The sun rises over the sleepy city, and I've already been up for several hours, lying in bed having an early morning existential crisis -- the usual. The winter semester has just ended, and instead of feeling relaxed and elated, I feel tense, exhausted and utterly tortured.
My entire body is extremely bloated, and I struggle to find the energy to get out of bed. My skin itches and burns all over, and my jaw is locked shut from fiercely clenching it throughout the long, arduous night.
(Photo: Brianna Guarneri)
The last few months of university had proven to be extremely challenging for me. I could barely manage to stay afloat. I defied all deadlines for my schoolwork, pulling crazy stunts -- like handing in a research project nine days late -- and constantly asking for extensions. I also struggled to produce my opinions section for The Concordian newspaper on a weekly basis, and felt that I didn't deserve my editorial position. I saw myself as an imposter hiding amongst a bevy of accomplished and ambitious journalists.
The pressure felt overwhelming, and the cracks in my life were becoming fissures. Over time, everything became complicated and difficult, and my emotions went into overdrive. Even writing -- my one true passion -- became almost impossible. I was barely able to type out a single word. Staring at the blank screen, I felt infuriated and cursed.
I entered a period of self-imposed exile where I withdrew from society, only speaking to a handful of close confidants. Everyone knew something was wrong and urged me to speak to a medical professional.
Almost a week later, I found myself in the doctor's office, feeling like a wounded animal. I spoke with my family doctor for almost 45 minutes, and we filled out a survey together that asked general questions regarding mood, behaviour and appetite. By the end of the appointment, he concluded that I was suffering from severe anxiety and depression, and sent me off with a prescription in tow.
The news hit me like a ton of bricks. I've always been an anxious person, but I'd always kept it under control. I was too naïve to realize that all these struggles could be related to mental illness. And now I'd be taking medication that would alter my brain chemistry?
Well, it turns out, 20 per cent of people in this country will experience a manifestation of mental illness at some point in their life, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. It's a lot more common than we think. In an article published in MacLean's in 2009, Lev Bukhman, the executive director of a student insurance program, revealed that antidepressants were the number one drug purchased by students.
Seroplex and Citalopram (its generic equivalent). (Photo: FRED DE NOYELLE /GODONG VIA GETTY IMAGES)
"Mental health issues are one of the biggest challenges facing students today," Bukhman said in the same report, highlighting that many students become susceptible during their time at a postsecondary institution.
Citalopram -- the drug I was prescribed -- is an antidepressant from a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). They are commonly used to treat both depression and anxiety, since they increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, according to Mayo Clinic, a renowned medical nonprofit based out of the U.S.
As one can imagine, I was incredibly anxious and cynical about taking these pills. The fear of losing my artistic abilities and personality were my main concerns, and I desperately loathed the idea of turning into a mindless buffoon pumped full of sedatives.
After doing a lot of research, I decided to take the plunge and swallow the first pill. Expecting to feel an immediate sense of euphoria, I was disappointed to discover that I didn't feel any different. Everyone kept saying that I'd only begin to see a change in four to six weeks, but I didn't want to wait.
All hope seemed lost, and I felt once again lost at sea. Was this what rock bottom felt like?
Small victories were made, though -- one afternoon I found the will to find a new therapist. My old one had been a vapid creature with frazzled baby hairs and a medieval approach to mental health.
The most effective treatment for depression is a combination of both therapy and medication, according to research published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2014. This study followed 452 depressed individuals -- some were given medication, while others were given medication in conjunction with cognitive therapy. The findings showed that the latter group fared far better, and their symptoms improved faster compared to their counterparts only taking medication.
Things gradually improved -- albeit at a snail's pace -- and I began to notice tiny changes. I was able to get more than four hours of sleep each night, and on certain days, I successfully made it to the gym. My body returned to a normal state as I regained my appetite and the scars from those nasty rashes began to heal.
A huge debate continues to rage around the topic of antidepressants, with many diminishing the reality of mental illness, stating that they shouldn't be treated with drugs. Giles Fraser, a journalist for The Guardian, wrote in his weekly column: "Happiness can be reclaimed by doing a bit more exercise or being more sociable. This sounds healthier than pills."
I'm not saying antidepressants are for everyone, but I can definitely say they helped me tremendously. Although the process was painstakingly slow, my chutzpah has returned, and the very fact that I'm writing this article is a testament to the certainty that you can recover from anxiety and depression.
Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email email@example.com
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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is most commonly associated with winter blues, and it afflicts about 5 percent of Americans. But for less than 1 percent of those people, this form of depression strikes in the summer. Warm weather depression arises when the body experiences a "delay adjusting to new seasons," says Alfred Lewy, MD, professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland. Instead of waking and enjoying dawn, the body has a hard time adjusting, he says, which could be due to imbalances in brain chemistry and the hormone melatonin. More from Health.com: 10 Tips for Dating With Depression The Most Depressing States in the U.S. Depressing Jobs: Career Fields With Hight Rates of Depression
Smoking has long been linked with depression, though it's a chicken-or-egg scenario: People who are depression-prone may be more likely to take up the habit. However, nicotine is known to affect neurotransmitter activity in the brain, resulting in higher levels of dopamine and serotonin (which is also the mechanism of action for antidepressant drugs). This may explain the addictive nature of the drug, and the mood swings that come with withdrawal, as well as why depression is associated with smoking cessation. Avoiding cigarettes -- and staying smoke free -- could help balance your brain chemicals.
When the thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone, it's known as hypothyroidism, and depression is one of its symptoms. This hormone is multifunctional, but one of its main tasks is to act as a neurotransmitter and regulate serotonin levels. If you experience new depression symptoms -- particularly along with cold sensitivity, constipation and fatigue -- a thyroid test couldn't hurt. Hypothyroidism is treatable with medication.
It's no surprise that sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, but it could also increase the risk of depression. A 2007 study found that when healthy participants were deprived of sleep, they had greater brain activity after viewing upsetting images than their well-rested counterparts, which is similar to the reaction that depressed patients have, noted one of the study authors. "If you don't sleep, you don't have time to replenish [brain cells], the brain stops functioning well, and one of the many factors that could lead to is depression," says Matthew Edlund, M.D., director of the Center for Circadian Medicine, in Sarasota, Fla., and author of "The Power of Rest."
Spending too much time in chat rooms and on social-networking sites? A number of studies now suggest that this can be associated with depression, particularly in teens and preteens. Internet addicts may struggle with real-life human interaction and a lack of companionship, and they may have an unrealistic view of the world. Some experts even call it "Facebook depression." In a 2010 study, researchers found that about 1.2 percent of people ages 16 to 51 spent an inordinate amount of time online, and that they had a higher rate of moderate to severe depression. However, the researchers noted that it is not clear if Internet overuse leads to depression or if depressed people are more likely to use the Internet.
When something important comes to an end, like a TV show, movie, or a big home renovation, it can trigger depression in some people. In 2009, some "Avatar" fans reported feeling depressed and even suicidal because the movie's fictional world wasn't real. There was a similar reaction to the final installments of the Harry Potter movies. "People experience distress when they're watching primarily for companionship," said Emily Moyer-Gusé, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University, in Columbus. With "Avatar," Moyer-Gusé suspects people were "swept up in a narrative forgetting about real life and [their] own problems."
You can endlessly debate whether city or country life is better. But research has found that people living in urban settings do have a 39 percent higher risk of mood disorders than those in rural regions. A 2011 study in the journal Nature offers an explanation for this trend: City dwellers have more activity in the part of the brain that regulates stress. And higher levels of stress could lead to psychotic disorders. Depression rates also vary by country and state. Some states have higher rates of depression and affluent nations having higher rates than low-income nations. Even altitude may play a role, with suicide risk going up with altitude.
The sheer number of options available -- whether it's face cream, breakfast cereal or appliances -- can be overwhelming. That's not a problem for shoppers who pick the first thing that meets their needs, according to some psychologists. However, some people respond to choice overload by maximizing, or exhaustively reviewing their options in the search for the very best item. Research suggests that this coping style is linked to perfectionism and depression.
Low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon and vegetable oils, may be associated with a greater risk of depression. A 2004 Finnish study found an association between eating less fish and depression in women, but not in men. These fatty acids regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin, which could explain the link. Fish oil supplements may work too; at least one study found they helped depression in people with bipolar disorder.
Although unhappy relationships with anyone can cause depression, a 2007 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that men who didn't get along with their siblings before age 20 were more likely to be depressed later in life than those who did. Although it's not clear what's so significant about sibling relationships (the same wasn't true for relationships with parents), researchers suggest that they could help children develop the ability to relate with peers and socialize. Regardless of the reason, too much squabbling is associated with a greater risk of developing depression before age 50.
Like any medication, the pill can have side effects. Oral contraceptives contain a synthetic version of progesterone, which studies suggest can lead to depression in some women. "The reason is still unknown," says Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, in New York. "It doesn't happen to everyone, but if women have a history of depression or are prone to depression, they have an increased chance of experiencing depression symptoms while taking birth control pills," Dr. Hutcherson says. "Some women just can't take the pill; that's when we start looking into alternative contraception, like a diaphragm, which doesn't contain hormones."
Depression is a side effect of many medications. For example, Accutane and its generic version (isotretinoin) are prescribed to clear up severe acne, but depression and suicidal thoughts are a potential risk for some people. Depression is a possible side effect for anxiety and insomnia drugs, including Valium and Xanax; Lopressor, prescribed to treat high blood pressure; cholesterol-lowering drugs including Lipitor; and Premarin for menopausal symptoms. Read the potential side effects when you take a new medication, and always check with your doctor to see if you might be at risk. More from Health.com: 10 Tips for Dating With Depression The Most Depressing States in the U.S. Depressing Jobs: Career Fields With Hight Rates of Depression