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December 18, 2017
Depression. It can rear its head at any point in a person’s life, and it can last for weeks, months or even years. For fire fighters and paramedics, it often occurs as a direct result of certain experiences on the job. The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression as a serious mood disorder that’s present for at least two weeks and causes severe symptoms that affect thoughts, feelings and daily activities.
The IAFF Center of Excellence specializes in the treatment of depression and other mental health issues that can coincide with substance use disorders. Whether you are considering enrolling in a treatment program, or are currently in recovery, you may have questions about how to manage depression. With a few basic activities, you can open the door to a purposeful life again — when you’re not on the clock — and close the door to depression.
Daily exercise provides many benefits for the mind and body, including the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. These chemicals are considered natural painkillers because they “activate opioid receptors in the brain that help minimize discomfort,” says Dr. J. Kip Matthews, a sport and exercise psychologist. The brain releases endorphins during various activities, including exercise and eating. When these chemicals are released, a feeling of euphoria ensues, which can boost self-esteem and keep feelings of depression at bay. Exercise can also increase your self-confidence to lower your chances of depression.
Many rescue pets available for adoption are awaiting their forever home. When you make the decision to adopt such a pet, you’re giving them a second chance at life, which can give you a sense of purpose. “Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression,” says Ian Cook, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA. Just interacting with a pet can improve your mood, lowering the risk for depression. This is why dogs are commonly used at various rehab facilities for substance abuse and mental health disorders. The IAFF Center of Excellence is one such rehab facility, offering canine therapy for enrolled clients.
The great outdoors is filled with negative ions, which are invisible molecules that exist in nature and purify the air. They’re prevalent in forests, mountains, waterfalls and other natural environments. According to Dr. Neil Nedley’s book, Depression, “Fresh country air has negative ions that have been demonstrated to both treat and prevent depression.” This treatment occurs as the levels of the mood chemical, serotonin, increase. There is also a correlation between vitamin D (produced when UV sunlight rays hit the skin) and depression. Most individuals with depression have insufficient levels of vitamin D. So, whether you hike through the woods, camp in the mountains, or take a walk after a rainfall, these are all great opportunities to experience the benefits of negative ions.ere is the clear connection between sunlight, vitamin D, and serotonin.
Dozens of classes centered around specific hobbies and interests are offered at various venues. These include spinning, painting, volleyball (an optional amenity at the IAFF Center of Excellence), writing and CrossFit. Joining a class can help you make friends while doing something you enjoy — both of which can help lift your spirits. With an exercise class, you can also have the added health benefits of improved cardiovascular health and muscle strength. If you take an art class, it can foster self-expression in a positive, therapeutic way to prevent depression.
As an IAFF member, you’re dedicated to selflessness. Finding opportunities to help people (or pets) in non-emergency situations may help you develop a different, more relaxed approach to serving others, which can reduce or eliminate feelings of depression. There are hundreds of opportunities across the country, including reading to children, walking or bathing dogs, fostering pets awaiting adoption and helping with a fundraiser. According to a study led by researchers at the University of the Exeter Medical School in England, those engaged in charitable activities or work reported lower levels of depression.
Depression is commonly one of the causes or products of substance abuse. If you’re an IAFF member struggling with these disorders, call the IAFF Center of Excellence. Center staff can relate to your struggles and help you take the first step towards recovery, so the next time depression knocks, you won’t have to answer.
Medical Disclaimer: The IAFF Center of Excellence aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.