Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, affecting more than 260 million people worldwide. Unfortunately, people often struggle accessing the right treatment they need. In the US, nearly half of all people trying to deal with depression do not receive mental health care. When help is not readily available, people have to find their own ways of coping with depression. Unfortunately, sometimes these coping mechanisms do more harm than good.
The top three common pitfalls people may experience when they are struggling to cope with depression include:
- Substance Abuse
Research shows that depression and substance abuse are often closely connected. Up to a third of people struggling with depression also develop a substance use disorder. This has become an increasingly common problem during the COVID-19 pandemic. In one survey, 55% of respondents reported an increase in their alcohol use due to the increased stress and feelings of depression caused by the pandemic.
While alcohol, drugs or tobacco may provide a temporary feeling of relief, they are not an effective strategy for coping with depression. The risks of substance abuse include:
- Worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Damage to your heart, lungs, liver, brain and other organs
People who suffer from both depression and a substance use disorder are at an increased risk for tragic outcomes, including higher rates of suicide. So while alcohol or other substances may seem tempting when you’re struggling, stop to consider the potential repercussions.
People suffering from depression often withdraw from their friends and family. They may lack the energy for socializing, find it difficult to connect with others, or suffer from distorted thoughts like “No one wants to be around me.” It may feel more comfortable to avoid contact with others, but it won’t really help anyone recover from depression.
Isolation is linked to a number of medical and mental health problems, including:
- Depression and anxiety
- Lower sleep quality
- Impaired executive function (ability to focus, make plans and remember things)
- Poor cardiovascular health
- Impaired immune system
It may feel overwhelming to spend a lot of time around other people, but taking small steps can help anyone who is coping with depression. Even a short conversation with a friend can be a boost for your mental and physical health.
Many people suffering from depression look for ways to avoid confronting their thoughts and feelings. They may distract themselves with risky behaviors like excessive gambling or reckless driving, or they may lose hours to watching TV or playing video games. But in addition to the direct consequences these behaviors can cause, avoidance is not an effective long-term strategy for coping with depression.
The first step to depression recovery is to acknowledge the problem to yourself and to people who can help. This requires some honesty about what you’re thinking and feeling. It can be very challenging to open up, but it can also allow you to find the support you need to begin thriving.
Healthy Strategies for Coping with Depression
Negative coping strategies can actually make you feel worse and could even put your health at risk. These positive strategies can be much more effective, both in the short-term and long-term:
- Take care of yourself. Eat a balanced diet, maintain good hygiene and incorporate a little exercise into your routine. When you’re physically healthy, you’re likely to feel better emotionally.
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Many people struggling with depression experience poor sleep quality, whether they’re dealing with insomnia or sleeping most of the day. Set a bedtime for yourself and try to get up at the same time every morning to establish a routine.
- This can be challenging in the era of COVID-19, but texting or setting up a Zoom call with friends can help you stay connected to your support system.
- Challenge negative thoughts. If you have thoughts like “I’m worthless” or “This is hopeless,” you don’t need to accept them as the truth. Remind yourself that they’re just a symptom of depression, not reality.
- Reach out for help. Talk to your doctor or a therapist about what you’ve been experiencing. The right support can be life changing for people struggling with depression.
If you’ve been struggling with depression, recovery is possible. Remember that you don’t have to take on your problems alone. Personal support and help from professionals can help you rebuild your life and find solutions to coping with depression.