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Y. Pritham Raj: 'As October is Depression Awareness Month, let's challenge ourselves to take a proactive approach.'

COURTESY PHOTO - Y. Pritham RajAmid COVID, another epidemic is on the horizon.

Mental health issues resulting from and exacerbated by COVID have created a second crisis. Between 2019 and 2020, the prevalence of depression increased fourfold. There are predictions that by 2035, depression will be the number-one cause of morbidity in the world.

As October is Depression Awareness Month, let's challenge ourselves to take a proactive approach.

One way is to look for the signs and symptoms of depression in yourself and others. There are many signs/symptoms of depression besides low mood. This includes sleeping more or less than usual, constant fatigue, restlessness, anxiety, irritability, poor appetite, unexplained weight gain or loss, and increased substance use. The actual diagnosis of major depression is made when symptoms persist for two weeks.

Isolation and taking care of kids or parents have taken their toll. This new way of living may prevent us from checking in with family, friends, and colleagues in our usual ways.

Burnout from stressful jobs can lead to depression. If you recognize these signs in yourself or someone you know, please reach out for help or advice. Your health insurance, a primary care doctor, a loved one, or NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) helplines are all available resources.

It is essential to know that depression is treatable. Depending upon the type of depression, many people find relief through talk therapy and/or a course of antidepressants (that help correct how the brain uses neurotransmitters). Now there are even more options, like TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), which stimulates underactive brain areas related to mood. Most insurance plans cover these treatments.

Here are three ways to take care of our mental health:

• Move your body. Physical activity is incredibly important for mental health! In one study, aerobic exercise had the same effect on mood as antidepressant medication. Just 30 minutes of walking or something similar each day will undoubtedly boost your mood and sense of wellbeing.

• Reflect on the good. One of my favorite things to recommend is the "Three Good Things" exercise. At the end of each day, name three good things that happened to you. Go beyond simply thinking about what happened to you and consider your active part in it. I often do this with my kids at night. Research has shown that this simple practice helps build resiliency and prevents burnout.

• Honor your passions. Our jobs and daily tasks don't always include activities that feel fulfilling. However, it's been proven that doing a little bit of what we're passionate about every week significantly impacts mental health and prevents burnout.

If you can, try to find a career you enjoy or focus on what you like about work. If that isn't possible, make efforts to do what you love outside of your job, whether it's volunteer work or a hobby.

It may be difficult to stay positive, but simple practices like these three can boost mood and wellbeing. Share these ideas with your loved ones, and let's combat burnout and depression together.

Y. Pritham Raj, M.D., is chief medical officer at Active Recovery TMS, a mental health clinic specializing in transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) as a treatment for depression and OCD. He is also an associate professor at Oregon Health & Science University in the departments of internal medicine and psychiatry.

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