by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 20 February 2017
In the Pacific Northwest, February often feels like the longest month of all. It may be truncated in number of days, but with the continuation of grey skies and cold winds, and yet another month spent inside, our wet winters feel endless by now. When the Groundhog sees his shadow, and predicts more of the same, many of us may feel a need to wail into the darkness.
For some, however, that the darkness may not lift in a month or two, and spring only brings sunshine to others.
Depression knows no season, but winter can make the sadness and despair more noticeable for its sufferers – and for those who love them. You may have a loved one that holed up over the holidays, and their darkness grows only more pronounced.
Depression, Or Reflection?
“If you are depressed – feeling hopeless, can’t sleep, have troubles with your eating – and it has been occurring for weeks, up to a month, there is something that needs to be addressed,” observed Bonnie Shultz, a Clinical Social Work Practitioner and Mental Health Therapist, with Group Health. Of course, she also noted, “if you are having a period of reflection, that is fine.”
Some people may have taken time this winter to sit back and be quiet. That’s not a problem, and may be a good, healthy response to our evermore hectic culture. “We don’t allow ourselves to slow down,” Shultz observed. Our ancestors, “were a rural people,” she explained, and they experienced slow periods in the planting cycle. Humans used to have times when we hunkered down and rested, because we had nothing more to do. We sowed the fields, planted seeds and we waited for harvest, year after year.
Shultz explained that we still have that basic need for time to relax, when we can be still and reflect. “We do have a sense of rhythm to our life,” she said, “and it can be helpful.” And if you find yourself slowing down and taking stock, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are depressed.
When It’s ‘Not Okay’
According to Shultz, some symptoms of depression may be an inability to motivate, and/or a withdrawing from people and activities that were, even very recently, enjoyable. “There is a sadness on the inside,” she explained, “it may feel like a heavy burden.”
Other symptoms can be:
- feeling hopeless
- inability to sleep/sleeping too much
- lack of energy
- loss of appetite/eating too much
“If we really listen to our bodies, and our thoughts,” Shultz observed, depression generally makes us feel “not okay.” Shultz advised listening to our thoughts, and to be as objective as possible. Depression brings with it a relentless stream of criticism that can be hard to turn off or argue with. “It’s like having a really bad roommate in your head,” she explained.
A person depressed, Shultz observed, “they have been exhausted by it. There is a mixture of despair with it.” The world can look like a big black hole, with no way out and no relief.
Unfortunately, for the depressed person, this view, “is who they are,” Shultz observed, it is very real to them. “Yet overarching is that cultural message that if you are this way, you are deficient,” she acknowledged. “I think that’s a very painful message.”
The best thing Shultz advised for those who have a loved one suffering this way is, “giving someone depressed a safe place where they can talk about their feelings, and their view of their world, without a need to ‘cheer up’ or ‘snap out of it’. That can give more relief than most of us understand.”
Listen, With Gentleness
For those who know someone who seems depressed, Shultz recommends listening. “When I see people with depression,” she said, “more than anything, it’s about listening.” When she gives talks and presentations about depression, “one of my main talking points that I strongly adhere to is that you listen. You don’t talk. They need short periods to be listened to. It’s very underrated.”
“The first thing is to be seen,” Shultz said, “we don’t see and hear each other. Sometimes that’s why we get depressed.” She also advised that, if you think someone around you is depressed, use gentleness. “You listen,” she said, “with gentleness. Gentleness is something we don’t do very well,” she acknowledged. These days, we can be so active and busy, and often what we, and those around us, need most is time to sit and be there with each other.
Shultz worked with a parent suffering the loss of an adult child, and “the person just wanted to cry.” By bearing witness and sitting with the parent, she said, “they were able to catch up with the world.” She’s also sat with an overweight person, angry and depressed with health care professionals saying, ‘get out and exercise.’ “They need hope,” Shultz said.
Shultz also advised that, before intervening, it helps to explore our own intentions. If we want to fix the problem, Shultz advised, “historically, that has not been a successful plan.” If we don’t want to hear what is said, we need to own that. If we cannot give time to listening, maybe we look for someone who can.
‘Depression Is Treatable’
It’s worth exploring whether or not it is actually depression. What may look like depression from the outside, may not be. Shultz observed that, “we think negatively to survive.” Not all negative thinking is necessarily bad. Negative thinking can stimulate the amygdala, and stir our primal response – to fight, freeze, flee or submit. “Looking at negativity as a survival system,” Shultz explained, “It activates us.”
“If every day, on the way to work, I spill coffee on myself,” she said, the healthy response is to react and respond. Reflection and assessing, maybe we find a way to not spill, we may choose to stop carrying coffee, or it may be worth the risk for our morning joe.
With depression, criticism will come, placing judgements, without necessarily contributing a response or reaction. A lack of ambition, hopelessness and irritability without action, can all be symptoms of depression.
Most important to remember, whether you are depressed or you have someone in your life who is depressed, “Depression is treatable,” Shultz said, “It is not a statement about your character.”
Talk To Your Doctor, If You Need Help
Shultz also acknowledged that some people think that depression automatically means we need an anti-depressant. “Sometimes you may need medication,” she observed, “but there are other things to do besides taking an anti-depressant.” The Group Health website advises talking to your doctor, or contacting the Behavioral Health Services, to find assistance.
Shultz, who provides services at Bremerton Behavioral Health, sees a correlation between mindfulness and mental health, and the need for reflection and thought. “If we reflected on our thoughts,” she advised, “we might not put that on Facebook…”
In Bremerton, Shultz leads a Mindfulness Group, where over eight weeks members talk, share and learn together. Most of all, “we learn how to be gentle with ourselves,” she said. Group Health Customer Service can give information on joining the Mindfulness Group at 1-888-901-4636.
To find out more about services in our area, consider contacting the Group Health Center in Downtown Seattle or at Northgate, or visiting one of the neighborhood CareClinics, in Ballard (inside Bartell Drugs at 1500 NW Market,) or in Greenwood (inside Bartell Drugs at 100 N 85th St.
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©2017 Kirby Laney. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.