When most people visit my office they feel that something is wrong – and often they ask me, “Do I have depression?”
Frequently I hear myself saying “yes” it is depression, but not DEPRESSION. Let me explain.
As a society we have become far more educated about mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, but the truth is there are many health conditions that fake depressive symptoms.
Many health professionals will provide a label of depression without considering the many other common conditions that can cause depression – or make symptoms worse. If we only treat depression, then this will not fix the other problems. Here are my top five reasons that it might be more than Depression!
1) Are you Anaemic?
The feeling of being fatigued may be about having low iron. Feeling weak, feeling unwell and unmotivated are symptoms of depression and Anaemia. No amount of counselling will help you if you are iron deficient!
Often some people may benefit from slightly higher levels of iron, but medical tests don’t consider what level “feels” best, only whether you are “normal”. If you feel better with more iron then maybe consider altering your diet or taking supplements alongside counselling. Ask your GP for a recent blood test and ensure your iron levels are okay before you decide it is depression alone.
2) Does anyone in your family have Hypothyroidism?
The thyroid gland regulates the body’s energy levels, and hypothyroidism affects about 8% of women. The symptoms include fatigue, hair loss, dry skin, long painful periods, weight gain and poor concentration. Of more concern is that the heart rate slows and it can slow and stop.
This is a very serious condition that can occur alongside depression or seem to cause depression. It can happen slowly or suddenly and may run in families. It is treated fairly easily, by medication. Counselling can’t increase your thyroid functioning, but I’m happy to say I’ve sent a few people to the doctor to have it checked before we progressed further!
3) Are you a woman?
With the range of contraceptive options out there, most women will go for what their doctor recommends. Usually contraceptive methods involve a pill or hormonal treatment of one kind or another.
For some women the pill can help PMT and mood swings, but for others it can cause them to feel out of control. If the cause of depression is a contraceptive treatment, then counselling will not help as much as changing the contraceptive. I’ve found my best counselling strategies are of no use if the depression is caused by a contraceptive. BUT before you jump off the pill thinking this is a good idea, becoming pregnant doubles your risk of becoming depressed! (If you are male then enjoy not having to overcome this hurdle!)
The rate of depression doubles to 16% in women who have become pregnant. The cause of depression is not always about hormones, it can be about the restrictions placed on pregnant women, the financial burden of caring for self and a baby, the need to evaluate if the pregnancy is a good thing if it was not planned, as well as changes in workplace and family relationships.
Once pregnant, women enter another world and the solution is to have your child turn to an adult. In about 18 years you are likely to feel better … BUT then menopause can be awful for some women, so it could take even longer!
Counselling can be very helpful for women across the child bearing, child raising and young adult years. Men affected by their partner going through pregnancy and menopause, may want to attend counselling as well.
With most of the world focused on high blood pressure and the negative effects on health, I hear few discussions on the effects of low blood pressure.
While it is likely that low blood pressure will help you live longer, the effects of feeling dizzy when you get up, unable to concentrate, and frequent headaches are not helpful.
I come from a family with a tendancy for low blood pressure and I find myself adding salt to most things to keep my blood pressure up, especially when I’ve been busy at my computer for hours. And a morning coffee never goes astray!
5) Do you get enough Sun? Are you Vitamin D deficient?
If 40% of Queenslanders are Vitamin D deficient in winter, I think that we not getting to visit the great outdoors often enough! If you are deficient in Vitamin D then increasing your weekly gardening or walking will help.
We have become scared of the sun because of the skin cancer risk, but closing ourselves away can increase the risk of depression because we have become hermits. Make sure you spend at least 2 hours a week outside, even if it is for short bursts. I sit outside with my morning coffee especially in winter and ensure everyday I get at least 10 minutes in the sun. Your GP can measure your Vitamin D levels if you ask. Make sure you do!
In summary I’m hoping that as you read this article, you will become aware of the symptoms of conditions that can feel like depression – and seek help for those symptoms. Check with your GP and find out more about your health, not only what is wrong. Remember that feeling happy and well might require you to find out more about your health and how you are going. If you find something wrong, then at least you can fix it before you become more depressed!
Author: Vivian Jarrett, B Psych (Hons), MAPS, MAICD.
Vivian Jarrett is the Clinic Director at Vision Psychology in Mt Gravatt and now M1 Psychology at Loganholme. She is passionate about providing high quality psychology services to Australians from all walks of life.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129