My Experience of Living with Major Depressive Disorder: Reflective Essay

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When I was a sophomore, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, but over the past two years, my condition has improved. I believe things like taking drugs, harming myself, and sleeping the day away, would help my depression because when I were doing those things, I felt better. To this day, I am still depressed, but things like exercise, talking about my feelings, and educating myself on my mental illness has helped reduce the severity of my symptoms. Major depressive disorder is a mental health disorder that is characterized by losing interest in activities or a persistently depressive mood which causes a significant impairment in one's daily life. The best ways major depressive disorder can be managed is by physical activity, seeing a medical professional, and being educated on the condition. These are extremely beneficial ways to reduce the severity of major depressive disorder symptoms. There are millions of people with this condition which puts a burden on society, but these ways of fighting depression can make the world a better place by improving the lives of many.

To begin, physical activity is one of the best ways to manage major depressive disorder. Scientists have hypothesized physical activity to improve the cognitive functions of depressed patients. Mental health disorders, specifically major depressive disorder, crucially impact work productivity. Given that physical activity improves health both physically and mentally, people that regularly exercise are more likely not to suffer from any mental disorders.

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“Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being.” - Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A.

Exercising regularly helps reduce stress hormones and reduce pain. In addition, physical activity can ease major depressive disorder symptoms, reduce anxiety, improve mood and decrease the chance of a relapse. According to Physical Activity Is A Good Way To Restore Work Productivity Of People With Depression by Aiste Leleikiene, regular exercise mixed with psychopharmacology has been proven to have a positive impact on improving mental status. Psychopharmacology is the scientific study of the way drugs affect the mind and behavior of someone, therefore, the author is expressing that physical activity and medication is the way to go when trying to manage or “cure” major depressive disorder.

Although both methods are beneficial, I personally believe physical activity is just as beneficial as medication but without the side effects. During the time I spent doing sports in high school, I was happier and noticed fewer major depressive disorder symptoms. Being a part of a team and achieving goals lifted my spirit. The most beneficial things sports did for me relating to my condition was distracting me from most of my negative thoughts, boosting my confidence, gaining social interaction, and allowing me to cope in a healthy way.

“Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms. But smaller amounts of physical activity — as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time — may make a difference. It may take less time exercising to improve your mood when you do more-vigorous activities, such as running or bicycling. The mental health benefits of exercise and physical activity may last only if you stick with it over the long term…” - Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Melinda Smith, M.A.

Walking for one hour a day or running for 15 minutes a day has shown to reduce the risk of major depressive disorder by 26%. Although the link between exercise and major depressive disorder is not clear, exercise has been seen to ease the symptoms and help reduce the risk of symptoms returning after they leave. Exercising also releases endorphins which are chemicals in the brain that reduce the perception and interact with receptors. of pain. Like morphine, endorphins trigger positive feelings in the body. Other ways endorphins can be released are eating a favorite food, making music, and having sex.

In addition, seeing a medical professional is just as beneficial as physical activity in an effort to manage major depressive disorder. Seeing a professional includes different types of therapy as well as deciding whether taking medication is the way to go. At the psychological level, cognitive inhibition could be a key method in regulating emotion. According to Towards personalized treatment of depression: A candidate gene approach, cognitive behavior therapy is recommended, but it is not always effective. Another thing that is not always effective is medication; 30% of people that take antidepressants do not respond and 60% respond, but not completely. This leaves only 10% of people being helped with antidepressants. The candidate gene therapy talked about in this article is a technique commonly used to identify genetic risk factors for conditions such as major depressive disorder. In 2008, the National Institute of Mental Health-funded a study. It found that half of the patients that did not feel better after the use of one medication had to take a new one or add a second one to feel better. “Antidepressants work by balancing chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotions. These depression medicines can help improve your mood, help you sleep better, and increase your appetite and concentration.” - Ellen Greenlaw

On the flip side of using medications, there are side effects. Some reported side effects are weight gain, agitation, drowsiness, and headaches. Seeing a medical professional is a good decision to make as well as a very positive step in the direction of improving mental health. Doctors are there to help patients with the current facts and to give them options and next steps. Doctors always have the best interests of their patients in mind and are trained to handle stressful situations. Also, they are aware that there is a unique cultural background of the people they work with, meaning that everyone is different and the same thing will not work for every patient.

Being educated on the mental condition one has, can prevent stigmas. Mental stigmas are labels put on a person or group that sets them apart from society. By talking about mental illness with a medical professional, patients can know the difference between what are facts and what are myths. This can hopefully remove the stigma that has surrounded mental health throughout the years. For example, one myth is that medication is the only way to treat any type of depression. There is more than just one way to deal with this burden such as therapy or physical activity. No one has to go through this alone. As more and more people talk to their doctor about their mental health, it could encourage others to speak to a medical professional. It lets others who suffer from mental disorders know that they are not alone. There are millions that suffer from major depressive disorder which is why the most important reason to speak to a doctor or just someone trustworthy in general is because it can decrease suicide rates. By people not getting the treatment they need, they are at a dangerously high risk for poor mental help which may possibly lead to suicide. A research study done on suicide showed that 90% of successful suicide attempts are committed by those who had symptoms of a mental disorder.

Being educated on major depressive disorder holds many benefits. People who suffer from this need to be able to control it and that is possible by knowing their symptoms and triggers. Everyone with major depressive disorder needs to know their next steps to make sure he/she knows whether they’re making their situation better and not worse. It is important to learn about healthy ways to cope as well as being aware of triggers so that the condition can be better managed. Some triggers are unavoidable (chronic illness), but others are very much avoidable (drinking alcohol). Being educated ties back into seeing a medical professional. After being educated on the condition, one may decide to see a psychiatrist.

“Left untreated, depression can have a significant negative impact on a person's social, physical, and mental well-being, and place an enormous burden on society. Patients with depression experience a higher incidence of premature death related to cardiovascular disease and are 4.5 times more likely to suffer a myocardial infarction than those without depression. Depression is also very costly. In the United States, the total cost of depression was estimated to be $83.1 billion in 2000 with lost productivity and direct medical costs accounting for $30 billion to $50 billion each year. Health service costs are 50% to 100% greater for depressed patients than for comparable patients without depression primarily because of higher overall medical utilization. Overall, the economic burden of the disease is significant to managed care organizations, with direct medical costs estimated at $3.5 million per 1000 plan members with depression.” - Aron Halfin, MD

At the beginning of my sophomore year, I was sent to a hospital. I spent three days there, after which I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Looking back, the cause of my depression started with bullying which I started experiencing bullying in eighth grade, continuing into high school. At the end of my freshman year, I started self-harming and I continued to do so into my sophomore and junior years because the pain in a way felt relieving. In addition to self-harm, I also took pills that were not prescribed to me because I felt hopeless and worthless. I knew there was something wrong with me, but I didn’t know exactly what until I was diagnosed.

Substance use is something that commonly occurs with other mental disorders, but it is not clear whether drugs help something like major depressive disorder occur or whether it is just a symptom.

“Compared with the general population, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, with the reverse also true. In 2015, an estimated 43.4 million (17.9 percent) adults ages 18 and older experienced some form of mental illness (other than a developmental or substance use disorder). Of these, 8.1 million had both a substance use disorder and another mental illness.” - Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, National Survey on Drug Use and Health

It is possible for drugs to increase the risk of major depressive disorder and they can also cause paranoia, anxiety, aggression, and hallucinations. Seeing drugs or other substances as the only way to ease depressive symptoms can lead to addiction. ⅓ of major depressive disorder patients have had an alcohol problem which can lead to financial problems by the excessive purchase of these unnecessary items. Physical exercise could be substituted for taking substances because it eases depressive symptoms instead of making them worse.

My social isolation along with poor interpersonal relationships led to me self-harming. This ultimately worsened how I was feeling because I was making things worse instead of better. I isolated myself for so long and that is why I was diagnosed with one of the most severe types of depression. Self-harming can lead to a weaker immune system and great inflammation. Along with permanent scarring, self-harming also put me at risk for a poor self-image and low self-esteem. There are many forms of self-harm such as cutting, burning, starvation, and poisoning. I made a decision to cut myself which could have led to an accidental, inadvertent death. In the UK, self-harm has been named the biggest cause of death from people aged 20-24. From this same age group, 329 people died from a situation that included self-harm (2013). It has been proven that about seven to eight percent of the young people in the UK will self-harm with varying severities.

Over the last two years my symptoms have eased up and I do feel better. I do not self-harm or take drugs anymore. Physical activity, seeing a medical professional, and educating myself are all things that I have done. I have participated in Volleyball, Basketball, and Track and Field. Being a part of a team and having lots of social interaction helped me feel happier, caused me to have less negative thoughts, and gave me something to look forward to. When I was a freshman, my mother noticed I was depressed and she made me see a psychiatrist. For me personally, seeing a medical professional was weird and I did not like it. I knew I needed help, so I talked to close friends whenever I felt like harming myself or felt suicidal. Talking about my feelings always helped me. Educating myself on major depressive disorder was beneficial by helping me identify my triggers. For example, one trigger for me would be excessive social isolation. This is a trigger that is avoidable. Instead of being in my room all day, I can call or text friends or go outside. These three things have helped me and they can help the other millions of people who suffer from major depressive disorder also.

On March 25, 2020, I conducted a personal interview on Brooklyn Perkins who also suffers from major depressive disorder. She has done many strategies that have reportedly eased depressive symptoms. These strategies include volunteering, having a balanced diet, writing in a journal, spending time outdoors, talking to someone about her feelings, being educated on her mental illness, avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, setting attainable goals, doing enjoyable activities, spending time with loved ones as well as spending time around optimistic people. Things like volunteering and setting goals make her feel good and empowered.

“Talking about my feelings makes me feel weird because I don’t like sharing my feelings with people.” - Brooklyn Perkins

Between physical activity, seeing a medical professional, and being educated on her condition, she only researched. She does not exercise or talk to someone about her feelings. Although she does small things that release endorphins like spending time with her family and spending time around optimistic people, her depressive symptoms could ease more if she participated in physical activity regularly and saw a medical professional. The reasoning behind this is that exercising releases endorphins and a doctor who is trained to deal with mental illnesses like hers can help her differentiate between what are myths and what are facts. A doctor could give her advice on next steps on feeling better. Three strategies she would try in the future are meditation, getting enough sleep, and doing more enjoyable activities. Although these may not be what I see as the best ways to manage major depressive disorder, they may still work. Physical activity, talking about my feelings, and educating myself on my condition is what has helped me get better over the course of years, but just because something works for me does not necessarily mean that it will work for everyone else. It can be argued by critics that these are not the best ways to manage major depressive disorder, but instead are just some good things to consider doing on the road to recovery.

All in all, the best ways major depressive disorder can be managed is by physical activity, seeing a medical professional, and being educated on the condition. These are extremely beneficial ways to reduce the severity of major depression symptoms. There are millions of people with this condition which puts a burden on society, but these ways of fighting depression can make the world a better place by improving the lives of many. I believe these ways are the absolute best ways to manage major depressive disorder mostly because for the past two years I have used these strategies and my symptoms have been eased. Exercising regularly, talking about my feelings, and educating myself on what is going on in my brain and why has also helped my symptoms stay away after I started feeling better.

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