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“Little Alice fell
bumped her head
and bruised her soul.”
–Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
I am not sure how to answer these two questions. Frankly I don’t understand how any human being can possibly not experience depression at some point in his/her life, but that’s just me. Anyway, I’m going to try to take a stab at exploring ideas and see where it can lead us, by exposing some of my favorite myths about this state of being.
Depression is the result of a sad situation.
Everyone feels sad and hurts from unhappy thoughts sometimes. And events like the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, trauma or abuse can all serve as triggers of depression—but depression is not always the result of a loss or negative occurrence.
Depressive episodes can last for lengthy periods of time, and cause feelings of extreme tiredness, hopelessness, sadness, and/or suicidal tendencies. These can occur suddenly—even when life seems OK.
A diagnosis of Clinical Depression (made by a physician, usually a psychiatrist) is not simply a matter of being sad, down in the dumps, or unhappy. It is a serious illness, which when diagnosed, accounts for numerous symptoms affecting daily functioning, physical well-being, behavior, thoughts and feelings over the course of at least two weeks. The National Institute of Mental Health lists these at the website, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression, and they follow below:
Hardly a matter of just simple moodiness.
Depression can be dealt with, by “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.”
I love this one; talk about crazy making!
I’ve gone through two major clinical depressions during the past twenty years. These were not short-term by any stretch of imagination—one lasted a jobless year, and the second lasted a couple years. My husband totally didn’t get this last one, which landed me in the hospital twice in one year. When he started with the bootstraps lingo, I wanted to scream: “This is an illness! I’m not making this up in my head, and it’s not a matter of choice!” (Even I was able to finally accept this and stop blaming myself.) However, soon after I asked him to come with me to my therapist’s office, he began to get it. My therapist laid out a description of what I was going through, as I was having a tough time doing so in a coherent fashion.
For anyone who’s gone through this with family, I can’t stress the possible benefits of inviting someone to come with you to a therapy session. My therapist and I had already discussed how the session would be structured, and it was amazing: my husband began to really understand. He not only got it but stopped asking “what’s wrong?”and was only very caring of me—taking over around the house, insisting we go out for dinner and so on.
My lesson: it’s not necessary to accept anyone’s message to “go watch a funny movie,” “find a job,” or my all-time favorite—“snap out of it.” All of these might help, if you’re choosing to do them, but during a crisis or falling down the dark hole of a depression, they can seem judgy and leave one feeling totally misunderstood.
Everyone will think I’m crazy.
You may be surprised at just how many people have either suffered from mental illness or know someone who has. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. That’s 43.8 million, or 18.5%. Approximately 1 in 25 adults—9.8 million, or 4%—experiences a serious mental illness that significantly interferes with one’s functioning. And Major (or Clinical) Depression affects about 6.7% of adults; overall, between 20% and 25% may suffer from this debilitating disorder during their lifetime.
While the stigma surrounding mental illness still exists to some degree, organizations like NAMI, local agencies and the increased availability of mental health professionals have sought to normalize emotional disorders through treatment methods and provide information to families to help their suffering loved ones.
All that being said, when you are seriously depressed it can be very difficult to not feel alone and totally unique in your thoughts, feelings and/or actions. Often these are accompanied by a sense of shame, guilt or feeling like a failure. (Maybe I should just hide.)
If you have been suffering some of the previously listed symptoms for more than two weeks, please consider checking with a therapist and/or psychiatrist to see what treatment options are best for you. If you don’t know a mental health professional to call, reach out to a friend, family member or doctor to help you find someone.
Reaching out for help has probably been the best decision I have ever made.
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