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Would you ever say I’ve got lupus or I’ve got diabetes without knowing if you really had the diseases?  Probably not but most us frequently will say we are depressed whether or not we’ve been diagnosed.

Depression is more than feeling sad or down every once in a while. Depression is a serious illness that gets in the way of the normal things we would do from day to day like going to work and school.  It also disrupts relationships and has a major impact on the people around us.  And there are certain symptoms that are red flags according to Dr. Tanya Douglas-Holland who has suffered from depression herself.  She says she normally slept 7 to 8 hours per night with no problem.  But when she started having extreme bouts of insomnia that was an indicator that something was very wrong.   The key, Dr. Tanya says, is to keep track of how long symptoms continue. The difference between actual major depression and feeling sad or “down in the dumps” is feeling that way daily over the course of two weeks.

There are lots of forms of depression and one that has been getting a lot of attention lately is post-partum.  That’s the illness attributed to Miriam Carey, the woman who was shot and killed after ramming her car into a barrier at the White House earlier this month.

In typical fashion, many people who knew and worked with Miriam Carey said she was a fun loving person and they were surprised that she had mental health disorders.  It was her mom, probably the closet person to her, who revealed that she had been having issues after the birth of her little girl. There are lots of misconceptions associated with depression.   Dr. Tanya says one of them is that is that it’s only common within certain racial/ethnic groups.  This kind of thinking is what keeps so many African Americans from seeking help.  How many times have you heard someone say Black women don’t get postpartum depression, or that’s a “white person’s” disease?  Dr. Tanya says some people even believe that depression is a sign of weakness.

In reality, it takes real strength and courage to get help or to convince a friend or loved one to get the counseling she or he needs.

For the rest of us who get the blues from time to time that calls for some attention too.  Like so many moms out there, I’m juggling several jobs at one time and even though I’m extremely blessed there are times that I get overwhelmed and feel sad.   Reading or listening to inspirational books makes me feel better. I also make a list of all of the things I love about life.

Some other things I do include giving into a food craving, getting some fresh air, doing volunteer work or playing music that makes me want to dance.

But by far, the one sure thing that gets me out of a sad mood is hearing my 11-year-old son laugh at one of his own jokes.   From the time he was a baby, his contagious giggle could bring a smile to practically any one’s face.

But too often, people will try to convince depression sufferers that what works for them will also change their moods and that’s a dangerous mistake.  Prayer, music, and human contact are all good things but they are not the cure for depression and offering them up in lieu of professional help just prolongs the problems and could lead to tragedies like the one precipitated by Miriam Carey.   There are many things about depression that remain a mystery, according to Dr. Tanya. Although having parents with the disorder can increase your risk of having it, genetics is just ONE component.  There are other factors that can trigger an episode, she says.

Being self -observant and paying close attention to those around us is one way to at least monitor moods and be aware of changes that may need more attention.  With any health concern we should be proactive and not reactive.  We owe that much to ourselves and the people we love.

Beating the Blues: Why We Need to Take Depression Seriously  was originally published on