An estimated 1 in 10 adults in the United States suffers from depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s around the same percentage of American adults who are left-handed, and yet while handedness is seen today as a quirky curiosity or occasional advantage, there is still stigma and silence surrounding depression as an illness. So let’s talk: what is depression? Why is it problematic? What can help?
What is depression?
Let’s start with what depression isn’t: a bad day, a brief period of mourning after a loss, or a pessimistic outlook on life. Depression is a period of more than two weeks of a bad mood, decreased interest in things that one normally finds enjoyable, and may also include fatigue, changes in weight, difficulty concentrating, inappropriate guilt, and suicidal thoughts. While two weeks is the minimum length for defining depression, it may continue for months or years.
Are there different kinds of depression?
Yes. Major depression is an episode of depression two weeks or longer that messes with your ability to function throughout the day. People can have multiple episodes of major depression throughout their lives. Postpartum depression is a depressive episode that occurs after a woman has given birth. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression during the winter months, when there is less sunlight. Manic Depression, or bipolar disorder, involves cycles of depressive lows and manic highs. There are also mild forms of depression that do not meet all the requirements of major depression.
What are the consequences of depression?
Aside from feeling miserable on an emotional level (bad enough on its own), depression can also have other serious effects on a person’s health. People who suffer from depression are more likely to engage in harmful habits such as smoking and excessive drinking. They are less likely to get sufficient exercise, and more likely to stop the physical activities they used to participate in. Depression can disturb sleep schedules and negatively affect one’s professional and personal relationships, resulting in more stress, which leads to its own host of health issues. It’s a vicious cycle.
Mental illness has always been something of a taboo subject. Those with severe problems are seen as crazy and unstable, while those with more mild issues can be accused of making it up for attention, or using the term as an excuse for ordinary laziness.
Is there anything that helps with depression?
Absolutely, and the first step is diagnosis. (Sorry, looking up your symptoms on Google doesn’t count.) A physician is best to prescribe different options like therapy, medication, and other treatments and lifestyle changes.
Oh, and you might also want to get a massage.
Massage for depression? Really?
Absolutely. Massage has been found to reduce depression and improve mood in people of all stripes, from children with HIV, to adolescents with psychiatric disorders, to hospice patients. In my clinical massage class at BCMT, one of my classmates did a case study working with someone who was depressed and had been unaffected by medication and other treatments. She showed significant improvement with energy healing. A guest speaker in another BCMT class who suffered from anxiety benefited tremendously from receiving weekly massage - improving her mood overall and reducing the tension built up in her body from all that anxiety, which in turn made her feel more confident. Nurturing touch has a positive effect on mood, whether it’s from a loved one, a massage therapist, or a favorite pet.
Of course, if you’re a regular recipient of massage, you can judge for yourself: is your mood improved after a massage? And if you haven’t received a massage lately (or ever!), this is a great opportunity. Do it for science! Or, do it for yourself. Because everyone deserves to feel better.
Intuitive massage therapist, energy healer and somatic coach in Boulder, Colorado, bringing you insight and inspiration on healing and conscious living.