The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and happiness, but for some people, it can be a time of year when depression strikes or for others it gets worse.
Depression affects millions of people. Board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Steven Levine says there are ways to manage and treat seasonal depression.
“Lot of pressure this time of year to be happy and celebrate the season, but depression is incredibly common. Sixteen million Americans every year suffer from depression. And it peaks during this season for many reasons,” says Dr. Levine.
But he says there is a difference between clinical depression and the “winter blues,” and there are new ways that doctors are treating clinical depression.
“Clinical depression is very different than simply being bummed out. Many people get sad, you have a bad day. Typically the next day is a better one hopefully. With depression, it’s a bad day that doesn’t end. It’s weeks at least of persistent sadness, crying, changes in appetite. Changes in sleep. Thoughts of suicide. So a very serious condition that can be life-threatening,” says Dr. Levine.
While researchers in the past have looked into chemical imbalances causing depression, Levine says newer research shows that that’s probably not true.
“Instead, there is damage that happens in the brain. You lose the number and function and quality of connections between important areas of the brain, and research on the medicine called Ketamine is actually showing us that it’s possible to reverse that damage much more quickly than we’ve been able to do in the past with older medicines,” he says.
New research is showing that forms of trauma and long-term stress can cause depression and form the damage in the brain, and can be seen in people who suffered from depression for long periods of time.
“In Neurotherapy, we focus on the use of medicines like Ketamine, which can be given quickly as procedure intravenously — through a vein in your arm, and different than the medicines like Prozac or Paxil you take medicines every day and it can take weeks to months to see if they work. With medicine like Ketamine, potentially you can feel significantly better win hours of a first exposure,” says Dr. Levine.
He says this kind of treatment is mostly for adults, but they have made a few “compassionate” exceptions for children under 18, though the research mostly is with adults.
For those seeking help with depression, Levine recommends people should start by just asking for help connecting with their support systems, including friends, family, clergy members, or other community groups.
“If that kind of support isn’t enough and you continue to suffer, and you’re unable to function and you’re unable to go to work or to use that support system, that’s a sign that something more serious is going on and you should see a doctor,” he says.