Depression is a Beast but it’s Not the End of Happiness

Although research suggests there are higher rates of recurrent major depression among gay men, depression doesn't mean the end to happiness and joy.
Depression, HIV

Depression is a beast! It’s the silent killer of our joy. We never know when it’s going to hit and when it hits some of us, it’s like cement in the sky.

Our interior lights of joy are dimmed by thoughts of failure and doubt, all coming from this darkening feeling that storms in and tells us we are less than. We are never really sure how this terrible attitude finds its way into a life seemingly filled with joy. When it starts to take over you’re likely already lost and unable to deal with it or fight it off. Sometimes, depression creeps in so quickly that the person is unable to fight or say they need help.

Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.

Lord, when I read “must be present for at least two weeks” I stopped breathing because my new symptoms started the last week of July. I can’t say they have ended, but the real clouds of my depression are beginning to shatter into pieces into the humbled grayness of survival. Through a break in the grayness the sunlight has slipped in.

When you have close ones who are depressed, it’s hard to help because they often reject it. They may say they don’t need it when they actually do. But it’s because they want to be victorious in their return. The “return” I refer to is the period after the shadows of darkness have begun to clear. It’s also a period of vulnerability; a crucial period for those who are recovering from depression because they’ve learned valuable lessons about themselves that possibly require changes; changes in how they deal with certain friends, how they conduct business or handle conflict.

We can help those we love who suffer from depression even though we don’t understand the cause or the types of depression that affects them. It’s important to note, however, depression affects some more severely than others.

Persistent depressive disorder (also called dysthymia) is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered a persistent depressive disorder.

The onset of depression characterizes seasonal affective disorder during the winter months when there is less natural sunlight. This depression lifts during spring and summer. Winter depression, typically accompanied by social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain, predictably returns every year in seasonal affective disorder.

Bipolar disorder is different from depression. I mention it because someone with bipolar disorder experiences episodes of extremely low moods that meet the criteria for major depression (called “bipolar depression”). But a person with bipolar disorder also experiences extreme high – euphoric or irritable – moods called “mania” or a less severe form called “hypomania.”

This summer I learned a lot about depression and addiction. It does not take any prisoners. It happens when it happens. Those suffering the following symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, may be suffering from depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Sense of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and weight change
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without an apparent physical cause and that do not ease even with treatment

After you attempt to take your life in a variety of ways, and you’re still walking to tell the story, “God’s Not Done With You” has new meaning. I never fully understood depression.

Various research reports and data on lesbian, gay and bisexual mental health from the American Psychological Association show:

  • Higher rates of major depression, generalized anxiety disorder and substance use or dependence in lesbian and gay youth.
  • Higher rates of recurrent major depression among gay men.
  • Higher rates of anxiety, mood and substance use disorders, and suicidal thoughts among people ages 15 to 54 with same-sex partners.
  • Higher use of mental health services in men and women reporting same-sex partners.

Psych Central highlights the work of Dr. Apu Chkraborty of University College London, UK who believes that discrimination may contribute to the higher risk of mental health problems of homosexuals. In his study of 7,403 adults living in the UK. “Although the level of discrimination was low, it was still significantly higher than against heterosexual people. This ‘lends support to the idea that people who feel discriminated against experience social stressors, which in turn increases their risk of experiencing mental health problems.’ These higher levels of psychiatric problems in homosexual people call for greater efforts at preventing the issues arising.”

A recent article at HIVPlusMag, “Depression Is Teaming Up 
With HIV to Kill 
Black Gay Men. 
Can We Stop It?” is definitely worth sharing as it gets at the many complex layers contributing to the state of our mental health.

The Body highlights research which found depressed gay men were more likely to engage in risk-taking activity such as unprotected sex and drug use. Spencer Cox, Executive Director of New York-based Medius Institute for Gay Men’s Health indicates that one in five gay men experience depression, a rate double that found in the general population.

The Advocate argues how discrimination contributes to the higher rates of poor mental health among the LGBT community.

The CDC shares, “the majority of gay and bisexual men have and maintain good mental health, even though research has shown that they are at greater risk for mental health problems. Like everyone else, the majority of gay and bisexual men are able to cope successfully if connected to the right resources.”

Here are a few tips that may help you or a loved one during treatment for depression:

  • Try to be active and exercise.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative.
  • Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately.
  • Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced, or changing jobs until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
  • Continue to educate yourself about depression.

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