Dealing with Depression

coping with depression and experiencing the healing powers of ribollita

Depression is an extremely common disorder in the United States, and Dinner Table Doctor has become quite the expert in helping patients with depression. I know this because through the years many friends, acquaintances, family members and even strangers have told me how much he has helped them.

The stress, uncertainties, and feelings of isolation due to this pandemic are topics that have come up during many recent dinner conversations, and DTD’s general advice when dealing with depression is worth sharing. Most recently, we talked about this while enjoying a fabulous and simple meal of ribollita, a Tuscan Italian bean soup. The recipe I’ll share is part of an entire Italian theme night which was a definite mood-booster for us. First, our medical discussion:

Diagnosing Depression

DTD sees patients suffering from depression every day. Sometimes these people recognize that they are feeling sad or depressed, but some initially make an appointment for other reasons. They may be experiencing physical symptoms or maybe aren’t sure what the problem is; they just know that something is wrong.

Unfortunately, there is no blood test to diagnose clinical depression, but there are certain criteria a doctor looks for in a patient to make this diagnosis. If for a period of at least two weeks, a person experiences:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • difficulty eating
  • loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities
  • issues with sleep
  • decreased energy
  • trouble with concentration
  • an altered sense of self-worth

and these symptoms are not the result of substance abuse or a recent catastrophic event, then they should see a doctor to explore the possibility of clinical depression.

DTD stresses to patients that diagnosing depression is not always easy. Sometimes simultaneous life events are so horrible – job loss, death of a loved-one, illness, a pandemic, etc. that anyone would be depressed. Sometimes everything is going well, but you feel sad. Life and health are full of nuances, but a good doctor should be able to figure out your problem.

When is Medical Treatment for Depression Necessary?

DTD typically draws a Venn Diagram like this:

One circle is LIFE, meaning stress due to circumstances such as employment, marriage, money, etc. The second is COPING SKILLS, which include your personal coping methods, good or bad. These might involve exercise, prayer, talking to someone, or drinking or drugs. The third is BIOCHEMISTRY. When all three circles combine to create depression, medical treatment may help.

Treating Depression

Medicines for depression aren’t a quick fix. Depending on your biochemistry, one medicine or a combination of medicines will be necessary. It may take time to figure out what’s best for you. Most people who present with clinical depression for the first time benefit from medication taken for 9-12 months, and if they stop too early they may experience more frequent bouts of depression. All of these factors are topics your doctor can explain more thoroughly in designing a care plan to fit your personal needs.

DTD explains that medicine for depression is not a “happy pill.” It is used to correct your biochemistry. The analogy he uses is, if your car won’t start because you need gas, when you fill the tank it works normally – not faster or better but just as it should. If the car wouldn’t start because of the battery, then gas won’t make a difference. Medicines for depression are the same. They can help if that’s your problem, but they won’t do anything for you if not. If you are clinically depressed, medications won’t make you suddenly happy or able to avoid stress in life. Instead, they correct your biochemistry to put you on a level playing field. Then you work with your doctor to find positive coping skills and to try and address the life stressors you are experiencing.

Medications used to treat depression are not habit-forming or addictive in any way. Although they have side effects, like all medications do, they are not high-risk. If you think you might be suffering from depression, talk to your doctor.

Hope for Depression

DTD says there is absolutely no reason you have to live your life feeling like this when you can be treated. It is a very common medical problem, and just like asthma or high cholesterol, you can and should seek treatment.

As you must know from reading my blog, one of my personal coping skills is definitely cooking. A really good meal brings me much joy. I am so happy to share not only a wonderful, healthy, and simple recipe with you, but also an entire experience that provides great distraction and entertainment during these difficult times of isolation. This is courtesy of my friend Cheri Passell, whose blog is a favorite of mine. She shows you how to create a taste of Italy with mood music from her play list, a delicious and simple recipe for ribollita, some suggestions of Italian movies, and a link to study the language if you’re really feeling motivated! All of this great information is in her post “Missing Italy? Try This!”

I promise you that, even if you have never been to Italy, you will enjoy creating the experience of this Italian theme night. DTD and I had a great time. We listened to Cheri’s playlist while cooking this Tuscan soup which is full of beans, veggies, and bread. DTD paired the ribollita with a Tuscan red blend, Tolaini Valdisanti Toscana, which I highly recommend. This full-bodied, fruit forward wine went perfectly with the soup and some crusty bread made by DTD himself! We watched Io Sono Tempesta (I Am Tempesta) a silly, lighthearted Italian movie with subtitles. We felt like we were back in Italy.

If you are feeling sad or depressed and it has been affecting your health or life in general, an Italian theme night probably isn’t going to help – please see your doctor as soon as possible. You can and should get treatment. And if you’re feeling like giving up entirely or you might hurt yourself, please seek help immediately. ❤️

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