How to avoid getting depressed

Oh my. This is a big chunka change, as we would say in New York.

The extent of my formal education in psychology is one semester of Psych 101. I have, however, lived with depression all my life. Literally. I can remember being very young (perhaps five) and not wanting to live. Putting my head face down on the pillow so I couldn't breathe. If you are into poetry at all, you should read Jane Kenyon's wonderful poem, "Having It Out with Melancholy."

So I can't give you any kind of scientifically verifiable facts about the disorder, only my own and some of my loved ones' experiences.

  • My paternal grandmother probably had Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Family lore had it that she would sit at her kitchen table literally wringing her hands and repeating, "I'm so nervous, I'm so nervous." (I bet everyone else around her having to listen to that was nervous, too.)
  • My maternal grandfather was hospitalized in later life for "schizophrenia." Inasmuch as this was sometime in the 1940s, I consider the diagnosis questionable. Photographs of both him and my maternal grandmother show grave, even melancholic faces; their lives weren't easy, with nine children.
  • My mother suffered postpartum depression after my birth (1952), so severe that my older siblings and I were sent to stay with aunts until she recovered. (My father was working 9–5.) My mother was treated with valium and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, familiar to most people from its overwrought description in the film and book One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). My mom escaped Jack Nicholson's fate, but she continued to be recurrently depressed until well into her seventies.
  • My older brother was almost certainly a persistent depressive, with a possible comorbid personality disorder. He medicated himself into an early grave with alcohol.
  • As I stated above, I've struggled with depression all my life. I've been hospitalized for it numerous times and I believe it has greatly influenced my life choices and limited my productivity.

My second husband, who died as a result of his bipolar I disorder, came from three previous generations with evidence (hospitalization) of mental illness, including depression and manic depression (the former name for bipolar disorder (BPD)). BPD depressions are generally considered to be the most severe in the depression spectrum.

There you have my non-too-brief curriculum vitae in the world of mental illness. There's pretty strong anecdotal (and actual) evidence that depression, at least, "runs in my family."

At this point in the scientific research, depression and manic depression are pretty much agreed to have strong genetic links. In fact, researchers are beginning to identify "the first two genetic markers reproducibly linked to major depressive disorder."

(The scientists who disagree with these findings are to be found floating on an ice floe with their climate change denier colleagues.)

This is not to say that the gene is always expressed, nor that its expression can't be modulated by environmental and other factors. Recent research has also intriguingly indicated that adverse environmental effects such as emotional trauma can be passed on to a sufferer's children's genes.So, too, can situational depression (that resulting from, e.g., divorce, loss of employment, loss of SO, marriage, divorce, etc.) lead to the chronic form if left untreated.

There are also identifiable differences in the brains of the mentally ill from normal people's, both structurally and chemically. Which brings us back from the scenic route to your question.

We all know that our daily habits affect our physical health. We know we also feel better emotionally when we take care of ourselves physically. The food we eat, the beverages we drink, the exercise we take, all have definable chemical effects on our brains. A sound mind in a sound body, etc. People who have been depressed or think they might have a genetic or other predisposition for it should follow general health guidelines and pay close attention to some other issues I've outlined below. There are some rather cheerful general guidelines posted here,as well.

My own guidelines for fighting depression (not always rigorously followed):

  1. Drink lots of water.
  2. Avoid alcohol and and other drugs, both OTC and illicit. Recent studies have shown that acetaminophen (present in many OTC formulations) can cause changes in mood and emotional affect. Street drugs should be avoided, although there's growing evidence that, in some cases, marijuana and some other psychoactive drugs can be beneficial in treating depression.
  3. Meditate.
  4. Challenge yourself, physically and mentally.
  5. Follow a schedule. Everyone's circadian rhythm is different; find yours and try to stick with it. Difficult in a 9–5 world, admittedly.
  6. Curb negative thinking.
  7. Volunteer to help your neighbors, your community and, by extension, our world.
  8. Keep a gratitude journal.
  9. Even if you're an introvert by nature, be with people you love and enjoy as much as you can.
  10. Seek out the natural world and submit to its beauty.

I'm not sure how helpful this will be. I have no definitive answer for your question. The human brain, in the end, is an infinitely intricate thing.

Have you asked to answer someone like Kelly Rencher? She's a psychologist who writes very eloquent answers on subjects like this.

I wish you well all the best.


Having it Out with Melancholy

First robust genetic links to depression emerge

Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children's genes

10 Natural Depression Treatments

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