Depression is different from simple sadness. Sadness is an emotion that all healthy individuals experience from time to time. When someone we love does something that hurts our feelings, we may feel sad. When something bad happens to us at work, we may feel sad. Depression is a more pervasive feeling that may involve sadness, numbness, boredom or a lack of interest in everyday life. Depression can have both a psychological component as just described and a physical component, such as lack of appetite or overeating; lack of energy, or either insomnia or excessive sleeping. Depression can be mild and always operate at a low level in the background, making normal life just a bit more difficult to deal with. Depression can also be severe, leading to an inability to function and at its worst, suicide. There is successful treatment for depression and it is important that depressed individuals be assessed to determine what type of treatment would be most helpful.
Treatment options depend on the severity of the condition and the life circumstances and preferences of the affected individual. A combination of psychotherapy (usually cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal or narrative therapy) and medication (usually a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor or SSRI) has been demonstrated to be quite effective for many individuals. Other individuals may benefit from either of these approaches alone.
There are a number of behavioral steps the individual can take in addition to the help mentioned above. Social isolation increases the risk of depression. Spending time with friends can be extremely helpful. Friends can be both a great source of support and caring and also a great distraction from one’s problems. While it's important and helpful to be able to discuss your problems with friends and to obtain empathic support, it may not be helpful if you and your friend spend all of your time simply ruminating about problems; balance in terms of your attention is important.
Exercise, especially daily aerobic exercise, can mitigate the effects of depression. Some research has shown exercise to be as effective as antidepressants for treating depression. All exercise – both aerobic and anaerobic – can be helpful.
A daily practice that can center oneself can also be helpful. Examples of such practices include meditation, yoga, tai chi, and qigong. These and similar practices have varying degrees of physical, psychological and spiritual components that can be extremely helpful.
Taking good care of oneself – eating well, spending time doing a relaxing or fun activity and going to bed on time, and getting adequate (but not excessive) sleep – can all be helpful. Of course, due to the very nature of depression, it may be necessary to "force" oneself to do any of the aforementioned behavioral activities, because if you are depressed, there's a very good chance that you will not feel like doing any of them. Making a chart where you can check off activities you've done on a daily basis can be helpful.