Category "Depression"


‘Depression meals’: How diets connect to mental health – National

by BBG Hub

Catherine was formally diagnosed with depression at 13 years old and anxiety at 17. Both have severely impacted her relationship with food.

“When I’m in a depressive episode, I tend towards disordered eating,” she told Global News. “Maybe I’ll have one meal instead of three. [I often] eat too much or too little.”

Catherine, whose last name has been withheld to protect her identity, also works as a line cook.

“I spend all day cooking for other people [and] I find it really hard to take care of myself in the same way,” she said.

READ MORE: Suicide kills one person every 40 seconds, WHO says

When she feels depressed, she tends to opt for things like a handful of crackers or ordering a pizza — “something that requires little to no food prep.”

“My ‘depression meal’ a lot of the time is ordering food out, but because that’s expensive, I also eat a lot of cereal.”

Catherine believes the food she eats when she’s depressed, which typically lacks any real nutrition, reinforces her symptoms, furthering her depression and contributing to poor health overall.

WATCH BELOW: The physical symptoms of being depressed

“I feel noticeably better when I eat something good and healthy, but it’s really tough to find the spoons to do that sometimes,” she said. “The junk food makes me feel worse.”

It’s more common for people with depression to experience a decrease in appetite, but research also shows that as many as 35 per cent of people may experience an increase, said Dr. Simon Sherry, a registered psychologist at CRUX Psychology in Halifax.

“Changes in appetite may very well be part of how depression is expressed within a given individual, and we cannot assume uniformity in response,” Sherry said.

Eating while depressed

Global News asked Twitter users to share their go-to “depression meals,” and the response was overwhelming.

The answers varied. A lot of people reach for junk food (“usually a tub of icing or peanut butter,” said Natalie Preddie), while others find it hard to even think about eating.

“My depression meal is no meal. I just can’t find the energy to make a meal and I lose all appetite and feel repulsed by the thought of eating,” Aqsa Hussain said.

However, most responses had two things in common: when people feel depressed, they often go for foods that are easy to procure and provide them with comfort.

For example, Emmie Harrison-West said she always goes for a treat her late grandfather used to buy her when she was a child.

“Whenever I’m depressed, I genuinely go to the nearest shop and buy a pork pie to eat on my way home,” she said. “Even though I shouldn’t eat pastry (hello gall stones at 14), it makes me feel a strange sort of comfort.”

WATCH BELOW: Advice for parents as students balance school pressure, anxiety and mental health issues

It’s common to use food as a coping mechanism for depression, according to Sherry.

“Depression can have appetite-promoting effects… and [these people will] describe something like an eating-to-cope pattern. This is sometimes known as emotional eating,” he said.

“They’re eating to try and regulate the often difficult emotions that go along with depression.”

Sherry also says eating can satisfy an “escape motive” for some people.

Food can be “escape from the intense self-criticism [and] the negative self-view that often characterizes depression,” Sherry said. “The experience of eating may help wipe out a higher order of negative thoughts of self.”

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Depression is also a problem of “low motivation and low energy,” which can muddle a person’s desire to cook or make healthy dietary choices. Sherry says this could explain why some people crave junk food or takeout during depressive episodes.

“[Depression] often involves a massive challenge of self-regulation,” said Sherry. “It becomes hard to establish a routine, and absent a routine, regular sleeping, healthy eating and proper exercise become extremely difficult.”

How depression can change your diet

To understand how depression can affect one’s appetite, one needs to understand how depression may influence mood.

“When your brain is depressed, it may be that the reward circuitry within your brain is hyperactive,” said Sherry. “That could influence how your brain responds to food.”

For people who experience decreases in appetite, their brains may respond to food cues differently.

“In their case, you may not see the hyperactivity but the hypoactivity of the insular regions in the brain, and these insular regions within the brain are responsible for regulating your body’s physiological state,” he said.

READ MORE: Why aren’t Canadians cooking anymore?

An expert in eating disorders, Sherry often sees mental health disorders like depression co-existing with disordered eating.

A high percentage of women with an eating disorder have an accompanying mood disorder, “usually some sort of serious diagnosable form of depression,” he said.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 32 to 39 per cent of people with anorexia nervosa, 36 to 50 per cent of people with bulimia nervosa and 33 per cent of people with binge eating disorder are also diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

WATCH BELOW: How cooking helps ease symptoms of anxiety and depression

“You’ll see depression and unhealthy eating involved in a vicious cycle,” Sherry said, although researchers have yet to determine which typically comes first.

“Some people have argued that… depression and unhealthy eating may have a reciprocal influence on one another, where they can lead to each other over time.”

Things you should remember

During a depressive episode, just finding your appetite can be difficult. For registered dietitian Abby Langer, simply eating is a step in the right direction.

“I would rather you eat [a box of macaroni and cheese] than nothing at all. That’s called harm reduction,” she said.

“The worst harm is not eating at all. The second worst is eating a bag of chips or [a box of macaroni and cheese]… They may not be the best thing for you, but they’re better than the alternative.”

READ MORE: Stop obsessing over weight loss — focus on these 4 goals instead

If depression suppresses your appetite, Langer says to focus on choosing “what feels good or looks good to you in the moment.”

However, there are some things you can keep in your kitchen at all times so you’re prepared for the next time a depressive episode hits. First, she suggests protein bars.

“They’re quick, they’re easy, they don’t need preparation and they’ll give you a boost without giving you too much sugar,” she said.

“We want things like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, but even unsweetened dried fruit is fine.”

WATCH BELOW: New trend sees Canadians switch from meat to plant-based diets

Langer also recommends whole-grain cereals that are either unsweetened or sweetened very lightly, oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter in it or popcorn with peanut butter on it.

Registered dietitian Andrea Falcone also suggests keeping your pantry stocked with things like cans of tuna or oatmeal “to support a balanced intake.”

“Peanut butter or another type of nut or seed butter is a great item to also have, enjoyed on whole-grain crackers, a slice of whole-grain toast or with fruit,” she said.

“Simple is best… The key is to aim for a balanced meal including a protein, complex carbohydrate and healthy fat.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

[email protected]


© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Teen birth control pill use linked to adult depression, but don’t ditch them yet: experts – National

by BBG Hub

Women who used oral contraceptives as teenagers are at a greater risk of depression as adults, according to a new Canadian study, but experts say don’t jump off the pill wagon yet.

The researchers surveyed more than 1,200 women and grouped them into three categories – those who used hormonal birth control pills as teenagers, those who used as adults only, and those who never used them at all.

They found that women who used the pill as teens were between 1.7 and three times more likely to develop clinical depression than women who never used the pill.

The risk was consistent even years after first use – when women had stopped taking the pill.

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Lead researcher Christine Anderl, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia’s psychology department, said the relationship between the pill and depression also went unchanged when other factors – like smoking history and age of first sexual intercourse – were controlled.

However, she stressed that these findings do not prove that one causes the other.

“It’s impossible to say anything about causality just based on this data,” she told Global News. “None of these variables explain the link, but that doesn’t mean that we might not have unintentionally missed the real thing.”

Anderl said studies on animals have shown changes to sex hormones during puberty can have an “irreversible” impact, but studies on humans are “less clear.”

WATCH: Are fewer women using birth control pills?

While there appears to be a wave of women choosing to get off the pills, Anderl said that the findings shouldn’t deter people from the method.

She hopes the study fosters more discussion about the pros and cons of contraceptives of all kinds.

“The pill does have very obvious benefits.

“I think it’s a very personal choice for each woman,” she said. “Some options might just be better for one young woman than the other.”

Dr. Dustin Costescu, a family planning specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at McMaster University, agrees.

He suggested the study be taken with a grain of salt.

“Nobody is questioning the importance of birth control,” he told Global News.

“I think this study adds validation that if you’re having mood effects related to hormonal contraception use, there may be a better or different option out there for you.”

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This isn’t the first time researchers have looked at a possible link between the two.

In 2016, a Danish study surveyed more than one million women and found a link between women currently on the pill and an increased risk for depression. The same study, considered to be the largest on the topic to date, showed the link was particularly strong in teens.

Costescu said the problem with studies on this topic is how common both the pill and depression are in people independently.

“Birth control is one of the most commonly prescribed medications globally. Depression is well known to be what’s called multifactorial in nature,” he said.

“It’s hard to study things that everyone’s using against an illness that’s very common and caused by multiple factors.”

WATCH: Five factors that can impact the effectiveness of your birth control

Oral contraceptives come in a variety of hormonal strengths and are not always prescribed strictly to prevent pregnancies. The women surveyed in the UBC study were not asked about the type of pill they were using, so that was not factored into this study. The data also did not show whether the risk of depression increased for women who took the pill for a longer period of time, past adolescence.

Anderl said their research is just “one piece of a much larger picture” and that further study is needed on the long-term effects.

The team has launched a follow-up study which will look at hormone levels of women aged 13 to 15 over several years. Along with looking at a link to depression, the new study will delve into the type of pill or hormone level and the reasons why the teens are taking them.

“It [the new study] won’t allow us to say whether the relationship is causal or not,” Anderl said, “but at least it will tell us what comes first in these women – is it that they first use birth control pills and then get depressed? Or is it the other way around?”

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As the UBC researchers point out, oral contraceptives are particularly popular among teens. In the U.S., more than half of sexually active women aged 15 to 19 use the pill. In Canada, oral contraceptive use has dropped, according to a survey by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, as more women rely on other forms.

Though the age of first sexual intercourse hasn’t changed, women are choosing to prevent pregnancies longer than in the past, Costescu said.

This means young women are on birth control pills for longer.

“We need to meet their goals and expectations,” he said, “which is a decade of not getting pregnant.”

The doctor’s advice for those experiencing mood changes on the pill – talk to a doctor first.

“With this study, it doesn’t mean stop the medication right now. It means have a conversation first.”

“I can tell you there is a method of risk control out there for everybody,” Costescue said. “The key is to have the conversation, listen to what the goals are, and find the right one.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Becoming a father can negatively impact men’s mental health: survey – National

by BBG Hub

A new survey has found that becoming a father can be a more stressful, isolating experience than previously thought.

Conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Movember Foundation in June, the survey asked 4,000 fathers aged 18 to 75 in Canada and several other countries about their experiences as a new dad.

Of the respondents, who were also from the U.K., Australia and the U.S., 70 per cent said their stress levels increased in the 12 months after welcoming their first child.

READ MORE: Dad bias: Why are fathers disproportionately praised for parenting their kids?

Some 23 per cent of dads said they felt extremely isolated, too — 20 per cent reported losing a number of close friends in the same time period.

According to the results, new fatherhood also had a negative impact on physical health: 56 per cent of respondents said they experienced at least one new negative health behaviour in the year after becoming a dad. This included everything from exercising less to gaining weight to drinking more alcohol.

These results don’t come as a shock to Gregory Fabiano, a psychology professor at the University of Buffalo who specializes in fatherhood.

Stigma associated with having mental illness as a man

In his research, Fabiano found men are generally less likely to seek support from the healthcare system due to stigma.

“If you look at the research, women are much better [than men] at accessing and engaging with resources that might help them,” he explained. The research supports these claims: a 2016 study found that Canadian women were more likely than men to seek help from their primary healthcare provider.

It’s not unlikely that this discrepancy extends to parenthood. “If you have a new mother, they may be more open to and maybe even have more opportunities to engage with ways to learn about what might happen to them,” he said.

READ MORE: COMMENTARY: Involved dads are happier and healthier, these researchers say

Fabiano believes this could be because the healthcare system has been slow to adapt to the realities of modern parenting. In 1976, Canadian stay-at-home fathers accounted for 1.43 per cent of the primary caregiver population. By 2015, that number had risen to about 10 per cent.

Fabiano experienced this firsthand when he became a father.

“I was really energized to be a really good dad and [to] be really involved,” he said. “We had my son, and two weeks later we went to the first doctor’s appointment. When we got into the room, I realized there was only one chair.”

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Fabiano offered the chair to the baby’s mother. It didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but once the appointment began, he felt largely underfoot. “They talked with the mom… there was really nowhere for a second parent to be so I thought, ‘I’m not going to go to these anymore,’” Fabiano said.

Mark Henick has had a similar experience. He’s a mental health expert and the principal and CEO of Strategic Mental Health Solutions based in Toronto, a consulting firm that specializes in helping organizations and individuals provide meaningful, measurable mental health support.

READ MORE: Daddy bonus? UBC study finds dads make more than their childless peers

However, despite his knowledge of the mental health system in Canada, he still struggled to find support specifically for fathers after his second child arrived.

“I’ve worked in the mental health sector and I’ve been deeply involved for more than a decade,” said Henick. “When I had my second child, I definitely experienced some symptoms of postpartum depression. But even for me, being somebody who knows the system very well, it was difficult to navigate and difficult to find help and resources.”

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“I think we do still see a significant amount of stigma,” he said. “For men in particular, there’s the societal view that men need to be the breadwinners, the survivors, the strong one in the family… so they can’t express their emotions.”

Although none of these stereotypes are true, they continue to prevent new fathers from opening up about their postpartum depression — even though the dangerous condition is a common issue for men. According to a recent meta-analysis of 43 studies, 10.4 per cent of new fathers experience postpartum depression within three to six months after a child is born.

This stigma can make fathers feel excluded from postpartum care, which can leave the mental health impacts of becoming a parent untreated and left to grow more severe.

The impacts of becoming a parent

For both men and women, there are several different ways first-time parenthood can impact your physical and psychological health.

“On the practical front, a lack of sleep is extremely detrimental for your mental health,” said Henick. “If you’re waking up every hour or two hours [with a new baby], many studies have shown that interrupted sleep is even worse than not getting much sleep at all.”

READ MORE: Signs of postpartum depression in dads are often mistaken or missed, study shows

After welcoming your first child, most parents also experience a huge shift in the way they understand their identity — a shift which can have big implications for your relationships and other parts of your life.

“You’ve spent the last 30, 35, 40 years of your life defining who you presently are, and then all of a sudden, that has to change,” said Henick. “Now you’re a mother or a father. Now you’re responsible for another life.”

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Fabiano agrees. “Becoming a parent is a very stressful life event,” he said. “It’s a very joyous and happy and exhilarating life event, but it’s also incredibly stressful.”

Sleep deprivation, increased financial responsibility, strain on your personal relationships and the needs of your child are just some of your new potential sources of stress and anxiety as a new parent. “A lot of life changes very quickly,” said Fabiano.

In his view, fathers need exposure to these changes (and the best ways to handle them) long before the baby arrives in order to be better prepared.

What new fathers need

“Dads need to be involved not only when the child is born but also when they’re going to preschool, learning to read, developing friendships and making decisions about college and career,” said Fabiano.

Expectant fathers should be prepared to be “actively involved” in their child’s entire developmental trajectory. In Henick’s opinion, this requires more conversations with young men long before they’re even thinking about starting a family.

“I think that we need to do a better job of that from even school age, assuming that fathers are going to be equal parents,” he said. “I think we need to do a better job of shifting that cultural difference. It’s not just the mother’s responsibility to raise the child.”

READ MORE: Postpartum euphoria is more than just feeling happy — experts say it can be a ‘lethal condition’

It also means encouraging more discussion about how men are affected by mental illness more generally — something that has yet to happen on a large scale.

“How to actually identify what emotions you’re feeling, what to call them and how to deal with them,” Henick said. “Generally speaking, we don’t have that conversation [with boys and men].”

Parenting coach Julie Romanowski outlines a three-pronged approach to preparing men for fatherhood.

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“The first one is giving them the lowdown. “Saying, ‘hey, this is what you can expect,’” she said. She believes it’s crucial for the expectant father’s support network to be honest about how all-consuming the first few years of parenthood can be — especially since this is typically something only taught to women.

“Giving the father that information up front is ideal…. nothing is worse than fear of the unknown,” she said.

The second skill Romanowski teaches her clients is how to reassure oneself.  “Who reassures us parents? Nobody,” she said. “Learning how to tell yourself, ‘it’s going to be okay — we got this’ is crucial.”

READ MORE: Nearly one quarter of moms experience postpartum depression or anxiety: StatsCan

The third prenatal lesson every father needs is how to maintain his self-esteem. “There’s nothing like being a new parent that will shatter your confidence,” said Romanowski.

“Take time for yourself to develop and maintain that ]self-care] relationship,” she said.

Henick wants anyone struggling with mental health issues to know that “there’s hope out there.”

“People need to realize that… they should reach out for help and that there are people out there who can who can help them. These feelings are not forever,” he said.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

[email protected]

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Experiencing withdrawal: What it’s like to stop taking antidepressants – National

by BBG Hub

When Elizabeth tried to get off her antidepressants for good, she says she felt like she was in a fog.

The 29-year-old educator, who asked Global News to only use her first name, said she had six days of “serious side effects” after she stopped taking paroxetine, an antidepressant often used to also treat anxiety.

“I had nausea, headaches, felt sick and like something was ‘off,’” she said. “[I felt] lethargic and had no energy, no motivation and struggled with sleeping.”

READ MORE: ‘I couldn’t believe it’ — why disability claims for mental health are often a struggle

She had been on the medication for about two years, and had attempted to go off twice before, but the withdrawal symptoms were just too much.

This time, she did more research online to see what other people experienced so she was aware of what may happen.

“I prepared myself for what I expected to be a long journey,” she said. “I talked to my family and warned them of the side effects and that I would need extra support and encouragement during the withdrawal time.”

It took Elizabeth a couple of weeks before the pain subsided, and she slowly gained her energy back.

WATCH BELOW: How cooking helps ease symptoms of anxiety and depression

“After about a week, I started to notice that I was feeling a bit more like myself, and by week two, I felt like I had beat the ‘fog,’” she said. “[My doctor] didn’t really explain any side effects, or how [the medication] would affect me.”

How many people are on antidepressants

Elizabeth is not alone in her experience.

Canada is among the top counties with the highest rates of antidepressant use in the world, according to 2017 data by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Based on government data from 2011 — the most recent available — antidepressants were the most prescribed drug for men 25 to 44, and the top drug prescribed to women aged 25 to 79.

(A 2014 study out of the University of Calgary found that antidepressant use in the country may now be stabilizing.)

READ MORE: ‘Depression isn’t like a broken bone’: Steps to overcome this common mental illness

In the U.S., antidepressant use has almost doubled since 2010, and more than tripled since 2000, according to data analyzed by the New York Times.

And as antidepressant use has increased in recent years, so have conversations around the withdrawal.

On Thursday, the U.K.’s Royal College of Psychiatrists released a new report warning of possible side effects of antidepressants, urging health-care providers to better monitor patients who use the drugs.

The report said there should be more awareness around side effects of the medications, highlighting the fact that some people may experience “long-lasting withdrawal symptoms on and after stopping antidepressants.”

READ MORE: More children and teens are having suicidal thoughts, but experts can’t pinpoint why

The authors recommend patients be tapered off the drugs under doctor supervision, and that researchers should “develop clear evidence-based and pharmacologically-informed recommendations to help guide gradual withdrawal from antidepressant use.”

The report echoes sentiments of what many antidepressant users have been saying for years.

In a recent op-ed in the Guardian, writer Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett described how when coming off the drugs, she experienced “panic attacks, dizziness, headaches, irrational fury, dramatic mood swings, suicidal thoughts and exhaustion.”

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“Luckily, I have a doctor in my family, who, after my ill-judged initial attempt to go cold turkey ended in hospital, recommended that I take it slowly by cutting my pills in half and reducing down to every other day, then every three days and so on,” she wrote.

“I am now drug-free and fine, but it was no picnic: not for me, and not for the people I love, who had to be around me.”

Antidepressant side effects

For some people, withdrawal symptoms are so debilitating they seek comfort through mental health support groups. On Facebook, there are public and private groups where members discuss their experiences coming off antidepressants, as well as how they feel on the drugs.

On these forums, many people describe symptoms ranging from changes in weight, irritability, nightmares and changes in sex drives. Others seek the counsel of other users because they say their doctors did not inform them of adverse side effects.

READ MORE: Ketamine for depression divides experts: ‘I’ve seen these drugs come and go’

Dr. Donna Stewart, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, said there are two main types of popular antidepressants that are commonly prescribed for depression and anxiety disorders: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs).

These antidepressants treat depression by increasing the number of certain brain chemicals, like serotonin, which carries messages between brain cells.

Popular SSRIs include Prozac (known generically as fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Zoloft (sertraline) and Lexapro (escitalopram).

SNRIs include venlafaxine (Effexor), duloxetine (Cymbalta), levomilnacipran (Fetzima) and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) outlines.

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When coming off these drugs, Stewart says common side effects can include dizziness, abnormal sensations, digestive symptoms, flu-like symptoms, depression, anxiety, sweating and poor sleep.

She also says people may experience what they describe as a “brain zap,” which feels like an electric shock of sorts. “Brain shocks frighten people,” she added.

While withdrawal can be alarming, Stewart says that many people experience minimal or no side effects when coming off their medication.

But for others, the withdrawal symptoms can be so alarming that they go back on the medications or stop trying to go off them altogether. This happened to Elizabeth the first few times she tried to get off her meds.

READ MORE: 8 signs your child may be going through depression

“The first time I attempted to go off, I had dropped my dosage by half for a week, and then the next week, I tried going every other day. Unfortunately, once I was off, I started experiencing anxiety again and decided to go back on probably two weeks after,” she said.

“The second time, probably a few months later, I decided to go cold turkey and I lasted three days before I needed to go back on.”

Stewart says it’s important for patients to know the difference between withdrawal symptoms and signs of their depression or anxiety. A recent study published in medical journal The Lancet found that if withdrawal symptoms are mistaken for recurrence of a mental health issue, like depression, it can lead to “long-term unnecessary medication.”

Withdrawal symptoms typically begin within days of stopping medication and last several days to weeks, Stewart says. “They are less common if the med withdrawal is tapered,” she explained.

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Withdrawal also often includes symptoms that you normally don’t experience with your anxiety or depression, like flu-like symptoms or “brain zaps.”

A symptom of a mental health condition, on the other hand, can come on weeks or months after stopping the medication.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of your mental health condition again, or are unsure of your symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor, Stewart says.

What antidepressants should be used for

According to the World Health Organization, 4.4 per cent of the world’s population suffers from depression.

CAMH defines clinical depression as a “complex mood disorder caused by various factors, including genetic predisposition, personality, stress and brain chemistry.” It can range in severity, and affect people at different points in their lives.

For people with mild depression, Stewart says that antidepressants should not be first-line treatment; psychotherapy and environmental changes should be explored first.

Part of the reason why so many Canadians are on antidepressants is because there’s not enough publicly funded mental health services, Stewart said. For people with mild depression, “a good government-sponsored psychotherapy program” would be helpful, she said.

Instead, many patients are prescribed drugs for symptoms that may be manageable through therapy.

READ MORE: ‘I hated myself’: Maisie Williams says fame harmed her mental health

But when it comes to moderate to severe depression, antidepressants can be incredibly helpful and often a necessary part of treatment.

CAMH says that most people who use antidepressants need to take them for at least a year.

For patients with moderate to severe depression, Stewart says they may need to be on antidepressants for two years or longer, depending on their condition and how many depressive episodes they have. (It’s important to note that everyone’s treatment plan is unique to them.)

Stewart also points out that antidepressants are often used to treat anxiety disorders as well, and can be helpful in managing conditions like panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

How to go off antidepressants

If you’re on antidepressants and want to get off them, Stewart says it’s important you talk to your health-care provider. They should be able to inform you on how to lower your dose, tapering you off the medication safely.

It can be very dangerous to stop taking prescription medication on your own, or go “cold turkey.” Apart from withdrawal symptoms, people should be educated on possible mental health concerns.

READ MORE: Men suffer from eating disorders, too — so why do we ignore them?

Stewart says there’s still a lot of stigma around mental health conditions, making it hard for some people to seek help. She says it’s important for anyone suffering from anxiety or depression to speak to a health-care professional.

Elizabeth says while she is off antidepressants today, the medication helped her when she needed it.

“I have never considered using [antidepressants] again, but I am thankful for the freedom they gave me,” she said.

“[They helped] me learn about myself and learn how to cope with change and stressful situations while having assistance from the medication.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

[email protected]

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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‘I never want to forget them’: Memorial tattoos help people cope with loss, grief – National

by BBG Hub

The passing of a loved one can be utterly devastating. Grief is all-encompassing, and for some, it never really goes away.

Tattoos present a unique way to cope with the grief.

“Memorial tattoos help continue bonds with the deceased,” said Deborah Davidson.

She works as a professor of sociology at York University, and she’s the creator of The Tattoo Project.

READ MORE: More names to be added to singer’s tattoo tribute to suicidal youth

“Tattoos can be understood as a form of public storytelling,” said Davidson. “Stories help us make sense and meaning out of things that happened to us.”

When placed in a spot where other people can see it — as most are — a memorial tattoo is often an intentional conversation-starter.

“People fear their loved one will be forgotten… not by themselves, but by others,” Davidson said.

“[Tattoos] open that dialogue so you can talk about what your tattoo means and remember the person you lost that way.”

READ MORE: How to talk to your kids about the death of a loved one

Some memorial tattoos have a beginning and an end date, making it obvious that it represents a life that has come to an end. However, in Davidson’s experience, most memorial tattoos are more inconspicuous.

“The stories associated with lots of these tattoos are not sad stories. People want to remember their loved ones and have happy memories of them,” she said.

The permanence of body tattoos can also have a comforting quality for someone dealing with tragic loss.

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“They’re permanent, so their loved one and their story and their memory will be with you forever,” said Davidson.  “[Tattoos] help incorporate loss into the lives of the bereaved in meaningful ways.”

In a lot of cases, grief is also a permanent fixture in the life of the bereaved.

“There are no five stages of grief,” Davidson said. “A main complaint of people that are grieving is that they’re expected to get over it [after] a certain amount of time, but it doesn’t work that way.”

Eunice Gorman, a professor at King’s University College, agrees. She’s an expert in grief and bereavement.

READ MORE: Rejection hurts — here’s how to deal with it

“[Grief] affects everybody differently. Most people will manage to kind of bungle their way through grief… but we know that some people really struggle.”

That’s why some people turn to tattoos as a coping mechanism, of which there are many.

“Coping mechanisms are as unique as the people who are grieving,” said Gorman.

WATCH BELOW: Kingston man pays tribute to Humboldt tragedy with tattoo

Some people will go to support groups, some will read, some will exercise. Whatever a person chooses, coping mechanisms are crucial to surviving after loss.

“People often get tattoos because it’s a remembrance for other people… It’s a way to link them to the person that they loved,” she said. “For other people, it’s kind of a touchstone. They can look at it or they can touch it and they can be brought back to remembering them.”

Courtesy: Alyssa Davies

Alyssa Davies from Calgary, Alta.

“My grandpa hadn’t been doing well and was in the hospital for months. During that time, my grandma was so focused on my grandpa getting well that she didn’t take care of herself and ended up unexpectedly passing away first. My grandpa then passed away a few months later… It was a tough year for our family — particularly my mom.

“My grandpa was an avid gardener and had won many gardening awards in Calgary in his retirement. My grandma and I shared a love for poetry and passed along a book of poems by Robert Frost. I got the butterflies to commemorate my grandpa’s love for gardening and as a nod to my grandma, as Robert Frost’s first published poem was My Butterfly.

“I like to think that whenever a butterfly is near or flying by that it’s either of them saying hello — which probably sounds crazy, but it makes me feel good.

“These tattoos were a great way to commemorate two people who had a massive impact on my life when I was younger. I think tattoos are a form of artwork, and for those of us who aren’t as creative with a pen and paper, artwork that allows us to see the people we’ll always love come to life again.

“I got a lot of tattoos when I was younger that I certainly regret now, but this isn’t one of them. It’s so 2000s and it’s faded and it’s the ‘basic’ butterfly tattoo that a million girls probably have but it still makes me smile and it still brings me joy every single time I look at it… Sometimes we forget memories and people, but I never want to forget them.”

Courtesy: Rob Marshall

Rob Marshall from Toronto, Ont. 

“I got my first tattoo in 2016, five months after my mom passed away following her two-year battle with ALS. While she was sick, I stumbled across this picture online, teared up, and made it my phone background. Something in the way the mother lion was embracing her child — almost enveloping it — made me think of my mom.

“My mom is the reason for all the kindest, most loving parts of myself. She was a constant source of light and love. So to see her suffer as her ALS progressed was the most difficult emotional experience I’ve ever been through. For over a year, this picture on my phone helped me ground my thoughts.

“When my mind fixated on the terrible images of her fading health and suffering, this image was a shortcut to think of everything she meant to me instead.

“I’d look at it and think of her smile, her hugs, the way she’d snort when she laughed hard enough (and immediately turn red in embarrassment), the way she loved without question, without pause, and with her whole heart. After she passed, I decided to get that comforting image tattooed on my forearm as a way to remember her, and to keep those positive thoughts and feelings at the ready.

“It’s there when I miss her, when I think of those difficult times when she was sick, when I’m having a good day that I wish I could share with her. I carry her with me everywhere, every day, just as I carry those best parts of myself that she instilled in me.”

Courtesy: Kathy Kenzora

Kathy Kenzora from Mississauga, Ont.

“I have a ‘dad’ banner tattoo on the inside of my right wrist… I got it in June 2018 in honour of my dad, Bob Kenzora, who died on March 30, 2018. He died following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 77 years old.

“My dad had a ‘mother’ banner tattoo on his left forearm that he got in his 20s while working as a lumberjack in British Columbia. To me, it was always a symbol of his strength and his sense of humour. He used to joke that he got it so that his mom wouldn’t be mad at him when he came back to Ontario.

“After he died, the nurses at the hospital gave us some time to say our final goodbyes. It felt impossible to leave him there.

“Before I could go, I felt like I needed another way to remember him, so I took a picture of the tattoo on his arm and promised myself I would get one just like it.

“My dad was my hero and my idol. My tattoo gives me so much joy because it feels like a piece of him will be with me always. I love my tattoo and I know my dad would have loved it too.”

[email protected]

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Ketamine for depression divides experts: ‘I’ve seen these drugs come and go’ – National

by BBG Hub

Depression can be completely debilitating, making it difficult to do even the simplest tasks — like getting out of bed or brushing one’s teeth.

Unfortunately, it’s very common. According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people around the world are currently suffering from depression.

Now, there may be a new way to treat the illness: ketamine.

READ MORE: ‘Emotionally draining’: The effect depression has on tasks like brushing hair, showering

Ketamine is commonly used as an anesthetic and painkiller in animal and human surgery. It also rose to popularity as a party drug in the 1990s. Now, it’s being lauded as a possible cure for treatment-resistant depression.

“We have a large sub population in our country with depression who can’t work… they just can’t break this vicious cycle,” said Dr. Roger McIntyre, president of the Canadian Rapid Treatment Centre of Excellence (CRTCE).

McIntyre hopes ketamine can break that cycle.

The CRTCE, which administers rapid onset treatments for depression in the form of ketamine injections, is the first of its kind in Canada.

How does the treatment work?

At the CRTCE, ketamine is delivered through intravenous infusion. According to the clinic’s website, “the protocol for administering ketamine is still being refined. Nonetheless… most individuals will receive four infusions (i.e. two infusions per week for two weeks).”

The cost of this treatment at the CRTCE is $3,000, and it is not paid for by the public health plan of Ontario (OHIP).

The process is overseen by a physician trained in anesthesia, as well as a nurse.

“The dose of ketamine by someone on the street… is about 10 times higher than the dose [you would be given] if you went to the hospital this afternoon for a procedure that required anesthesia,” said McIntyre. “The dose that we use to treat depression is about one-10th… of the dose used in anesthesia. So we’re using ‘sub-anesthetic doses.”

According to McIntyre, this does not mean the process is without safety concerns.

WATCH BELOW: ‘He likes to give hugs’: Man says emotional support alligator helps his depression

“[We] know it’s generally well received by patients, but it would be inaccurate to say that you don’t get any side effects,” said McIntyre. 

According to Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), ketamine can produce “vivid dreams and a feeling that the mind is separated from the body.” This effect is known as “dissociation.”

The intensity of the effects depend on several factors, including: your age, your body weight, how much you take, how often you take it, how you take the drug and more.

“Some people do become addicted, and continue to use ketamine even when they plan not to or despite its negative effects,” as stated on the CAMH website.

Ketamine works faster than other treatments

If a patient presents with intense suicidal thoughts, ketamine may be a more effective short-term treatment than other antidepressant medication.

“Most antidepressants take approximately four, six or even eight weeks to work. That’s a long time,” said McIntyre. “If you’re suffering, ketamine can work within one day.”

Dr. David Gratzer, a psychiatrist at CAMH, is hopeful about the effects of ketamine on depression for this reason.

READ MORE: 8 signs your child may be going through depression

“We are looking for a way of providing more rapid relief of depression than one might ordinarily see with Prozac and [similar] drugs,” said Gratzer.

“The evidence is there but we have to take it with a grain of salt because it’s early days. That being said, we do seem to find evidence that it helps people very quickly, particularly people who have many thoughts of suicide.”

Ketamine is a last-ditch effort for those who have tried everything else

Depression is difficult to understand — even for medical professionals.

“As with most diseases in physical medicine and mental health, we have a sense of what’s involved but we don’t exactly know,” said Gratzer.

According to Gratzer, doctors do know that family history and certain traumatic life events are connected with a higher risk of depression.

“However, two people can be raised in the same household and eat the same foods and have a relatively similar childhood and one can get heart disease while the other doesn’t,” said Gratzer.

WATCH BELOW: Study links exposure to infection in the womb to increased risk of autism, depression

“Likewise, you can get [depression] and your sibling may not. So, while we do recognize there’s a strong genetic component… it’s not 100 per cent. There’s more going on.”

Because of the evasive nature of depression, finding a treatment that works can be difficult.

Once someone is diagnosed, they are usually prescribed one of or a combination of three kinds of treatment: exercise, talk therapy and medication. According to Gratzer, patients “do the best” when they do all three.

READ MORE: Is ASMR an effective way to treat anxiety and depression?

But, for some patients, none of these treatments work. And that’s where ketamine can be an exciting option.

“Ketamine is one of a handful of medications that is out of the box,” said Gratzer. 

To be eligible for treatment at the CRTCE, there are three criteria: you are over the age of 18, you are medically stable and you have had a minimum of two other treatments for your depression.

‘Early reports are good, but now we need to take it to the next step’

McIntyre admits that the full effects (positive and negative) of the drug are unknown.

An issue McIntyre and his team are paying close attention to is the impact ketamine can have on other organs, like the kidney or the bladder.

Another is whether ketamine can act as a gateway to other, more severe drug abuse, said McIntyre. 

The CRTCE website states that, “it is critical to understand that ketamine researchers are still exploring a multitude of ways that ketamine infusions impact the human brain. They are working towards understanding why this form of treatment works so quickly and effectively.”

Despite its positive impact thus far, Gratzer isn’t ready to call ketamine a “wonder drug” yet.

WATCH BELOW: 5 ways to help a friend with postpartum depression

“I’m optimistic, but I’ve got a few gray hairs, so I’ve seen these wonder drugs come and go,” he said.

“We need to take it to the next step… can we use it on more people safely? What sort of side effects do they get? Are the effects [on depression] we see with ketamine lasting?”

Gratzer is interested to see whether the effects of ketamine can remain beyond the days after it’s injected.

“It’s great that some people might see relief… if you’ve got a pain on your left hand, it’s great that you feel better with a Tylenol. But that tends to fade and maybe what you really have is a little infection of the skin and what you should really take is antibiotics,” said Gratzer. 

“I hope this is working out because it will be helpful, but I don’t really know and I don’t want to be too optimistic. Like a lot of private healthcare, the sales pitch may not be as good as the reality.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

[email protected]

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Infection during pregnancy increases your baby’s risk of autism, but not by much: study – National

by BBG Hub

Babies born to mothers who had an infection during pregnancy are at an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder and depression, a new study has found.

The study found a 79 per cent increased risk of autism and a 24 per cent increased risk of depression in children exposed to infection while in utero, as well as an increased risk of suicide.

READ MORE: Yet another study finds no link between MMR vaccine and autism

Researchers analyzed patient data from pregnant women hospitalized between 1973 and 2014 in Sweden.

From a database of nearly 1.8 million children, researchers used hospital codes to determine which babies were exposed to infection. They then tracked those children and their mental health through the years, with some of the oldest babies now entering their forties.

Researchers divided infections into three categories: the first was any infection at all, the second was “severe maternal infections” and the third was “mild maternal infections” (namely, urinary tract infections).

WATCH BELOW: Women should wait a year before getting pregnant again, study says

“We thought of (severe) infections as things that would cause a whole bunch of inflammation in the mother,” researcher Benjamin J. S. al-Haddad told Global News.

“Things like sepsis (when there’s bacteria in the blood), severe pneumonia (where moms need special help breathing because they have such a severe respiratory infection), meningitis or encephalitis (infections around the brain), pyelonephritis (where the kidneys have bacteria and puss), as well as influenza and chorioamnionitis (where the different parts of the placenta become infected over the course of giving birth).”

Researchers hypothesized that something as mild as a UTI would not be linked to such a high increased risk — but they were wrong.

READ MORE: CHUM’s embryo research could improve IVF treatment in the future

“From our results, it looks like we see similarly increased risk whether the mother had a UTI or something more severe,” al-Haddad said. “It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of infection it is.”

No link was discovered between exposure to infection in utero and other mental conditions, such as bipolar disorder or psychosis.

Researchers worried about other conditions present in mom (such as asthma or diabetes) that could taint the results.

WATCH BELOW: The importance of including autism training for public workers

However, even when they controlled for such conditions, the link between infection and an increased risk for autism and depression remained.

“The things that we controlled for included maternal age, maternal asthma, maternal diabetes, premature rupture of membranes (which is when the sac holding the liquid that the fetus is in breaks before mom goes into labour), maternal tobacco status (whether mom smoked or not), and then we also did special controls for siblings,” al-Haddad said.

The results of the study suggest that infection can “impart subtle brain injuries contributing to the development of autism and depression,” said researchers.

READ MORE: One third of pregnant women don’t think cannabis will harm their babies, study says

While these results sound scary, al-Haddad stressed that the increased risk is in addition to the preexisting baseline risk.

“In the United States, the risk of autism is one out of every 59 kids. Our results suggest that on top of that baseline, there would be a 79 per cent increased risk. We don’t know what that number would be, but the extra risk conferred on top of a baseline low risk, in terms of the population, is not high,” said al-Haddad. (Autism Speaks Canada reports that one in every 66 children have autism in Canada.)

“This is just one of a myriad of causes that we think increases risk. This is another piece of trying to understand what the causes of autism are and how we can prevent those causes.”

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What does “increased risk” really mean?

It’s important for parents to understand that the reported 79 per cent increase in risk sounds like a big number, but it’s actually quite a small increase on the pre-existing risk.

“It’s still (less than) 1 per cent in terms of the absolute increase (in risk) a particular child has. Basically, that means almost 98 per cent of kids whose mothers have an infection during pregnancy that would cause hospitalization are not born with autism or another neuro-developmental condition,” Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou. She works as a child neurologist and senior clinician scientist at the Bloorview Research Institute.

“So it’s a small absolute risk, but it’s a big risk biologically in the sense that we are learning that there is a mechanism to do with infection that likely interacts with our genes that may increase the chance of developing autism.”

READ MORE: New Canadian pregnancy guideline shows exercise cuts odds of major complications by 40%

On its own, exposure to infection during pregnancy is not enough to cause autism, but it can be a contributing factor.

“It’s one of the ways that our environment (in this case, infection) may interact with our genes to somewhat increase our risk,” Anagnostou added.

This study is helpful because it explains one of the many different changes that can happen in the brain and the body that can contribute to autism.

Some findings should be interpreted with caution, says one doctor

“It’s not the first time we’re learning this,” Anagnostou said. “We have lots of evidence from animal-model and previous human studies that significant infection during pregnancy increases risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism.”

However, there are a few findings that should be interpreted with caution, Anagnostou told Global News.

READ MORE: Vancouver Canucks taking steps to help fans with autism enjoy the games

“(Researchers) tried to look at the severity of infection and whether the severity of the infection would change the impact, and… they said that severe infections were not different than a regular urinary infection, but we have to be careful because these people were admitted to hospital.”

For Anagnostou, those admitted to hospital didn’t have a “regular” urinary infection. Only a more severe infection would warrant a hospital stay. In a similar vein, the kids who later developed autism were also hospitalized.

“Both the people who had infection and the kids who had autism were hospitalized, so they are not representative of the larger population,” she noted.

Other factors which can increase your risk of autism

The most robust explanation for autism comes from our genetics, Anagnostou said.

“But our genes and our environment interact… and there’s a series of these environmental exposures that have small but consistent effects.”

One is infection during pregnancy, and some infections are worse than others.

“That’s why we want all moms to be vaccinated. For example, rubella during pregnancy (is linked with) a very high risk of autism.”

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“Other factors could be maternal diabetes, use of certain medications during pregnancy, an increased paternal age… all of these things are robust. We know they’re important to biology, but the actual increase is very small for each one of them… so no parent should be feeling guilt because they happen to develop an infection during pregnancy,” said Anagnostou.

“We have zero evidence that vaccines increase the risk for autism.”

Autism is a difference that comes with both “difficulties and advantages”

According to Anagnostou, autism is a developmental difference that causes the brain and the body to grow and connect in different ways than someone who doesn’t have autism.

“Sometimes, that’s associated with things that cause distress and dysfunction, and we want to treat those things,” said Anagnostou. “But sometimes, it actually comes with unique gifts and unique perspectives.”

Anagnostou said people with autism are more likely to think out of the box and they’re more likely to contribute to innovation.

READ MORE: New autism supports coming to Ontario schools due to therapy funding changes

“Speaking generally, they’re good employees, they have very low absenteeism (rates), they tend not to lie,” Anagnostou explained. “It’s a difference that comes with both difficulties and advantages.

“It’s important that we don’t lose perspective of the things that need to be treated, because a lot of these children need our support, but it’s also important to not lose perspective of all the unique qualities people with autism bring to society.”

[email protected]

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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‘Depression isn’t like a broken bone’: Steps to overcome this common mental illness – National

by BBG Hub

Depression can slowly takeover a person’s routine, often making it difficult to go to work or even get out of bed.

A clinical state of depression can be intense, making it hard for some to balance their relationships or social life, often making them feel worthless, weak or sometimes suicidal, said Toronto clinical psychologist Dr. Maneet Bhatia.

But there are others with mild symptoms of the mental health illness: they may be “high-functioning” on the outside, but carry the burdens of feeling depressed from time-to-time.

READ MORE: 8 signs your child may be going through depression

“Mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum, we have to live in a world where we have to continously think about it,” he told Global News. “Feeling depressed and being clinically depressed are two different (but common) things.”

Is there really a ‘cure?’

Bhatia said when people are diagnosed with depression, most healthcare professionals will set up a plan to overcome it. It’s different for everyone, he added, and many people go into it thinking depression can be a lifelong battle.

“Cure is a medical word, but mental health and depression isn’t like a broken bone,” he continued, adding that there are ways to “cure” your symptoms, but it doesn’t mean you are cured forever.

“Cure implies it is black and white and it’s not always the case,” he said. “You can manage it and overcome it, but it still means you have to take care of it.”

Steps to overcome depression

In a post for Psychology Today, psychotherapist Linda Esposito said if you want to overcome depression, you need to resist the urge to live in the past. “Time spent reliving, rewriting and recreating the past is like purchasing a one-way ticket to the dark depths of despair,” she wrote.

“This insidious mental habit is as much a threat to emotional well-being as any. Self-loathing or blaming others will not get you on the right side of feeling better, any more than believing the answer is found at the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniels.

“You cannot do life differently if you don’t change your thought process.”

Dr. Jane Framingham, in article for PsychCentral, added that overcoming depression requires taking baby steps. “If you feel good one day, and decide to try and start a new business or make a new friend and you fail, it could be a forceful setback in overcoming depression,” she wrote in October 2018.  “Instead, try things out slowly, and experiment with change one step at a time.”

READ MORE: CMHA offering program to help people battling anxiety or depression

She also noted that not all paths to overcome depression are a straight line. “There will be setbacks in your journey recovering from depression, no matter if you focus on going it alone (e.g., without seeking formal treatment), or even if you are in treatment with an antidepressant or psychotherapy,” she continued.

“Take the setbacks in stride, though, and keep them in perspective — it wouldn’t be work if it was simple to recover from depression. Depression recovery is a process that will take time, but as long as you stick with the goal of change, you can overcome depression in due time.”

Here are some other tips Bhatia recommended:

Recognize the signs: Signs of depression in children and adults can include irritable moods, feeling of guilt or worthlessness, losing interest in things over time or trouble concentrating. Other symptoms of depression, Bhatia added, include loss of appetite, change in sleeping habits or isolation.

Reach out to your support network: Once you recognize the signs, reach out to a mental health professional and your close family and friends. Bhatia said this allows people in your network to check in on you and also allows you to update them.

Find the treatment that works for you: This one will vary depending on the person, but once your healthcare provider recommends a treatment option (medicine, mindfulness, therapy or all of the above), take this treatment seriously.

READ MORE: Depression leads to shorter lifespan — Canadian study

Try lifestyle changes: Sometimes managing or overcoming depression means making lifestyle changes. This includes eating healthier, getting more sleep, staying active or even picking up a hobby.

Be mindful of your thinking patterns: One of the biggest ways to advocate for your own health is to be mindful of how you feel, he added. This can be achieved through therapy, but sometimes this means keeping track of your day-to-day and seeing how your treatments or therapy are working for you.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

[email protected]

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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