Relationship: Summertime blues

The weather is warm, graduations are over and you've already been to at least a couple of weddings, yet you are feeling a little blue and just can't figure out why. There hasn't been a tragedy or a trauma, you see that things around you are nice and you want to participate fully, but for some reason you just can't lift yourself out of the grayness that you imagine surrounds you.

This is summertime depression.

At this time of year, late July and August, depressions from mild to severe increase. In fact, suicide rates during the summer months are higher than during the holiday season, which surprises many people. Depression is an illness that strikes millions of people every year, but most people don't do anything to get themselves out of it, because they feel their depression will go away on its own. In some cases, it definitely can, but not in every case.

It's also important to remember that having depression can affect your physical health. According to an article from WebMD, studies show that people with major depression, if they are recovering from a stroke or heart attack, have greater difficulty making health-care decisions, following their doctor's directions, and dealing with their illness than those in recovery who are not suffering from major depression. For people with major depression, the survival rate in the first few months after a heart attack is also lower than the average survival rate.

Even people in good physical health can have a very hard time navigating life when in the grips of depression. Many just want to stay in bed and pull the covers up over their heads until it goes away. The problem with that is that much of the time, it will just make things worse.

Symptoms of depression vary, and there are some unusual ones that people don't generally associate with this uncomfortable condition. For example, anxiety can be a depressive symptom, as can irritability, oversleeping and weight gain. The symptoms we mostly focus on are hopelessness, helplessness, crying, feeling tired, feeling worthless, feeling guilty and a loss of interest in normal activities, including relationships. Depression also tends to be worse during the day. If these symptoms are present every day for at least two weeks, you should get yourself checked out by a medical professional.

There are a number of things you can do to alleviate your own depression, and coming to grips with the fact that you are depressed is a big first step. At that point, by doing simple things that are good for you -- like watching your diet, exercising and talking about your feelings -- as well as avoiding things that can worsen your mood, like drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs, you can begin to take control of your mood and get your life back.

Depression is more easily treated today than ever before. Between psychotherapy, medications and commonsense interventions, many, many people have been helped. You, or someone you care for, can be one of them.

(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author, most recently, of "100 Ways to Boost Your Self-Confidence -- Believe in Yourself and Others Will Too." Email him at Barton@BartonGoldsmith.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com)

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