Why mental health matters: Signs and treatment of depression

Nov 15, 2023


In recent years, mental health has become part of mainstream conversations in a way it rarely has before. That is good news, as depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Unfortunately, more than one-third of adults who experience it do not receive treatment.

Here’s why mental health matters — and why you should talk to your doctor about it.

More than just an “off day”

Depression is more than just feeling sad. It’s a health issue. “Depression effects much more than mood, and this is because the mind and body are interconnected. When we experience disruptions in our mental processes, the brain emits stress signals to the body which can suppress overall health,” explains Amanda Creott, LCSW, a behavioral health provider at the Adventist Health Feather River Health Center.

Depression is more than just having an “off day.” “It's a sign of an imbalance that can ultimately affect physical health,” says Creott. The good news? Just like many other health disorders, depression is treatable.

How do I know if I’m depressed?

Sometimes, depression can be difficult to identify on your own. But it helps to know the signs. If you are feeling irritable, down, sad or “emotionally flat” most of the time over a two-week period, you may want to speak with your healthcare provider. Feeling down doesn’t necessarily mean you have a depression diagnosis, but it often means you could benefit from some extra help.

You can discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider, and they can ask the right questions to better identify what’s going on in your life and in your body. Your provider might ask if you:

  • Have less energy than you used to
  • Struggle with simple decisions or with finishing tasks
  • Feel irritable about minor things
  • Lack interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feel like there’s nothing to look forward to
  • Feel “fake” or have trouble expressing yourself

It’s important to understand that feeling this way isn’t your fault. Often, a stigma persists that we should be able to force ourselves into a better mood or that if we are depressed, we haven’t been “trying hard enough.” As Creott explains, this simply isn’t true. “Depression, in addition to other mental health disorders, is often caused by chemical imbalances in the brain,” she says. Because these imbalances and patterns of thinking occur within the brain, most of the time they are unable to be visibly seen and are therefore misunderstood as not "trying" hard enough. “While there are ways a person can proactively manage depression, at its very core depression is a health concern, not a lacking in effort,” Creott assures.

How does my mental health affect my physical health?

We tend to think of our physical and mental health as two separate entities—but they are more interconnected than you may realize. Mental health and physical health have a symbiotic relationship, meaning that when you have poor mental health, it can show up in physical symptoms and vice versa.

Untreated, significant depression can increase your risk for both cardiovascular disease and cancer. Mental distress can also cause stomach pain, headaches or feelings of “heart racing.” For some people, getting help for depression may relieve physical symptoms they weren’t even aware they had.

Finding treatment options

The good news is that there are depression treatments that work. Depending on your symptoms, personal health history and risk factors, your healthcare provider may recommend:

  • Lifestyle changes: Small changes such as exercising and eating nutritious foods can help many people reduce depression symptoms. Even a brisk, 10-minute walk can release endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that boost your mood. If you are depressed, it’s normal to have a hard time motivating yourself to get started. Your healthcare provider can offer tips and encouragement. Sometimes, “fake it ‘til you make it” can help you get started with some dietary or exercise changes.
  • Talk therapy: Speaking with a therapist can help you learn to deal with everyday stressors in a healthy, productive way. Methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you understand how your thoughts affect your behaviors and vice versa. You may work on stress management strategies, coping skills or problem-solving techniques. For some people, talk therapy is a helpful standalone treatment. Many people, however, experience the most benefits when they combine talk therapy with medication.
  • Medications: Antidepressants are a common treatment for depression. These drugs work by balancing the chemicals in your brain to ease depression symptoms. Common options include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).

For many people, a persisting stigma makes them feel resistant to seek treatment for depression. But it’s crucial to understand that mental health conditions are just that: health conditions. If your doctor prescribed a lifesaving heart medication, you would take it without question. Your mental health should take the same priority.

If you are struggling with symptoms of depression or another mental health condition, find a healthcare provider near you.