Depression affects millions of Americans each year, significantly decreasing their quality of life while placing them at heightened risk of suicidal thoughts. The tough thing about depression is that the disease is wildly indiscriminate, affecting patients of every age, gender, and ethnicity. For patients that struggle with depression, the disease can have devastating impacts both mentally, physically, and emotionally. Clinical depression can affect every aspect of a patient’s life from the way they eat to their sleeping habits, their ability to perform work responsibilities or function in society, and more importantly how they feel about themselves and those around them.

The recent pandemic has taken a huge toll on the mental health of patients worldwide, particularly here in the US. All across the country we’re seeing spikes in the rates of depression, post-traumatic stress, and substance abuse – and it’s really no surprise. People are dealing with job losses, financial crisis, and levels of stress and anxiety that they’ve likely never experienced before, all during a time of self-quarantine and social isolation. They feel more stressed than ever, less connected than ever, and it’s taking a tangible toll on their mental health.

This is a time of uncertainty and extreme stress, and whether you’ve been struggling with depression since long before COVID-19 or are experiencing depression as a result of the pandmeic, here are some ways to help manage your symptoms during this difficult time. 

Make your mental health a priority. 

One of the first steps towards managing your depression is accepting its existence and choosing to make mental health your top priority. This can be tough, especially since depression decreases motivation, energy, and drive, but when a person decides to manage their depression rather than succumbing to it, there are both immediate and long-term gains. Sit back and take a look at yourself, your life, and your depression – understand how things affect you, what situations may overwhelm you or exacerbate your depression, and take steps to improve your life and do what’s best for you based on that information. That may mean saying no to a big social gathering, ending a toxic relationship, or scheduling a meditation break into your busy workday so you have time to calm your mind and re-center. Whatever it is, the important thing is to take that step towards putting yourself and your mental health first, even when it’s difficult. 

Take care of your body.

There’s a huge mind-body connection, and whenever one area is off the other tends to follow. While it’s incredibly important to take steps to improve your emotional health, it’s equally important to keep your body strong and healthy while you’re battling depression. Make sure that you’re doing your best to eat healthy, well-balanced meals. You may be tempted to binge eat or feel no desire to consume food at all, but it’s crucial that you fuel your body so it has the strength to fight. Eating a well balanced diet, full of fruits and vegetables, floods your body with antioxidants that then decrease the internal inflammation contributing to and/or caused by depression. 

Try to also exercise regularly, make time for meditation, and get plenty of sleep each night. We know it may be difficult to do these things when your energy levels are feeling depleted, but forcing yourself to practice healthy habits can go a long way towards restoring your energy and helping you overcome your depression. Sleep is especially important in regulating mood.  Resources for good sleep hygiene and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for sleep can be found with a simple online search. Sitting still for even just 5 minutes a day, focusing on only the in-and-out breath, is a great way to start the practice of meditation. Lastly, even mild exercise like walking, will increase the release of endorphins. Taking small steps can make a huge difference.

Schedule time to connect with others, even when it’s hard. 

Depression has a way of causing people to isolate, both from themselves and from others. Human beings are inherently social creatures, and although your depression may be telling you a different story, the reality is that most people need and thrive off of interpersonal connections. Having a solid social support system in place is so important, especially for patients who struggle with depression, and even though it can be difficult it’s incredibly important to maintain that support system. 

When you’re feeling low your automatic instinct may be to detach from your loved ones and isolate. Don’t. Instead, make sure that you’re scheduling some “people time” into your week even when you’re not feeling social, whether that’s through a Zoom call, an old-school phone call, or face-to-face. The battle against depression is one best fought with friends – you can do it alone, but a support system can make all the difference. 

Make sure your medication works for you.

The reality is that many patients, especially those with moderate to severe depression, will require medication to help treat their depression and manage their symptoms. Finding the right medication can be a frustrating process, though, since there’s no “one-size-treats-all” medication for depression on the market. Finding the right antidepressant is often a trial of elimination, and some patients who start taking an antidepressant may find that it either never starts working for them at all or stops working a few months down the road. We’re on a mission to help those patients! 

We just started a clinical trial to explore a new treatment option for patients who suffer from moderate to severe depression. Patients must be over the age of 18, be either not taking any medication for their depression or currently using a depression treatment that’s not working, and have been diagnosed with a current major depressive episode of at least 8 weeks (not exceeding 18 months). Participants will receive psychiatrist visits at no cost, gain access to a potential new care option for the management of their depression, and receive compensation for their time and travel. If you or a loved one are interested in enrolling, you can apply to participate today!

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As we head into September, a month dedicated to raising awareness about suicide prevention and the dangerous effects of depression, we encourage you to take steps to care for yourself and your loved ones who may be struggling with feelings of depression or loneliness during this difficult time. Depression can have a debilitating effect on almost every aspect of a patient’s life, but with the right support system and treatment plan in place it is something you can overcome.