Depressive disorders and anxiety don’t necessarily need a catalyst event. Some of us may be biologically hardwired for major depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other common mental illnesses, and it takes little or no triggering to set them off. If left untreated and over time, they can change the chemical and even physical structures of the brain in ways that mirror injury.
The good news is, if caught and addressed early, emotional wounds are highly treatable and full recovery is likely. But like with any injury or illness, the earlier intervention starts the better. Waiting and hoping things will simply get better on their own rarely works, and interrupting distorted thought patterns quickly can shorten treatment while maximizing its effectiveness.
TREATING DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
Depression is very common, with as many as one in four persons experiencing clinical depression at least once in their lifetime, and no one is immune. Given the stresses of work, family, home, and the world around us – especially with a constant news cycle providing a negativity loop – it only makes sense.
Anxiety disorders are even more common; it is estimated that about one in five persons in the U.S. experience diagnosable and clinically significant anxiety in any given year. Depression and anxiety are often co-occurring, hitting sufferers with a double whammy.
But both depression and anxiety are highly treatable. Medical research shows a 90% success rate for treating these common disorders when a licensed therapist and a psychiatrist, who can prescribe medication if needed, are working together. Once under their integrative care, people generally report feeling more like their old selves in just a few weeks. While the psychiatrist or a highly trained and experienced nurse practitioner manages medication therapies, the therapist focuses on talk therapy to help identify and challenge behavior and cognition patterns that lead to a greater vulnerability to depression, thought distortions, and impaired functioning.
THE PERILS OF WAITING TO SEEK HELP
Unfortunately, too many people wait to seek help, hoping their depression simply goes away, or that they can think themselves out of the anxiety swirling through their mind. The problem with this is that mild depression can worsen, and its mere existence can affect decision-making and the ability to cope with additional stressors. Anxiety is a monster that feeds on itself, growing and growing, until it overwhelms a person’s coping skills and disrupts normal functioning.
Additionally, waiting often leads to crisis, and by that time, a person’s ability to function is often notably diminished, it is harder for someone to make clear-minded decisions, and there are fewer viable treatment options. In these situations, an individual’s personal issues may become uncomfortably public and the likelihood of long-term consequences increases. Here, the resulting crisis is often a true medical emergency and needs to be treated as such.
With early intervention, the patient can be more involved with and better informed about treatment decisions. Disruptions to life and work are minimized or even eliminated, and there is greater control over how much information is shared and with whom. While waiting for a crisis may well put someone’s personal problems on wide display, early intervention better ensures that an individual’s privacy will be protected.
Generally, we in this area have ready access to several resources for finding help. Many of us have fairly generous health benefits, including mental health options, so looking on your health insurance provider list for a psychiatrist, nurse practitioner, or licensed counselor is a good first step. Asking your primary care physician for a referral may help you target professionals your doctor is comfortable with and who are worthy of recommendation. You can also talk to your pastor or business employee assistance program (EAP) if you have one.
Going straight to a professional in the field is the most direct path to help, and – this is very important – all are bound by strict legal and ethical confidentiality rules as determined by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws or, in some cases, even more protective state laws. Unless you are actively a danger to yourself or someone else, these professionals and their staff will not and cannot tell anyone you have come to them for help, advice, guidance, or treatment.
ELIMINATING SELF-IMPOSED ROADBLOCKS TO EARLY INTERVENTION
Understanding the reality and prevalence of highly treatable disorders, recognizing the symptoms in ourselves and others and a willingness to take early action to get back on track is great, but let’s be honest about the self-imposed roadblocks that endanger too many. While stigma has been lessened, it still exists, and the culture within many communities can limit the sense of safety when considering getting help.
To tear down these roadblocks, we must:
- Recognize the importance of relationships: Humans are designed to be in relationship with others and to draw emotional support from them. Without these connections, most of us drift, and when hard times visit, we find it difficult to summon the motivation needed to confront challenges. Strong relationships are grounding and boost our emotional wellness. Be a support to those with whom you work and welcome friendship from them. When hard times come, lend or accept strength.
- Change the culture that creates crisis: While everyone in a community or workplace has the power to help change a dysfunctional culture, leaders and supervisors carry a larger share of the burden. Is your workplace or other community supportive, focusing on workers and members strengths and their professional development, or punitive, seeing employees as latent liabilities to manage? Are owners, leaders, and supervisors advocates for those they lead, with the courage to stand up for their people when it is simply the right thing to do?
- Promote a “culture of acceptance”: Simply put, at all levels, strive to eliminate any lingering stigma surrounding mental health issues. This is where you “walk the walk” by changing the language we use when talking about persons with mental illness or who are clearly going through difficult times. Be vulnerable about your own struggles, or those of people you know, in order to normalize the experience for others. Share your own tips for self-care, offer genuine support to those who might be struggling, or be vulnerable about your own journey if you can relate. And if you’ve benefitted from treatment now or in the past, consider sharing your experience.
- Understand the dangers of isolation: For the anxious, isolation allows the mind to run wild down rabbit trails of worry. For the depressed, it can literally be deadly. It is often easier to pull back from people whose anxiety fills the space around them, or whose depression pushes them to pull away from their normal social circles, but your ability to stay present even when it feels awkward can be a lifeline to someone else. A moment of regular connection here and there with people who care may be what it takes for someone with anxiety or depression to keep fighting.