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    Meyer: Depression on the rise but help is available

    By Melissa Meyer, MS, LPCC-S
    Marion Star — Guest columnist

    What do a Gold Medal swimmer, our 16th president, The Boss Bruce Springsteen and the creator of Harry Potter all share in common? They number among the more than 300 million people worldwide who experience depression.

    As ubiquitous at it is, the disease’s dark reach may be extending. A new study published in the medical journal, The Lancet, estimates that the isolation, fear and other consequences of COVID-19 spurred a 28% rise in cases of depression.

    It’s local, too. Data gathered by U.S. News & World Report finds that nearly 17% of Marion County residents live with “frequent mental distress,” a full 1.5% higher than other Ohioans and nearly 2% higher than other people in the U.S. as a whole.

    Just like other chronic, serious illnesses, depression dictates daily life. It can upend relationships, make even simple tasks difficult, increase the odds of becoming addicted or suicidal and even contribute to the onset of other health concerns like heart disease, stroke, diabetes or Alzheimer’s.

    This health disorder is too often inappropriately associated with shame or weakness. It has nothing to do with either one. As my colleague, Robert Behrens, psychiatric nurse at Maryhaven Marion, explained during a recent interview with radio station WZMO, “Depression is not a weakness of character but an actual disease like high blood pressure. You can’t lower your blood pressure just by thinking it should drop, and you can’t will yourself out of depression. Medications and proven clinical treatment methods can and do work to improve your quality of life.”

    In fact, anti-depressant medications, combined with treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can move someone from an “acute” or active phase of depression into “maintenance,” where you need to be vigilant to prevent relapse but otherwise return to normal, daily routines.

    CBT successfully treats a variety of issues, including anxiety, marital problems and eating disorders.

    It builds upon the premise that wrong thinking and actions inhibit and diminish positive mental health, and that the path forward starts by helping people identify and redirect faulty or detrimental beliefs and attitudes. Patients essentially learn what misdirected ideas lead them astray and how best to change those thoughts for the good.

    Think of it like a GPS system gone wrong. If your brain keeps telling you to turn left and a cliff lies on that side of the road, it’s time to reset the GPS.

    However, different types of depression exist so it’s important to consult a trained clinician who can accurately diagnose the disorder. Neuroscientists attribute this challenge, at least in part, to the reality that depression involves different areas in the brain. Our fight or flight center, the amygdala, may sense the onset of symptoms, but a thought center located mid-brain may be what requires treatment to alleviate those symptoms. 

    All of us feel “low” at times. We may be overwhelmed with grief over the death of a loved one, the break-up of a relationship or the loss of a job. These emotions typically represent normal responses to life events and can temporarily trap us in the dark.

    It’s when our despair persists for long periods, when we begin neglecting ourselves and basic hygiene like brushing our teeth, when we begin thinking life isn’t worth living — these symptoms indicate we could be facing the onset of a depressive disorder. If you are constantly tired, not interested in what were favorite hobbies or relationships, wrestle with guilt and feel defeated for months at a time, it may be time to consult with a clinician.

    And, don’t wait to seek help. Robert reminds that it is easier to seek treatment than live with the disorder unchecked. Consider all the energy you expend just trying to power through a day that doesn’t feel like it’s worth getting out of bed for. That same energy and dedication redirected through treatment can help you enjoy life again.

    J.K. Rowling, the author who has experienced depression and who created Harry Potter writes, “Sad hurts but it is a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.” As she and so many others can tell you — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Michael Phelps, Kristen Bell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Sheryl Crow, Terry Bradshaw, Buzz Aldrin, Jim Carrey and Winston Churchill to name a few — you can treat this illness and find joy again. 

    If you or a loved one needs to talk to someone about depression symptoms, call Maryhaven in Marion at 740-375-5550.

    Melissa Meyer, MS, LPCC-S, is director of Regional Services for Maryhaven, Central Ohio’s largest and most comprehensive behavioral health services provider.

    Read in the Marion Star