Help For Depression and Pain

By Kara Gasperone

Have you ever found yourself curled up on the couch with your softest blanket and saltiest junk food, watching the umpteenth commercial for Pajama-jeans because it’s 3 am and you can’t sleep again?

Or perhaps you’re a world class scrapbooker who hasn’t had the motivation to glue a single rhinestone to a photo page in weeks. Maybe you’re suffering from a migraine for the sixth day in a row that won’t go away no matter how much water and caffeine you stubbornly consume in a dark, noiseless room.
If any of this sounds familiar, you could be one of the estimated 7-10 percent of Americans who suffer from chronic depression.

Depression can be a sneaky bedfellow that does not discriminate against sufferers. People from every race, creed and socioeconomic status all over the world have been found to experience depression.

Consider the following signs and symptoms:

  • Lack of energy
  • Unusual sleep patterns – either insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Bizarre appetite, at times characterized by unusual weight loss or gain
  • Loss of enjoyment in things you used to love
  • Isolation
  • Poor concentration or restlessness
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or just “empty”
  • Physical pain that doesn’t go away with medical treatment (headaches, body aches, joint pain, persistent illness, etc).

If you have recently experienced a loss or trauma – such as a family member’s passing, or a bad car accident – some or all of the symptoms listed above are to be expected as you process a catastrophic event. However, if these are symptoms that have been present for more than 2 months, or if you are experiencing these symptoms without prerequisite trauma, consult a primary care physician or a mental health professional; this type of depression could be chronic.

Many events can cause a depressive response, most notably any difficult transition experienced in life. There is no one single cause of depression. Scientists think it’s likely a combination of biochemical, cognitive and environmental factors that contribute to a person’s tendency to experience depression. If you think you or a family member might be dealing with depression, take a look at the individual’s behavior against the list of symptoms noted above. Also, sometimes a simple “Are you doing okay?” can reveal so much.

The link between depression and physical pain is one that should not be minimized. In focus groups conducted by the National institute of Mental health, many people suffering from depression didn’t know that the chronic physical pain they had been experiencing had anything to do with depression. Chronic headaches, joint pain and digestive pain are common in people who suffer from depression, and often these symptoms are treated unsuccessfully with pain medications. Psychiatric medications can be useful aids in the treatment of depression, yet many physicians seek to treat the symptoms with pain medications, missing the underlying source of the pain.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to combat depression that do not require the use of psychiatric medications. Exercise is hugely important. The endorphins your brain rustles up after a great hike or bike ride can send symptoms running for the hills. If you have chronic pain, swimming is an excellent low-impact activity. Because everyone experiences depression differently, it’s important to know your own coping skills. Whether it’s reading all seven harry Potter novels in succession, forcing yourself to go out with friends for coffee, or tackling home projects — managing your symptoms by utilizing coping skills can be doable. However, if you’ve tried this and nothing seems to be working, schedule a consultation with a mental health provider.

Many modern therapists worry the stigma of seeking mental health treatment can be a barrier to people in need of help. Maintaining emotional and mental health is as necessary as maintaining physical health.

The take-home message is simply: depression is a very human experience. It is something that everyone will experience at a time in his or her