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Grief and Loss: Taking Care of Yourself During a Terrible Time

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Our responses to grief are not just emotional but also physical, social, cognitive, and spiritual. Studies show that individual response to traumatic events such as death of a loved one or divorce vary greatly, with different severities and longevities. But it’s not easy for anyone. In the meantime, there are some things you can do to help yourself get through a difficult time.

Emotional Help

Expressing your feelings has wonderful therapeutic benefits. You may not feel like talking at all, but talk to someone anyway – a trusted friend, a counselor, or a support group. And find ways to express your feelings openly just for yourself, such as writing or drawing. Give yourself a break from your daily routine. If you can, take some time off work to slow down and take care of yourself. When you feel up to it, treat yourself to something you enjoy, like some music or a massage.

Physical Help

Grief can affect your appetite and desire to go about your daily activities, including exercise. But neglecting your health will have even more dire consequences now than normal. Getting sick right now will only exacerbate your trying emotions and prolong your unhappiness. Even if you don’t feel like it, eat healthy foods every day. Place an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, drink a lot of water, and avoid alcohol, which is a depressant. You may not feel up to a strenuous daily workout, but at least go for a walk each day. The combination of exercise, fresh air, and sunshine can help boost your mood.

Social Help

You will probably feel disconnected from your friends, family, and normal routine – that’s okay. But don’t let these feelings become overwhelming. Accept offers of help and support. Be open about what you need. If that means being alone sometimes, that’s perfectly natural. But don’t sink into a habit of being alone too much. Keep in mind that even if your friends seem to be withdrawing, they most likely want to help – they just don’t know how. So call them up and invite them over, or meet them for brunch. They will be glad you reached out, and you probably will be too.

Spiritual and Cognitive Help

Struggling with anger and difficult spiritual questions is normal in a time of loss. Finding someone to talk to about this can be helpful, but understand that sometimes working through these feelings takes time. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself forgetful or easily distractible. This is a normal reaction to intense stress and should ease up as you begin to heal.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Talking About Depression With Your Ob-Gyn

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Depression is one of the most serious and prevalent disorders affecting women in the present day. It is also one of the most underreported disorders affecting women, and the number of those affected by it is increasing every year. Depression affects women of all age ranges and social statuses, and it affects those in poor health as well as those who are seemingly in perfect condition. With depression being so common, and affecting so many, it would seem that Ob-Gyn’s regularly diagnosis this problem in women. However, studies are suggesting that doctors miss a diagnosis of depression in as much as sixty percent of their patients.

Whether the women had a preexisting diagnosis of depression, reported suffering from psychological distress, or simply felt as if they might be depressed, their depression consistently went undiagnosed throughout visits with their Ob-Gyn. The most common signs recognized by doctors included physical manifestations of the disorder, such as weight gains and losses as well as reported insomnia.

Those that did receive a diagnosis were primarily women who were under twelve months postpartum, those under thirty-five years of age, and women who were seeing their Ob-Gyn either to discuss their depression symptoms or as part of a regular checkup. The most common visits in which the depression went unnoticed were visits in which the woman had scheduled an appointment to discuss an existing complaint.

This raises the all-important question—why do so many doctors miss depression diagnoses? There are likely a number of factors, ranging from the feeling of suffers that they are not in need of help to a reluctance to discuss any issues that are not “medical” with a medical practitioner. However, it is important for women to realize that depression is a medical issue, and it is one that can severely impact them throughout their lives—and it can even impact their health directly. Recognize that your mental state is just as important to report as your physical state and, most importantly, persistent feelings of sadness, loneliness, and lack of interest in one’s life are not feelings that must simply be “dealt with”.  Your doctor can help.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Blue Christmas is an Annual Reality for Some

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Unfortunately, Elvis isn’t the only one who has experienced a “Blue Christmas.”  Depression during the holiday season is actually very common.  Although people can be depressed any time of year, we are often more aware of it during the holidays, because the festive season causes us to notice how non-festive our lives are.

Most of us would love for our holidays to be filled with joy, but making it happen can be stressful in itself.  There are so many factors to consider this time of year that it can be difficult to pin down the actual cause of someone’s holiday blues.  Depression can stem from financial constraints, stress from over-scheduling, frustration due to the inability to spend time with family, or, conversely, anxiety due to spending too much time with family.  High expectations and fatigue can also greatly contribute to holiday depression.  With all of the tasks that need to be accomplished before our dinners, present-openings, and get-togethers, stress can be at an all-time high.  On the other hand, for those who are removed from family and friends either due to distance or death, this time of year can be particularly lonely.  For still others, the time after Christmas is the most depressing, because of the letdown after all of the excitement and activities.  The most common cause of depression during the winter though, is Seasonal Affective Disorder, known appropriately as SAD.  As you probably already know, SAD is caused by the limited amount of sunlight the body receives during these short days.  Feeling sad isn’t the only symptom of depression either.  This emotional disturbance can cause severe anxiety, overeating or loss of appetite, insomnia or excessive sleeping, and in some, even physical pain.  How depression manifests itself varies by the individual.

Luckily, depression during the holidays is normally temporary.  However, if your depression lasts for several weeks or longer, it could be considered clinical depression.  In which case, you should visit your physician to discuss treatment.  There are a variety of treatments, and the one your doctor chooses for you will depend on the cause of your depression.  For instance, for SAD, light therapy can be very effective.  For more severe forms of depression, such as PTSD, long-term therapy from a qualified counselor may be needed.

 – Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.



What’s Making Depressed Mom’s Deliver Early?

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Nothing messes with our hormone’s more than pregnancy, which is why we feel so emotional during that time.  These emotions can certainly run the gamut, but when a tearful moment turns into weeks of depression, it’s time to call your physician.  There are studies pointing to depression as a factor when it comes to some premature births.  Besides that, it is simply a dangerous state in general for a pregnant or new mom to be in.

Researchers for the North Shore University Health System at the University of Chicago studied 14,000 pregnant women.  Their results showed that among the women who were clinically depressed, 14% delivered before their due date.  In women who were not depressed, preterm births were only at 10%.  Although 4% may not seem like much, when you’re talking about the health of your newborn, 4% is a big increase in odds.  The study did include socioeconomic factors as well, but did not study some other confounding variables.  Despite those flaws, the study found depression to be the common thread in many of the preterm births.

However, this doesn’t mean that being depressed will definitely lead an early delivery.  The way people handle depression can also affect their health and the health of their unborn baby.  Women using antidepressants, eating more comfort foods, drinking or using drugs could all be increasing these odds by not taking care of their depression properly.  Fewer than half of pregnant women in the U.S. are screened for depression. It’s always a good idea to seek out the advice of a physician before self-medicating, whether you are pregnant or not.  A good physician will try to determine the underlying cause of your depression instead of simply treating it.  Also, while it hasn’t been proven that antidepressants themselves may be linked to preterm births absolutely, there are studies suggesting a correlation.  Upon speaking with your physician, they may be able to offer alternative therapies for treating your depression rather than trying to prescribe medication to stop preterm birth——because that medication usually is ineffective with potentially harmful side-effects.

This information isn’t really surprising, as stress has long been known to have negative effects on pregnancy.  With depression being yet another source of stress for soon-to-be mom’s, and a medically-diagnosed one at that, you would be wise to take note of your mood.  It probably won’t stop swinging, but at least that’s better than slipping into long-term sadness.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.