There is a major issue that people in the U.S. face on a daily basis: mental illness. Mental illness doesn’t care about people’s race, ethnic background, religion, or beliefs. As mental illness will try and break people down - the most important part is not letting it consume your thoughts and learning how to control/deal with it in a manner that is uplifting to one’s self.
Two of the biggest diseases that lie under the mental illness umbrella are depression (a disease that affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems) and addiction (a complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences). There are debates of what the actual cause of addiction is, but what we do know is that many people that suffer from depression turn to addiction to mask or rid the symptoms of depression, and many people who suffer from addiction can, in turn, suffer from depression; the problem is circular.
Symptoms of depression:
• Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
• Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
• Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
• Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
• Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
• Changes in appetite - often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
• Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
• Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren't your responsibility
• Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
• Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
• Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
Globally, an estimated 350 million people suffer from depression. As you can see from the list of symptoms above, there are reasons why people would constantly search for a way to rid the depression or do their best to mask these symptoms.
The question becomes how do we help people who have such severe depression that they lean on their addictive behaviors to cope? Most people believe that antidepressants and/or counseling are the best options, which they are, in most cases. But what if that doesn’t work for everyone? There are other options to be aware of when trying to decrease the symptoms depression for those that would like to try other ways to help their issues with depression.
Ways to cope with depression (without medication):
• Surround yourself with a positive support group. There is a quote from Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This is powerful and true. Imagine spending time with people that are depressed or even spending all of your time alone while depressed; inevitably, you will be depressed. Now, imagine surrounding yourself with positive and uplifting people, you will tend to be more uplifting and positive, possibly helping to alleviate depressive type symptoms.
• Create time to exercise! Exercise is known to help alleviate symptoms of depression and a new study suggests that exercise may prevent them from happening in the first place. If you’ve been thinking that it’s time to get a gym membership and you deal with symptoms of depression, the time is now.
• Learn how to use self-talk to help you fight the negativity you feed yourself. There are tons of little voices in our head, some keep us positive and some keep us negative and depressed. There are ways to combat this and learn how to stay positive and keep ourselves uplifting. I recommend reading self-help books and educating yourself.
• Get a pet. Exercise is known to help alleviate symptoms of depression and adopting a dog can make huge changes on your life, especially if you’re alone the majority of the time. There have been studies to demonstrate that owning a pet can help to reduce tension and improve mood. See here for a comprehensive piece on how dogs can help with mental health covering many situations and lifestyles.
• Eat a healthy diet. Our mood is affected by so many of our lifestyle choices, and nutrition is at the top of the list. Changing your eating habits allows people to see energy levels increase, sleep patterns become more normal and weight fluctuation decrease.
It is best to seek a medical professional when battling substance abuse or depression, but utilizing other coping mechanisms in addition to counselling and medication can help the problem immensely. Focus on keeping yourself healthy and surrounding yourself with supportive people.
As many people continue to suffer from depression and addiction with no actual cure in sight - we must understand how depression and addiction take hold of people, while continuing to work towards a goal of educating how to control/deal with depression and addiction and not let the depression be fuel for addiction or vice versa.