Scroll Down For *8 Myths About Depression That Need To Be Debunked
Depression and sadness are not the same thing. Repeat: They are not the same thing, you guys. Here’s part of what makes them very, very different: Everybody gets sad from time to time. That’s just part of being human. Your goldfish dies, or your DVR skips the season finale of Below Deck – you’re going to shed a tear. It happens. But being depressed is different, which is something that still not everyone understands. Being depressed means having an actual illness, one that still attracts a great deal of stigma (although more and more people are talking about their own experiences with the illness and taking it out of the shadows and putting it into the light, which is awesome).
To be clear, from here on out, I am admittedly only speaking to my ownexperiences with depression. In no way do I think I can give voice to what everyone with depression goes through, or how they feel, because it’s a very personal and unique thing. Yeah, depression is such a merciless chump that it can’t even be one size fits all.
For most people, however, it feels something like this: When you’re depressed, you’d give your eyeteeth in a gnarly blood ritual to even feel sad. Because when you’re depressed, you don’t feel anything at all, not even the sweet, crushing relief of sorrow. I’ve been depressed in the past, especially back in the day when my generalized anxiety disorder (wheee, I am a pleasure to know) reached an unmanageable point. At my lowest (when I bothered to get out of bed) you could have spent the day pelting me with donuts and urine and I would have been all, “Okay, this is a thing that is happening and I have no feelings about it,” and not moved an inch.
The toughest thing about depression is that you can’t “snap out of it.” That makes it pernicious and awful to deal with – and not just for you, but for everyone around you. I’ve been lucky in my struggles. I have really understanding and decent friends and family. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had to contend with some buttholes in my day. Let me share what they taught me with you. Here are 9 things you should never say to a person with depression.
1. “It’s Just The Weather”
Yeah. Sometimes it is rainy outside. That can make people feel blue. But you know what makes people feel even bluer? The idea that their emotional state and mind are a flimsy silly thing controlled by arbitrary external factors like clouds. Way to brush off my situation, dude.
2. “Have You Tried Exercising?”
Does running away from you count? No, sure, I know exercise can produce endorphins. I’ll get right on that – as soon I remember how shoes and pants work. Tell you what, why don’t you start running now and I’ll catch up later somewhere around never, sadist.
3. “You Don’t Have Anything to Be Sad About”
That’s true. Congratulations. You have literally DEFINED DEPRESSION. I am well aware that everything is going perfectly for me. That’s why it’s such a bummer that this chemical bubble in my head is preventing me from enjoying it and is also trying to blow up my life.
4. “It’s All In Your Head”
Yup. That’s true. Mental illness IS in my head. That’s what makes it mental. The brain is capable of so many awesome things, and so many awful ones. Like take for example, the fact that your brain made you think it was okay to talk to me in such a terribly condescending way. That’s an awful brain at work.
5. “I Was Depressed Once”
It’s soooo easy to get away with turning a conversation with a depressed person into a personal bitching session, mostly because a person with depression doesn’t have the energy to stop you from making something all about you. Sharing your experiences and making it clear that you get where someone is coming from is one thing, making someone else’s experience of depression seem less than? Not cool.
6. “Medication Will Turn You Into a Zombie”
We’re all entitled to our beliefs. You can be all Tom Cruise-esque and frown on the use of stuff like SSRIs if you want. That’s fine by me. But having seriously considered walking into traffic and ending it all before I started Prozac and now, you know, being able to do stuff like blink and laugh at jokes, I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with you.
7. “You’re Just Being Dramatic”
There are definitely people who make actually having depression hard. These are people who claim to be “so depressed” as a mode of getting attention. Their piss poor immature behavior makes an impression, and it’s not a good one. I’ve definitely had people roll their eyes at me thinking that my inability to shower was just a cry for attention. Spoiler alert: It was actually me trying to disappear.
8. “You Should Try Meditation!”
I go easy on people who think they are giving helpful advice. That’s because when I am depressed I have to do things like remind myself to eat vegetables. I have absolutely been that friend who is all “go drink a green juice, man,” because green vegetables can act as mood boosters. So when people have told me to try yoga or meditation, I grit my teeth and nod, understanding that they are just trying to sharing something that’s worked for them with me. Keep in mind, this is also why I am still an ardent follower of GOOP, so maybe I am not to be trusted. Before giving someone with depression “helpful” advice consider, what works for you might not be for them and that’s fine.
9. “I Think Depression Is Self-Indulgent”
Cool. I think you’re an asshole. But seriously, people with loud negative opinions about your mental illness? They can go have a nice swim in a creek and never talk to me again. I don’t run around rolling my eyes when they have the flu, do I? Depression is real, and so, sadly, are assholes.
As the most common mental illness in the United States, clinical depressionaffects approximately 17 percent of Americans at least once during their lifetime. So, even if you are fortunate enough to never experience the illness yourself, chances are that someone close to you will suffer from depression at some point. Although depression manifests itself differently depending on the person — with symptoms that can include feelings of intense sadness and hopelessness, sleep disturbances and even physical pain — the common thread is that it is a serious illness that can make it extremely difficult to live your life.
Unfortunately, depression is widely stigmatized today, despite years of public health educational efforts; and this stigma is largely due to numerous misconceptions about the illness. I’ve heard frustrating and insulting comments about depression more times than I can count, sometimes from people who intended no harm, but were simply ignorant. To hear some people tell it, depression is a choice, a sign of weakness or simply the result of people wallowing in self-pity rather than focusing on the positive.
Unfortunately, even words spoken with no ill will can be extremely harmful to those who hear them. When someone is struggling with depression, hearing hurtful misconceptions can make them feel even worse about themselves, as well as discourage them from getting help or treating their problem like a real disease, instead of a character flaw. It’s up to all of us to educate ourselves and do our part understand the illness, its causes, and why seeking treatment is so important — not only so we can support people in our lives who struggle with depression, but so we can make sure to not contribute to the greater ignorance of it.
8 Myths About Depression That Need To Be Debunked
1. Depression Is A Choice
This is one of the most frustrating misconceptions about depression — and not only is it completely invalidating to the person suffering, but it flies in the face of modern medical knowledge. Depression is caused by a complex combination of biological, chemical, environmental, and genetic factors. Research is ongoing, but we do know that depression is not a choice — it’s a legitimate illness that no one chooses to have. The platitude “happiness is a choice” doesn’t apply to a person with depression and it’s an insulting thing to tell someone who is depressed, even if you are trying to be encouraging.
2. If Someone Appears Outwardly Happy, They Aren’t Depressed
Sometimes, a person’s struggle with depression is evident to the people around them through their behavior or other symptoms. But there’s also what psychologists refer to as “smiling depression”, where the sufferer appears happy and healthy to friends, family, and coworkers. Due to the stigma surrounding depression, many people are keenly aware that they risk the judgement of others if they appear outwardly depressed — so they put an excruciating amount of effort into appearing “normal” and “happy”.
None of us spend 24 hours a day with anyone, so we don’t know if they’re using every ounce of energy they have to force a smile all day or otherwise hide their depression. Someone may appear perfectly fine in their social and professional life, but feel despondent. You just don’t know, and so you have no right to assess whether someone is “actually” suffering from depression or actively dealing with a depressive episode.
3. People Have No Right To Be Depressed If Their Lives Are Going Well
Since depression is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, it can affectanyone. A fulfilling career, loving family and friends, and financial security are all things to be grateful for — but they don’t make a person immune to depression. And, while we’re on the topic, please don’t assume that a depressed person is ungrateful for all the good things in their life. It’s possible to recognize and appreciate your blessings while simultaneously grappling with depression.
4. Medication Will ‘Fix’ Depression Immediately
There is no quick way to cure depression. Medication can certainly be helpful, but a pill alone is generally not going to solve the problem. In most cases, acombination of medication and psychotherapy is the most effective way to treat depression.
Furthermore, it typically takes up to six weeks for a patient to feel the effects of an antidepressant and be able to assess whether or not it’s helping. Since many people need to try a variety of medications before they find one that makes a difference in their lives, there can be a long period of trial and error in this area of treatment.
5. Depression Is A Sign Of Weakness
We all know that a person with a physical illness like diabetes or a thyroid condition isn’t “weak,” and depressed individuals don’t deserve that label, either. In fact, anyone dealing with any illness (either physical or mental) is not weak — having an illness is not a sign of anything, except that someone has an illness. And depression is an illness — it’s not the result of weakness or an inability to suck up the fact that life isn’t perfect.
6. Sadness And Depression Are The Same Thing
Literally everyone has experienced sadness at some point in their lives. It’s a natural human emotion that can occur for many reasons, from the loss of a loved one to a rough breakup. While it’s true that extreme sadness is a hallmark symptom of depression, people without depression experience sadness, too — and eventually, they rebound. Their sadness goes away on its own without therapy or medication.
The sadness and despair experienced by people with depression feels different; it can be overwhelming and unrelenting. And one of the most frustrating things about it? There’s usually not one single reason that the depressed person is depressed; rather, the illness can simply make it seem like everything in life is bleak. “Depressed” and “sad” are not synonymous, and using them interchangeably minimizes the suffering experienced by people with clinical depression.
7. Depression Shouldn’t Be Talked About
Many people believe that depression is not something we should talk about — that letting someone talk about their depression will only make them more depressed and cause them to dwell on their unhappiness. If your friend or family member is depressed, it can definitely be helpful at times to distract them by planning fun activities and chatting about other things. But depression shouldn’t be the elephant in the room that is never discussed. If you avoid the topic at all costs and change the subject every time they try to tell you about their struggle, a depressed person can often end up feeling as though you think they should be ashamed of their illness.
Depressed people often feel lonely and isolated, so showing that you care and want to understand can make a huge difference. If someone you know is struggling with depression, be empathetic, ask thoughtful questions and make sure they know how much you care. If you don’t know where to start, try these helpful tips for talking to a loved one with depression. Letting someone know that they can open up to you is more than just helpful — it has the potential to be life-saving. If the topic is openly discussed, a depressed person will be more likely to tell you if they have an urge to harm themselves.
8. Depression Isn’t That Serious
While depression can certainly be treated, it is a serious illness and it should not be ignored or expected to simply go away on its own. Untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide — but even when depression doesn’t result in tragedy, its effects can be devastating. It can cause the sufferer to withdraw from loved ones, have problems at school or work, and live every day in a state of despair and hopelessness. No one deserves that.
When people do seek help for this serious illness, over 80 percent report that treatment is helpful. Unfortunately, about 80 percent of depressed individuals do not receive treatment. Acknowledging depression as a serious illness seems like a logical first step in making people feel that they need and deserve professional help.
We need to debunk these dangerous misconceptions about depression and recognize that it is not a choice, a sign of weakness, a ploy for attention or an unimportant matter. Depression will always exist and will continue to affect many people — so we all need to do our part and ensure that we are not perpetuating harmful misconceptions about the illness.