October is National Depression Education and Awareness Month, which means it is an ideal time to have deeper conversations about depression. The reality is that this mental health condition affects a significant portion of people in the United States. According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), within a given year, around 17.3 million adults, which corresponds to 7.1% of the adult population, experience at least one major depressive episode. Despite the high prevalence of depression, people may feel alone in their struggle with this mental health condition, simply because it is not talked about enough.
Depression Treatment Rates
One indication that the topic of depression may not be thoroughly addressed is that a high prevalence of individuals with depression do not seek treatment. According to the NIMH, 35% of people who experience major depression within a given year do not seek any treatment. In addition, 6% of people with depression use medication alone to treat the condition, whereas 15% talk with a health professional about their condition. An additional 44% receive both medication treatment and treatment from a health professional.
The fact that one-third of individuals with major depression go without treatment is concerning, and beyond financial limitations like the costs of treatment or lack of health insurance benefits, stigma can be a barrier to getting adequate treatment. More simply, people may be deterred from seeking help because they are ashamed and fearful that they will be judged negatively for opening up about depression. One recent study found that self-stigma was common among individuals with depression, and this was especially true for women and for those with more severe symptoms.
Depression as the Elephant in the Living Room
Unfortunately, some of the stigmas that people have surrounding depression can be because family and loved ones simply do not talk about it. In some families, people may act as if mental health conditions are a non-issue since they are not noticeable in the same way that a physical limitation like a heart condition or an injury may be. In addition, depression may also become like the elephant in the living room. Family members may be unaware of how to address the issue, so they ignore it in hopes that it will eventually just go away. In reality, this is rarely the case- research suggests that the recurrence of depressive episodes is high, so pretending the condition does not exist is unlikely to resolve it.
So, What does work?
Failing to talk about depression is unlikely to help someone with the condition to feel better. In fact, they may feel ostracized, as if family members view them as an outcast because of their mental health status. Over time, this can lead an individual with depression to isolate themselves from others and hold their feelings inside, which only makes the issue worse. Instead of avoiding talk of depression, it’s helpful to have open conversations about the issue.
Here’s what else you can do to help:
- Offer emotional support: Individuals with depression report that emotional support is helpful, so don’t be afraid to talk about the issue. If you’re worried about offending your loved one, chances are they will be more offended if you don’t address the issue of depression, than if you speak up about it. You can start small by asking if there is anything you can do to help, or simply letting them know you are there to listen if they’d like to talk.
- Learn more about depression. It is not uncommon for people to have misconceptions about mental health conditions like depression, such as believing that it is simply an emotional weakness or that someone can “snap out of it.” Instead of accepting these distorted views of depression, learn more about this mental illness, so you can understand how it works, what its symptoms are, and how you can best support your loved one. Research with individuals with depression shows that they find it to be unhelpful when family members have a lack of knowledge, so learning a little more can really go a long way.
- Help your teen understand it’s okay to talk about emotions. Children and teens often have the insight to understand that mental health can seem to be a taboo topic. If your child or teen is struggling, let them know that it’s okay to open up about their feelings. Start conversations with your child and ask them about things going on in their life while also inviting them to let you know about anything that is bothering them. Your teen may be uncomfortable discussing mental health issues, and if this is the case, it can be beneficial to help them understand that sometimes, people struggle with a condition like depression, which is just as much of a health problem as something like diabetes.
- Encourage treatment. Your loved one may be hesitant to reach out for help, especially if the topic of depression has been avoided. They may feel ashamed to admit that there is a problem if they feel that talking about depression is frowned upon. Reassuring your loved one that treatment can help may make them more likely to accept professional intervention, and discussing treatment options can be a way to open up the conversation.
Seeking Treatment for Depression
The typical course of treatment for depression is antidepressant medications, therapy, or a combination of the two. In many cases, this method of treatment is effective. In some cases, however, a person with depression may not see enough improvement in depression symptoms with medication and/or therapy.
For those who do not respond to the usual treatment for depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can be beneficial. This is a non-invasive form of treatment, in which electromagnetic coils are placed over the head to stimulate areas of the brain that control mood. In the Los Angeles area, Pulse TMS provides this treatment in convenient 18-minute appointments. Contact us today if you think you or a loved one would benefit from TMS.