I have wanted to do a post on depression for a long time. I think there are so many misperceptions out there about depression. A few months ago I saw an article on Facebook about how depression is not a real illness. It made my insides hurt.
Depression is misunderstood.
I have experience both personally and professionally with depression, and I have found there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what depression is, how it affects people, and how to treat depression. Sadly, because of these misconceptions, many don’t seek treatment, and others aren’t able to help someone struggling with depression because they just don’t understand.
If you have ever experienced depression, it feels grey.
Imagine seeing the beautiful, colorful world around you suddenly in shades of grey — foggy, and without focus.
Imagine waking up and just wanting to go back to sleep because you can’t imagine facing your day.
Imagine being unable to sleep, when that’s all you really want to do.
You can’t eat because nothing tastes good.
Your sex drive is gone, and you are suddenly irritable all the time.
Your body hurts. You have headaches and muscle aches that have no explanation.
Now, imagine someone telling you that it is all “in your head”.
How do you feel?
So, to start, let’s talk about some statistics. According to the National Institute of Mental Health:
19 million Americans suffer from depression each year
2.5% of children
8.3% of adolescents
12% of adult women
7% of adult men
6% over the age of 65
So, the statistics indicate that you very likely know someone who struggles with depression.
They may not have admitted it. They may not even know it.
You may not know it, but you may have someone close to you in the midst of a very dark battle.
In an effort to help dispel some myths about depression, here is my list of…
10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Depression
1. Depression is an illness, just like high-blood pressure or diabetes.
It is not just “in your head”. Depression is a brain disorder, which means that the chemicals in your brain that regulate your mood, thought process, sleeping, eating, and motivation are affected. The thalamus, hippocampus, cerebral cortex and amygdala are affected.
Depression has many causes and is a very complex illness. Research has and is being done to understand depression, so although we don’t know everything, we do know that it has genetic and bio-chemical components, and it can be triggered by stressful life events and medical problems.
2. Depression is not just an emotional illness; it affects your mind, body, moods, and spiritual well-being.
Depression is a whole body illness. It can affect the way a person sleeps and eats. It affects how one feels about oneself. It affects relationships and even one’s ability to connect spiritually. Depression has many physical symptoms: headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches, and more. Depression can affect your sex drive, your ability to concentrate, and your energy level.
Here are the basic symptoms of depression. This is not intended as a diagnostic tool, but simply an educational one. If you or someone you know has five or more of these symptoms most of the time every day for two weeks or more, please visit a medical professional:
- lasting sad mood
- loss of interest or pleasure in most activities
- changes in appetite/weight
- changes in sleep
- agitation or slowed down behavior
- loss of energy/feeling fatigued
- difficulty concentrating
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- physical symptoms
- thoughts of death or suicide
Again, depression is not only tears and sadness, depression affects how a person functions physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually in day-to-day activities. And, depression is very serious.
3. Depression has many different faces.
Many times we think we could spot a depressed person from a distance. They look like Eeyore, right? They are sad and gloomy all the time.
This is simply not so. Sometimes a depressed person puts on a “face” for others, so you may never know the pain of the silent and solitary battle they are fighting. I think most of us have be shocked by the death of Robin Williams. His face was not the “face” of depression, but as more details come out, it becomes clear that he struggled with a form of depression. My heart aches for him and his family. I wish them peace and comfort in this time of grief and pain.
Other public figures that have struggled with depression: Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Jim Carrey, Drew Carey, Princess Diana, Ashley Judd, Michelangelo, and J.K. Rowling
These are only a few names, but see how they are all different faces. Someone may be struggling with depression that you see smiling at church and work. That doesn’t mean they are not struggling.
Depression is no respecter of persons.
Remember, depression has many faces. Depression is not visible, like a broken arm, but it is very real.
4. Depression isn’t caused by lack of willpower, laziness, sin, or ingratitude.
Depression just is, like the weather. We cannot prevent a rainy day, no matter how much we hope for the sun. Some days it is just going to rain. Some days, no matter how many good things are going on in a person’s life, they are still depressed. It is not because they are selfish, ungrateful, or lazy. It is not because they are not faithful or worthy. It is because they are struggling with a real illness: depression.
As stated above, there are many contributing factors to the causes of depression.
There are some myths that must be debunked. Here are a list of things statements we all need as we educate ourselves about depression:
Depression is not caused by a weak mind or attitude.
Depression is not caused by sin.
Depression is not created as a ploy for attention.
Depression is not an illness of the lazy.
Depression is not just “in your head”.
5. There is help and treatment for depression.
About 80% of people who struggle with depression can be helped; many within a few weeks. Depression is not a hopeless illness. There are very effective treatments out there that can help.
Psychotherapy and medication, or both, are very effective treatments. So, although you cannot choose which days it rains, you can get an umbrella.
6. Two-thirds of people who struggle with depression don’t get the help they need.
Some people believe if they just wait it out, it will get better. But, then, it doesn’t. Typically, depression doesn’t get better on its own. Seek help early on. Talk with your doctor.
Other who struggle don’t get help because they don’t want to take antidepressants. There are very effective treatments for depression that don’t use antidepressants. Psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and relational therapy are helpful in managing depression. Also diet, exercise and developing better sleep habits can be helpful in managing depression.
If you are struggling, seek help. Waiting may only allow the depression to deepen and create more problems in your life.
7. In our educated society, we still shame depression.
Many people don’t get help because they are embarrassed. They are embarrassed that others will know. They are embarrassed to talk to their doctor. They are embarrassed to go to therapy, and talk to a therapist. They are embarrassed because, in our so-called educated society, we still shame depression.
Many, many people still think it is a weakness, a failure, and an embarrassment.
Just recently, I was talking to someone who said to me in all honesty: “Aren’t depression and stress the same thing?” No, depression and stress are not the same thing. We all experience stress to some degree in our lives. We can manage that by setting boundaries and using self-care. Depression is not a passing blue mood or bad day. Depression is a medical illness that needs medical attention.
Educate yourselves and your families. Share this article. Teach others about depression. We all can make a difference by gathering together as a community and supporting and loving one another.
Stop the shame.
Instead, instill hope. Depression is treatable. It is nothing to be ashamed of. We should start treating depression as we would any illness; raise awareness, seek treatment, instill hope.
Gather with me today to instill hope in the battle against depression.
8. Depression is associated with many other illnesses.
Medical professional use the term co-morbid, which means occurring at the same time. For example, over 50% of people that struggle with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. There are increased rates of drug and alcohol abuse with depression. One-third of those diagnosed with ADHD develop depression. And depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also co-occur.
When someone struggles with depression, they may also be fighting additional battles. Some people with depression self-medicate, others feel so hopeless they want to give up. Someone may be depressed and anxious at the same time. Depression is a complicated battle.
This is only another reason to seek help early.
9. Someone who struggles with depression may or may not want advice, but they do need a friend.
Sometimes you may not know what to say to someone who is struggling with depression. Sometimes, in an effort to help, we can create more pain. We may say things like:
It will be better tomorrow.
You are just having a bad day.
Look at all the things you have!
If you just exercise, you will feel better.
Have you been saying your prayers?
Statements like these can cause more pain and hurt, and not encourage or uplift. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone who is struggling is be there. Ask how they are doing and then listen. If you really listen, you will hear their heart, and maybe they will begin to trust you with it.
If you don’t know what to say, say: “Man, that is hard. I just don’t know what to say.” And, then be there. Your presence and staying power is meaningful to someone who is struggling with depression. Be a friend.
10. Depression does not define you.
You are not wholly your depression. Don’t look at so-and-so down the street and define her as the “depressed” one. She is much more than that: a mother, a sister, a wife, a volunteer. When one struggles with depression, it seems to color all aspects of one’s life, but it does not define who they are.
She is a painter.
She is a mother.
He is a giver.
He is a doctor
And…they struggle with a medical illness called depression.
Depression is only a piece of who you are.
Depression is a serious medical illness, that can be helped with proper treatment. Please, help spread the word and stop the shame associated with depression. There is hope. There is help.
Did you learn something today? Is there information here that you feel should be shared?
Please, if the answer to either one is yes, share this article. Share it with someone you know. Share it on social media. Let us educate others about depression together.
For more information on depression, please check out these links:
Please note that this article has no intent to diagnose or treat depression. If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, please seek appropriate medical treatment.