Almost every morning for the past year I have felt really sad and hopeless. It's a struggle to get out
of bed. Once I get going, I feel a little better, but I'm feeling more tired lately, just burdened by this.
I have read about depression, but never experienced it. I don't know what to do next.
In describing your feelings as sad and hopeless, you have touched upon two common
symptoms of depression. Research is very positive in telling us that depression is a very treatable
condition. Please keep that in mind as you read through this response to your question.
Unfortunately, the term "depression" is confusing and vague, though.
Depression is too general a term to be very useful. It describes everything from the mood
swings we all encounter, to the disabling and life threatening pain of a major depressive episode. It's
sort of like using the word "canyon" to describe both the small gulch behind my house and the
Grand Canyon--it may fit both, but describes neither.
To add to the confusion, symptoms of depression are very common in reaction to stressful
life events such as death of a loved one, accidents, loss of job, loss of relationship, and other blows
to our sense of control. Even positive changes, such as a move for a job promotion, can result in
symptoms of depression. One of the most devastating of these mood reactions is called "post-partum
depression" that sometimes affects a mother following the birth of her baby.
There may not be any obvious cause for symptoms of depression. The lack of a direct
cause is often frustrating for a person struggling to cope with the bleakness of depression. Family or
friends may seem to rub in the pain when they try to help by telling you how lucky you are, or to
snap out of it and smell the roses. They have no idea of the ashen, barren landscape that surrounds
a severely depressed individual.
Have you considered hurting yourself in any way as you have struggled with the
hopelessness you describe? Such thoughts are common in any depressive episode, and deserve to be
voiced to a concerned friend, family member, mental health or medical professional, minister, or
other trusted person in your life. Even if a sense of aloneness seems to block you from others, you
will find crisis phone numbers in your telephone book. Think of this tiredness about life as part of
the pain you are carrying. Let that pain lead you toward the path for help.
One of the hardest things in depression is asking for help. You may feel as if you don't
deserve assistance. You may feel that help would be ineffective. Also, it common in our society to
feel ashamed about feeling depressed. You might feel as though you have failed in some way.
Please try and dispute these ideas as you prepare to ask for assistance. Become familiar with the
symptoms usually found in depressive episodes by searching through the frequently asked questions
(FAQ's) found in our links. Being informed about depression will enable you to make more choices
As for seeking help, start in the most comfortable way possible. You have already taken an
important step by writing this note to me. If you have a positive connection with your family
physician, talk with her or him. Some physical problems can result in a depressed mood. If you
would prefer to talk with a counselor, you can find out about psychologists or other mental
health professionals through the Yellow Pages, through professional associations, or through
agencies in your area. A psychologist can assist you in diagnosing the type of depressive ailment
you have, and work with other health care professionals as necessary to help you feel
The bottom line is that depression does respond to treatment. Specialized forms of
counseling such as cognitive therapy are effective for many types of depression. Of course, major
advances in medication are very important in treatment too. Please be aware that a hopeful attitude
about treatment is very realistic.
Dr. Kenneth Dutro is a licensed psychologist in
California. He is a member of the faculty at Humboldt State University, Arcata,
California. He has been faculty member of a medical school, and worked for years
as a psychologist in university-affiliated teaching hospitals.