By Oleg Tarkovsky, Director of Behavioral Health,
CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield

Since the onset of the pandemic, self-reported depression has tripled in the U.S. In 2019, 8% of adults experienced a depressive episode requiring treatment. According to estimates, nearly 30% of people surveyed reported feeling depressed after the start of the pandemic. 

Over 1.5 million Marylanders are struggling with depressive symptoms, and the chances are high that you, or someone you know, is struggling right now. Despite its prevalence, depression is frequently misunderstood.

CareFirst (Courtesy Image/Logo)

What is Depression? 

Depression is a disease. It’s a common but serious mood disorder that impacts how people feel, think, and handle daily activities like sleeping, eating or working. Causes may include faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetics, stressful life events, medications, childbirth or medical problems. Sometimes several of these forces interact to bring on depression. 

Although the specific causes are complex and vary, the result is a brain chemical imbalance that is real and measurable. Telling someone to “just get over” depression is like telling someone to “get over” an asthma attack.

Mental Illness vs. Mental Health

Depression is a mental illness, a diagnosable mental disorder, impacting around 8% of the population. Good mental health is not simply the absence of illness, but rather our daily ability to function effectively, resulting in productive work, school, caregiving, healthy relationships, to adapt to change and cope with adversity.  

Developing positive mental health habits can help bolster our defenses and protect us from mental illness. Like handwashing can help prevent us from catching colds, good mental health habits reduce our risk of developing mental illness. 

Flexing Our Social Muscles

Fortunately, our brains are wired for mental health, and the habits that keep us healthy reap spiritual and social rewards. Unfortunately, the pandemic made it difficult to engage in these practices. Our social muscles have atrophied – it can feel harder to connect – and we have to put effort into re-activating our instincts to put ourselves out there. 

It is important to bolster at least one of these habits to keep our brains, social lives and spirits healthy:

Talk about your feelings. Humans are social creatures with fundamental needs to express emotions.

  • Keep in touch. Connection is rewarding. 
  • Care for others. When we shift focus from our own needs to others’, we can help someone else, but our wellbeing also gets a boost.

Here’s the caveat: even people with good mental habits can succumb to depression or mental illness. Good mental health habits can reduce, but can’t eliminate, the risks of mental illness. Depression is not a fault or a shortcoming: it is never your fault. Preventing depression isn’t always possible, but there are things we can do to feel better.

Reach out. We’re not wired to ‘go at it alone.’ We’re not superheroes. We all get tired or overwhelmed, especially when things don’t go according to plan. Ask for help. Family or friends can offer support, and when that is not enough, reach out to professional services.

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