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by Wendy Fennell, MFT

Life is a series of ups and downs. Everyone experiences "the blues" from time to time, or feels "stressed out". How do you know if your sad or depressed feelings are impacting your quality of life or even your health? Below are some guidelines. As a rule of thumb the time has come to seek help when five or more of the following symptoms occur for at least two weeks:

Symptoms of depression:

  • feeling guilty, worthless, "empty", unloved, hopeless
  • no longer enjoying things you used to
  • feeling very tired and lethargic
  • feeling nervous, restless or irritable
  • unable to concentrate
  • crying frequently or easily
  • sleeping more or less than usual
  • eating more or less than usual
  • having persistent headaches, stomachaches, pain or other physical symptoms
  • having thoughts of death, especially suicide (seek help immediately for this one)
There are many types of depression and the above is just a general guide, but for all types of depression there is effective treatment available. In addition to the many anti-depressant medications (a doctor or psychiatrist can access if these are right for you), another method for treating both depression and anxiety is working with negative thought patterns. This is called Cognitive Therapy, and has been shown to be very effective in the treatment of both depression and anxiety.

When I work with clients, we first determine if there are any issues that are being masked by the depression or anxiety symptoms that need addressing. A few examples of this could be a loss or death that has never been dealt with, or unhappiness in a relationship or job that is not being acknowledged. In these cases sometimes identifying and working through the feelings, or taking action can greatly help reduce depression and/or anxiety.

Sometimes people have learned to think negatively about themselves from their early experiences or their interpretation of those experiences. These become part of their belief system and seem like reality.

Here is an example; Jan grew up with parents who were high achievers and had very high expectations for their kids. When she brought home A's and a few B's she was given the message "that's good but you can do better". Jan concluded (unconsciously) that she didn't measure up. In adulthood Jan works in a high-pressured job where the expectations are so high she constantly thinks "I don't measure up", "someone else could do a better job", "I'm not valuable", etc. Instead of being able to realize that it is the company's unrealistic expectations that are the problem, she thinks that she is the problem and becomes depressed.

In working with depression it is important to incorporate techniques that work with a person's distorted thoughts and help them to determine whether those thoughts are reality. One simple method is to "examine the evidence". In Jan's case she needs to ask herself "what are the facts", "what do they show"? If she is honest with herself she can acknowledge that she is a very hard worker and that the facts show she is one of the top producers in her company. From there she can identify the distorted thoughts and begin to understand how they are contributing to her feelings of worthlessness and depression. The next step is to catch herself and learn ways to change her thinking.

This is just one example of many for methods that work with negative thought patterns. Like anything else these take time and practice. A big first step is for a person to realize how their thoughts contribute to their depressed or negative feelings, and that their thoughts are not necessarily reality!

Many people suffer with depression and do not even realize they are depressed. It is important to identify the symptoms that indicate when there is a need to seek help. In the case of depression, even if it is mild to moderate, working with a mental health professional can greatly improve the quality of a person's life.


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©2006-2015 Wendy Fennell, MFT
1815 Fourth Street  Santa Rosa, CA 95404   (707) 537-1452


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