To Your Health: Depression common among adults, but treatment available

First published in Landings, September, 2017

Fishing — and lobstering in particular — is physically demanding. To lobster means an early start to the workday, exposure to variables related to the weather and the ocean, long hours standing plus hauling, lifting, and repetitive finemotor actions such as baiting and banding. These activities common to fishing can contribute to tiredness and lack of energy.

Ann Backus is an instructor in Occupational Safety and Director of Outreach at the Harvard School of Public Health

But if you’re feeling persistently tired, down, or angry, have difficulty concentrating, or don’t find enjoyment in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy, you may be experiencing symptoms of depression.

Everyone feels sad, anxious or down from time to time and this is normal. However, if these feelings don’t let up for several weeks and start to interfere with your ability to enjoy what’s important to you, it could be a sign of something more serious.

Depression is a real medical illness that afflicts many people. It affects both men and women, although they may experience it in different ways. Women, for example, tend more often than men to identify deep feelings of sadness, while some men who suffer from depression may not think they feel sad. Instead, many men who are depressed have symptoms of constant fatigue, being unusually irritable or feeling a lack of motivation to do anything. Men and women can experience depression in all of these ways, however, regardless of gender. Other symptoms can include sleep problems, headaches, feeling “empty,” changes in appetite, and thoughts of hopelessness or even of suicide.

Many different factors can lead to depression. For certain individuals, there may be a genetic predisposition, as people with a family history of depression can be more likely to experience it themselves. Those with chronic illnesses like diabetes can also have an increased risk of depression. For some, a variant of depression, called seasonal affective disorder, may be triggered by changes in the season, usually occurring in the fall and winter months. These factors, combined with stressful events or situations, may trigger an episode of clinical depression.

Studies have shown that men are less likely than women to be recognized as suffering from depression. They are also less likely to seek help. Left untreated, depression can be debilitating and even career-ending. However, the good news is that once identified, there are effective options for treating and overcoming depression in both men and women.

The January 2017 bulletin HealthConnect, published by the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, carried a short and helpful article called “Food and Your Mood.” The article pointed out that mood and food are closely related. What we eat influences the ability of our bodies to manufacture neurotransmitters that influence mood.

Late summer and fall is the perfect time to take advantage of the densely nutritious foods the article recommends, namely fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and 100% whole grains. Right now it is easy to eat fresh foods and to avoid processed foods. In fact, cutting back on processed food all year-round is a good first step to reducing the risk of depression.

Successful treatment of persistent depression starts with finding the right healthcare professional. Your local healthcare provider or community health clinic likely will be able to offer counseling, behavioral therapy, and antidepressant medication if necessary. A healthcare provider can work with you to customize a treatment plan to fit your needs and preferences and help you get out of the depression rut.

If you or someone you know is experiencing the symptoms of depression, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. With the right treatment, episodes of depression can be overcome, getting you back to active, productive, and healthy living