Time to Ask for Help?

BY

May 01 2010 12:00 AM ET

In my previous column I wrote about coping with uncertainty by maintaining a sense of optimism when the world seems to be kicking you around. But let's face it, life is what it is. A client who I'll call Sean admitted that he was feeling like his life was in a tailspin: "I'll say it straight out. I don't know how I made it in here today. I'm barely getting out of bed. I can't shake off this feeling that I don't have any hope."

How are you doing? Are you rolling with the punches? Or are you finding that those days when things feel almost unbearable are starting to outnumber the good ones?

>When things fall apart. Feeling sad at times is part of being human. But people who are depressed have trouble maintaining their normal lives-getting up in the morning, doing work around the house, getting together with friends. Depression causes pain for the person who is depressed, and it also causes pain for the people around them who want to reach out but don't know what to do.

>Your life, your meds, your mood. The challenge of HIV and antiretrovirals can affect your mood. On some days you may feel like the challenges are overwhelming. Your medications can also affect your emotions; depression can be a side effect.

>How do you know if you are depressed? There are different kinds of depression, which a mental health professional, working with your doctor, can help to diagnose. A diagnosis is based on symptoms that are common among people suffering from depression. Key symptoms include overwhelming sadness, fatigue, loss of interest in things you enjoy, isolating yourself, getting irritable or angry easily, losing or gaining weight, or having difficulty sleeping.

>Don't diagnose yourself. Keep in mind that the presence of symptoms does not necessarily mean that you are depressed. Only a professional can make this determination for you. But if you think there is a possibility that you may be depressed, you can take the first step to find out for sure.

>When the going gets tough... Go shopping! Shrink shopping, that is. If you feel like the sadness or other symptoms that you are experiencing may be depression, you may want to first talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to help you with depression through medication or by referring you to a mental health professional. You can also find a mental health professional on your own by exploring local resources or going online. Try to find someone who not only understands depression but who also has experience in addressing the special needs of individuals living with HIV.

>Build prevention into your routine. Don't isolate yourself at home. Get out and do something you enjoy, even if it's only to take a walk. Get together with your friends and with your family. Eat a balanced diet. Get some exercise and kick-start your good mood hormones. Who knows! You might even want to get a pet.

Depression is treatable. Dial or double-click -- but reach out! Don't go through this alone.

McClain is a licensed counselor in New York City with a speciality in coping with chronic and life-threatening health conditions. His books include The Complete Idiot's Guide to Breaking Bad Habits and Empowering Your Life With Joy, and he is a frequent contributor to health-related publications. He is also on the board of directors of Miracle House, a nonprofit that serves patients and caregivers who are visiting New York City for HIV or cancer treatment. He welcomes e-mail.

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