Monday, June 24, 2024

In Unprecedented Times, Healing Begins in the Mind

The pandemic sparked a mental health crisis and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to healing from the ensuing depression and anxiety.

But there’s still hope. From traditional SSRI’s to technological advances like Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), there are so many ways to move through these difficult times.

No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, we can all agree that it’s been a rough few years. In the midst of lockdowns, economic insecurity, and political instability world-wide, we are also nose-diving into an unprecedented mental health crisis. In the first year of the pandemic alone, the World Health Organization found that the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% and the rates keep climbing.

People who never experienced depression or anxiety before are getting their first awful taste. For many already surviving with mental illness, things have been harder for a while now and the near future does not look particularly appealing either. It also doesn’t help that the very tool that we depended on to bridge the gap during the early parts of the pandemic, namely social media, has also been shown to breed depression and anxiety.

Those suffering from chronic depression and anxiety often find that basic daily routines–getting out of bed, eating, hygiene–can become an insurmountable challenge. As if social distancing weren’t enough, those suffering from depression will self-isolate from friends and family. These behavioral changes can wreak havoc on every facet of life, from relationships to career. In some extreme cases depression can also lead to suicide.

Just Because the Pandemic is Over, Doesn’t Mean Depression is Over

While external instability may have gotten us into this mental health mess, external stability is not going to get us out. Or rather, we shouldn’t wait around for external stability. No one person can change the gas prices back to the two-dollar zone, solve inflation, or end Covid-19. And ultimately, if any of those factors reverse (on their own schedule), we are still left behind with the mental and emotional repercussions.

You can be sure that everyone from your curmudgeonly neighbor to your favorite TikTok influencer has a well-, or not-so-well-researched opinion about the exact cause and solution to inflation (whether or not we have the power to enact it). However, dealing with a global mental health crisis or even just a personal mental health crisis is much more complex.

Cultivating Resilience

The first steps to healing or even thriving in these times of uncertainty is cultivating resilience: the internal certainty that you will be ok. The confidence that you will find a way through each global curve ball. The problem is resilience and depression have a negative correlation. In plain English: good luck if you are already down in the dumps.

For newcomers and those who have been suffering from chronic depression for years, first steps may be too large as a unit of measurement. Start with lifting a toe. Then another. Maggie Smith, the author of Keep Moving, a mid-pandemic book of quotes and short essays about navigating through grief, suggests that starting small (no matter how small) is what’s important: “Do not wait for someone else to rescue you. Do one thing today, however small, in Operation: Save Yourself. Make a ladder, pick a lock.”

Healing is Different for Each Person

Before the pandemic, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, 13.2% of Americans over 18 reported use of antidepressants in the past 30 days. For some, SSRI’s and other antidepressant and antianxiety medications, often in combination with some form of psychotherapy, have been that pick in the lock, as Smith describes, or even the key to relieving enough of the symptoms of depression to begin re-developing that sense of resilience.

But medication is not a one-size-fits-all solution. SSRI’s come with their share of challenging side-effects from weight gain to loss of libido and potentially difficult withdrawal symptoms when users are ready to stop taking antidepressants. Even for those who have embraced antidepressants, the medication can stop working after long term use.

One important technological advance which we should all keep in our toolbox for Operation: Save Yourself is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). In the Port City, you’ll find psychiatrist, Dr. Aaron Albert, is qualified to offer TMS. “TMS provides people with a safer, less scary and medication-free way to reclaim the lives they once had,” Albert writes.

TMS is non-invasive, FDA approved treatment that uses a changing magnetic field to stimulate certain areas of the brain associated with depression. It has been shown to be equally effective as antidepressants in treating depression with none of the side-effects.

Embracing Hope

Yes, we live in unprecedented times but these are not hopeless times. If you are struggling, you are not alone–in fact you’ve got more company than ever. Forgive yourself for what you have lost in this time and take those first steps or toe wiggles to begin walking towards the light. Whether through SSRI’s or TMS, depression doesn’t have to be a life sentence. And resilience is within reach.

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