Blues at the Crossroads:
Depression in the Modern World
Singing the blues is an American artform that arose from suffering and hardship. Unfortunately, Americans living with the blues are climbing the charts, with over 16 million U.S. adults affected with major depression every year. And for them, the world at the crossroads is not a pretty tune.
Our doctors and nurses treat this disease every single day; it’s one of the top five reasons people come to talk to me this year. Studies show higher rates of depression in developed countries, women, young people, and marginalized groups. Reasons for these findings are multi-factorial, but the truth is depression can strike anyone at almost any age.
Symptoms of depression are frequent in everyday life and include sadness, apathy, fatigue, irritability, guilt, or lack of concentration, among many others. Normal life events can make you tired or sad. But the diagnosis applies when these universal symptoms become dysfunctional to a person’s life.
While true numbers even a generation ago are fairly unreliable, American depression doubled in the 1990s and is only worsening. Family units and cultural support are becoming more divided. Problems are broadcasted into every home and onto every phone on a 24-hour news cycle. Anywhere you look you can find an endless loop of worry that is tailor-made to your interests. Changes in technology, education, and future job markets are happening at unprecedented rates with no likelihood of slowing. And personal isolation, a major stressor for depression, was rising even before the global pandemic.
So, what are we to do about all this depression? Maybe we take a page out of the bluesman’s songbook… start singing.
Give yourself a voice, name your troubles, and admit your feelings to yourself. It’s not only okay to admit that you are not indestructible; it may be the beginning to the path of healing. As the saying nearly goes, after you curse the storm, learn to dance (or sing) in the rain.
If you are in a dangerous place, you need help now. Abuse, self-abuse, and hopelessness need to be treated as an emergency medical crisis by psychiatric professionals. Please call us as we are committed to being a safe place to help get you this help.
And it is too simplistic to advise you to work your way out of depression. However, there are things you can do to be in a better position to improve. A restful night’s sleep, regular exercise, and balanced diet are important to fueling your brain and body. Engage in meaningful and appropriate work to build self-esteem and self-confidence, whether it’s a 12-hour shift or 15-minute chore around the house. And smiling, positive people can make your day. Find some and recognize how important they are to you. Gratitude improves health, your outlook, and the likelihood that people will stand by you.
Talking to a professional counselor or therapist would probably help all of us at some point in our lives. Share the weight you feel with someone trained to help you prioritize and then to react differently to your problems. Learning to address past traumas or recognize unhelpful behaviors can change your world.
Medication for depression is both commonly used and commonly misunderstood. When doctors treat the chemicals that help stabilize emotional responses, we are really giving you a type of boost or support. The goal of medication is not to change who you are fundamentally. You will still need to take the initiative to make your feelings about your life improve; the medication can simply increase the speed and odds that it will work.
But if anyone is to help you manage depression, you cannot hide your pain nor retreat into the shell that is both indicative of and injurious to this disease. You are at the crossroads. You will need to be a witness for your feelings. You will need to sing. And perhaps, by telling your story, you will both heal your heart and give others a guide to heal theirs.
Here’s to more singing next year. And beyond.
Daniel Edmondson, MD, FAAP, FACP
Cool Springs Internal Medicine & Pediatrics Clinic
North Franklin Internal Medicine & Pediatrics Clinic
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