Depression. If I had to picture it, I would draw a beautiful landscape with a warm glowing sun…. coloured grey. I find that a part of depression that is often overlooked is the tremendous frustration that comes with being in a situation that is supposed to be enjoyable, only to spend it feeling down.
Unfortunately, I know this all too well, having at the age of 21 approached my university’s healthcare centre for depression and being faced with a bunch of smiley faces on a piece of paper to tick off as part of the diagnostic process, over-simplifying a much more complicated situation that I was going through at the time. The result, a bunch of one-size-fits-all pills which were meant to make the feelings stop similar to the way aspirin stops a headache. The reality, a brief spike in serotonin making me feel ecstatic for a month or so before the normalisation of my surroundings made everything turn grey again, this time with mandatory medication to go along with it. What was supposed to be one of the most enjoyable years of my life went past in an apathetic blur, and the worst part was that I blamed myself, felt alone and frustrated, trying helplessly to feel happy.
I’m not saying that the medication doesn’t work, to be approved by the medical system in the UK it has had to be demonstrated as effective, it just didn’t work for me. As doctors become less personal and we are treated by an overburdened healthcare system, there isn’t the time for a doctor to know the intricacies of everyones’ life to provide personalised treatment for depression. The sad truth is that depression is an extremely widespread condition, with more than 264 million people affected worldwide, each person having their subjective wellbeing playing a part. Does this mean that depression is a condition that can’t be tackled or that has to be tackled alone? No, and that’s why I’d like to explain what has changed since I went to seek help and why the future of treating depression is bright.
Since the App Store was released in 2008 with 500 apps, it has now grown to over 1.96 million, with an estimated 10,000 focusing on mental health. You’re no longer limited to a pill and a pamphlet handed out by your GP, you now have a plethora of digital treatments right at your fingertips, such as cognitive behavioural principles, psycho-education, symptom tracking tools, mindfulness apps, chatbots, goal setting apps and online support communities. With so many treatments available to download, tackling depression should be effortless, so why are we still unhappy? Well, the digitisation of treatment for depression is only a small part of the solution. Unfortunately, most mental health apps suffer from terrible engagement rates, naturally, as when you are depressed your motivation and attention can be severely reduced. Sticking to plans and routines becomes difficult and with so many apps to choose from, the overwhelming choice can be easy to give up on. Ultimately though, with a little guidance, there should be the right combination for you. Maybe headspace doesn’t work for you, but having an app that teaches you CBT, or reminds you to go for a morning walk, or an app that connects you to your loved ones when you’re feeling down does.
For years I kept falling down a metaphorical hole into a state of depression, and initially, it would take a long time to get out. Slowly, however, I learned to understand the situation I was in and try different techniques to get out. There was a lot of trial and error, meditation didn’t work for me for example. However, after some time, when I found myself in the hole it would take me less time to recognise where I was, and eventually, after years of falling into the hole I built up a set of techniques that allowed me to get out. With 50% of depression being chronic, understanding how to deal with it progressively is extremely important. I wish I’d had the guidance and information available back then that I do now.
There is no silver bullet to cure depression, and this can be extremely frustrating. However, we have more information and digital resources to deal with it than ever. After years of trying, I’ve found what works for me, and I am now able to minimise the number of bad days I have. I can relate to how hopeless advice can seem when you’re depressed, and my aim with this article is not to preach some steps to a solution of what is a very personal illness. All I want to do is share my story, and for those who are struggling, encourage them to stay hopeful and be patient, and try new techniques where possible. Eventually, I hope, we will all be able to see the hole coming, and avoid it.
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