Depression is a slippery beast to treat. This is for many reasons: general stigma surrounding mental health treatment, depression’s symptoms can often be confused with other emotional responses, and the inertia depression generates. Although awareness of mental illness has generally increased over the past several decades, folks can still face repercussions at work or from their family when disclosing mental illness.
The conversation about how to shift culture and change fundamental issues within the mental health system is for another article. For now it’s enough to say – mental health is a right, not a privilege. Every person deserves access to resources that can help them to be healthy, and 1 in 4 American adults experience mental illness in a given year. Depression isn’t fun but it is common, and treatable.
Am I Depressed?
Sometimes depression can be easy to miss because it doesn’t fit our preconception of what depression is supposed to look or feel like. While TV may have taught us that depression = sad, in reality there are a variety of symptoms wrapped up in it.
- Depressed or irritable mood most of the day, every day, that is different from your “normal” mood.
- Impaired level of function – i.e. it’s hard to go to work, clean the house, and other daily tasks of living.
- Decreased interest in pleasurable activities
- Significant weight change (gain or loss)
- Change in sleep (inability to sleep or sleeping all the time)
- Change in activity (slowing down or speeding up)
- Fatigue/loss of energy
- Feeling guilty or worthless
- Inability to concentrate or be decisive
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
When noticing these symptoms in yourself it’s important to also consider duration. Many of these may come up normally just as part of being a human living an imperfect life. If these symptoms or feelings persist continually for more than two weeks, then you may have depression. If you or someone you love are experiencing these symptoms, seek treatment with a therapist immediately.
How do I Start Therapy?
In addition to general stigma, Depression’s symptoms can create barriers to treatment. Depression can take away motivation to do things you used to enjoy, much less boring and repetitive tasks like making the necessary phone calls to enter treatment. Worse, depression can make you feel worthless and guilty – suddenly the fact that you’re not in therapy is because you’re lazy or undeserving and not because you’re sick. In order to keep depression from keeping you out of therapy, use the tips below:
- Get a buddy. Starting therapy can feel overwhelming – it involves phone calls and google searches and leaving your house, all things that depression may tell you are too hard. Ask a friend to help you look up providers or sit with you while you make phone calls and even take you to your first therapy appointment. If you have a friend experiencing depression the single most helpful thing you can do is make an appointment for them.
- If you have insurance, go to their website to find a list of providers that definitely accept your coverage. This can save you a lot of time, and prevent any added financial stress or disappointment during appointments.
- If you don’t have insurance and money is a concern, look for universities with Social Work or Psychology programs – they will often offer reduced price or sliding scale services by students who are in training. You can also find group practices like http://www.therapyinphiladelphia.com, The Center for Growth. Private training programs like The Center for Growth, have the added bonus of more intensive supervision for interns, meaning more oversight for your issues.
- If finances are not an issue, we strongly encourage working with senior level therapists. Therapists who have at least ten years of experience have a higher treatment “success” rate than new therapists. Depression is a serious condition that is treatable. With the right supports, most people can learn to manage their depression as opposed to depression managing them!
- Treat your first therapy session as an interview. This is a chance to see if you want to work with this therapist, and to help them identify your treatment goals. Come up with a list of things that are important to you: More important than their educational level, or even school that they attended is were their clinical hours video-taped? Unfortunately most training programs do not require clinicians to have their work videotaped and reviewed on a weekly basis with a supervisor and thus many new therapists are poorly trained. Other important questions to ask is have they treated depression before? And if so, what percent of their population struggles with that particular issue. Many therapists will tell you they treat depression (eating disorders, grief, addiction etc) even if they only work with 2 people a year with that issue. It is absolutely your right to know the frequency that they work with your particular issues. In addition, you want to know how many clients a week your therapist sees. 10-25 clients a week typically allows the therapist enough emotional energy to spend thinking about each particular case and continuing to push themselves to clinically grow. Therapists that see 30+ clients a week typically are emotionally overloaded and do not have enough emotional energy to clinically grow. Yes, many good clinicians work more than 30 hours a week, they are just not spending all of their time in people’s heads. They are doing other types of work like consulting, teaching, writing etc. Lastly, asking your therapist if they have they worked with people who share your racial, gender, sexual, religious, etc identities is recommended? It’s not your job to educate your health care providers on your identities.
- Remember that therapy is about fit. Too many first-time patients stick with therapists they hate or think “therapy isn’t for me” because they don’t click with their first therapist. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your therapist- find a new one! They are professionals and it will NOT hurt their feelings. We strongly recommend making several first sessions and then you have a way of comparing them. If all three of them tell you the same thing, that says something. Typically, you will find yourself gravitating towards one person over the next. If you hate all three of them, then the issue is likely you. One major benefit of seeing a therapist at a group practice is that if you don’t like one practitioner, you often are allowed to “test” out a different one free of charge.
Above all remember: you deserve help. Help is within reach. If it feels like too big a task to manage on your own, ask for help getting help. Call 267-324-9564 to make an appointment with a therapist at the http://www.therapyinphiladelphia.com The Center for Growth today.