can do to help.
1. What is depression and how is it different than being sad or having the blues?
Sadness is a normal emotion in response to loss or other difficult circumstances. Depression becomes a clinical concern when symptoms become more debilitating than normal levels of sadness. Losing interest in things that normally interest you, trouble sleeping, anxiety, concentrating or making decisions, change in appetite or thoughts of self-harm.
2. What causes it?
It’s a disruption in brain pathways that affect our emotions. Causes can be multifactored, including stressful circumstances as a trigger for a depressive episode. Can be current or past stressors, and childhood trauma can increase likelihood of developing depression. Some people don’t have any triggers, but a genetic predisposition makes them more likely to develop depression. Acute or chronic medical illness can contribute, sometimes due to stress but sometimes due to the nature of the illness. Some people are prone to seasonal depression, and alcohol or drug abuse can elevate risk of depression.
3. How has the pandemic affected depression in some people?
Overall symptoms of depression and anxiety are increased during the pandemic. This is not surprising, and some may require medical help. Concerningly, suicide and suicide attempts are on the rise. Especially youth and young adults, people of color, and those with lower income are suffering more of these statistics. These feelings may be caused by uncertainty, but also an inability to access coping mechanisms, concern about job loss or changes in learning environments. COVID-recovered patients also may be at higher risk for developing depression.
4. Where should someone turn first for getting help?
Turn to help if you have safety concerns or if a person develops suicidal thoughts. First ask your primary care provider for help, who can assess your symptoms and either prescribe medication or refer to see a counselor or a psychiatrist. There are also resources online including psychologytoday.com or accessing your insurance preferred provider list. Washington mental health referral service through Seattle Children’s is also available to help.
5. What is the difference between a psychiatrist and counselor, and what types of treatment do they offer?
Psychiatrists are doctors who complete medical school and a residency training in psychiatry and mental health. They are knowledgeable on a range of mental health conditions and treatments, some may do counseling as well, and may prescribe medication. Psychiatric nurse practitioners have gone through nursing school training and graduate level work on medical health and can also prescribe medication. Counselors, psychotherapists and psychologists have all had graduate level training in various types of psychotherapy. Your primary care provider can help you decide which care is right for you. A combination of medication and counseling is often recommended.
6. If a loved one is having symptoms of depression, what are some dos and don’ts in supporting them?
Listen without judgement, offer encouragement and empathy. Don’t minimize their feelings or offer simple solutions. Encourage professional help and support them in doing things that may increase mental wellness like holding a dependable schedule or engaging in healthy lifestyle habits and hobbies.
7. If someone is having thoughts of suicide, what guidance do you have for them or if they are concerned about a loved one?
Call 911 for an evaluation for admission to the hospital if necessary or call a crisis line through King County or the national suicide prevention hotline. These are available 24/7. For younger people, you can use TeenLink which is staffed by professionally trained teens who are trained to talk with peers of the same age to work through stressors and help provide access to care.
Crisis Line/Crisis Connections: 866.427.4747
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Finding a Provider: Psychology Today
Psychiatry and Counseling Clinic at Valley Medical Center
Fact sheets about depressive symptoms and treatments
Fact sheet talks about how to support a loved one with depression and also lists warning signs for suicide.
The American Foundation for Suicide
For Teens and Youth
Teen Link: Call or text 866-833-6546.
WA Mental Health referral service