May is mental health awareness month. With depression rates increasing in recent years, it’s important to acknowledge mental illness as something that affects many in our midst and to openly discuss mental health care and the many free resources available in our community.
Depression is a worsening mood that can be situational or spontaneous. Situational depression is triggered by events or circumstances like death, loss of a job or changes in a relationship, but for many people, depression occurs without any specific trigger and is thought to be related to changes in neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that can affect mood.
Depression can manifest in different ways. Common signs are apathy, irritability, changes to sleep or eating patterns, loss of interest in sex and withdrawing from friends and family. In children and adolescents, this may show up as a reluctance to go to school or see friends.
For some people, there can be increased use of substances such as alcohol or other drugs. Sometimes friends and family are the first to notice a change in mood; becoming familiar with common symptoms may help you start a conversation with someone in whom you’ve noticed a change. Learning the symptoms of depression may also illustrate a pattern you’ve noticed in yourself.
Once a change in mood is recognized, it’s important to get help, just as you would for a physical illness. Depression is not the only mental illness to affect mood; anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia also affect mood but are treated in very different ways than depression, so it’s important to speak to a health care provider trained in mental illnesses. A great initial point of contact is your primary care provider, who typically treats issues like anxiety and depression.
Treatments for depression range from therapy to medications, but many studies have found that a combination of the two generally works best; of course, this is highly variable based on the symptoms and their severity. In addition to these treatments, many studies have shows that non-pharmaceutical strategies, like meditation, yoga and exercise, can be effective for mood improvement.
Stress and anxiety can lead to depression; meditation is thought to improve how the brain handles stress and anxiety by focusing on calming breaths and reflection. Yoga incorporates aspects of meditation in combination with gentle stretching that can be adapted for nearly everyone. Daily physical activity has been shown repeatedly to be effective for depression, anxiety and for conditions like chronic pain that frequently lead to depression.
Tewksbury has many opportunities for residents to explore new physical activities and connect with their community. Try one on for size, meet new friends and explore what Tewksbury has to offer!
There are several programs for those looking to try meditation or exercise to improve their moods. These include exercise and yoga programs offered at the Senior Center including Bone Builders, Men’s Yoga and a Walking Club. Find a class for you at by contacting the Council on Aging, dropping by the Senior Center or calling 978-640-4480.
Parenting is stressful; connect with other Moms in the community for some group exercise at ‘No Excuse Mom Tewksbury, MA’ on Facebook. The group is 840 moms strong and continues to grow.
The Tewksbury Library is hosting free outdoor yoga sessions sponsored by the Front Line Initiative open to all in our community. The community yoga classes are taught by Chris Connolly, RN and are being offered behind the library on Fridays beginning May 6-June 10 from 10-11am. Register here. Once you’re registered for one session, you’re registered for the entire six-week series.
Prefer a solo activity? Tewksbury is home to several excellent hiking trails maintained by the Open Space and Recreation Plan Committee. Find a list of green spaces and download a map of trails right here in Tewksbury.
Lastly, if you feel like you have a worsening mood or increased anxiety, reach out to your primary care provider to discuss further. The Front-Line Initiative provides a variety of mental health resources within our community, including counseling, and can be reached at 978-215-9642. Additionally, the National Suicide Prevention hotline provides immediate counseling 24/7 over the phone and can be reached at 800-273-8255. However if you feel like you may harm yourself or anyone else, please call 911.
There are many resources right here in town that can improve our mental and physical health. As the days get longer and warmer, I hope to see you on the hiking trails!