MYSTRENGTH SERIES

Understanding and managing depression

Know the symptoms—and when it's time to do something about them

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This is the 10th in a series of stories about how you can use the myStrength wellness portal and app to enhance your emotional well-being. In this installment, Ayzha Corbett, manager of Johns Hopkins' mySupport Program and a clinician, addresses depression and how having the right emotional and physical tools can help address it.

Julie Hersch is a well-known author, speaker, mother, and wife. Many of these are titles and roles that some can identify with. One of the things that may differentiate her from others, however, is that she was diagnosed with major depression. In the myStrength app module called "Major Depression: Julie's Story," Hersch takes the viewers on a journey through a difficult time in her life. She speaks candidly about major depression and how it almost took her life. She describes having a great marriage, healthy kids, and financial stability during this difficult time and how her diagnosis gave her a feeling of numbness, a disconnection to life, and loss of feelings such as joy, anger, and pain.

Most people can identify with some of the numbness and loss of feeling that Hersch describes but may wonder what this means for them. Do they also have symptoms of major depression? The answer is that at some point, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible that many have experienced a symptom of depression—but this does not automatically mean that they have a diagnosis of major depression.

In this "new normal," it is possible that you may feel or have felt fatigued or irritable, had a diminished interest in activities that would otherwise be enjoyable, and/or had some feelings of hopelessness. These feelings are not unexpected at this time, but they also are symptoms of major depression. Therefore, it is important to note that if some symptoms start to impede daily living and are present every day for at least two weeks, they could be an indication of major depression. Other symptoms include issues with concentration, difficulty sleeping or sleeping excessively, noteworthy weight gain or loss, and frequent suicidal thoughts.

It is important to understand that we all experience moments of low mood from time to time. It is more important to know what to do if you are experiencing low mood or the depressive symptoms mentioned above. At the end of the myStrength module, Hersch talks about how she has been able to manage the symptoms and find hope again.

As Hersch learned, having the right tools to help with navigating mood and symptoms is critical for overall well-being during challenging times.

To help manage symptoms and to improve your mood, take some time to reevaluate and adjust the following habits in your life:

Sleep: Sleep and depression have a complex relationship. The absence of sleep can contribute to depressive symptoms, while the presence of depressive symptoms can contribute to a disruption in sleep patterns. Sleep is vital to overall emotional well-being and helps rejuvenate the body and its response to stress.

Exercise: Research indicates that exercise is an effective treatment for depressive symptoms. JHU Wellness Programs provides an array of classes to get your endorphins going and to energize you. The next session of JHU's virtual wellness classes starts Nov. 1. For only $20 per month you can take as many classes you'd like. Try something new. Visit JHU Wellness Programs to register.

Nutrition: Research shows a link between what we eat and depressive symptoms. If necessary, replace unhealthy foods with healthier options to help with boosting mood and lowering risk for depression. Consider connecting with others to swap recipes and healthy meal plans.

Stress management: Understanding stress triggers is vital to managing low mood and depression. Asking questions such as, What triggers lead to stress for me? and How do I manage my stress in a healthy way? are a good start to creating a stress management plan. Review the anxiety article in the myStrength series for six additional steps to managing stress and anxiety.

Among the resources available to support the emotional health of Johns Hopkins employees and their family members is a free app called myStrength, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play. To create an account, use your email address and the access code JHU or JHHS, depending on your affiliation. Its modules are self-paced and can be done whenever, and wherever, you choose.

One especially useful feature of the app is that it lets you track your well-being with a regular emotional health "check-in." In addition, an entire module is dedicated to managing depression; it offers strategies, tips, and information on how to identify, navigate, and manage depression and depressive symptoms.

If you are concerned about yourself, or someone else, experiencing depressive symptoms for two weeks or longer, professional support is available 24/7 to Johns Hopkins employees and their household family members through the mySupport program by calling 443-997-7000, option 2, or by clicking here to schedule an appointment.

Now, more than ever, understanding depression is important. Learn more about resources available to you here and here.

Posted in Health+Wellness

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