I suffer from major depression disorder, among other things. There. I said it. Telling people I suffer from depression feels like coming out of the closet, because it feels like a perceived weakness. Or people don’t like hearing or talking about it. I’ve come to the point that I don’t really talk to anyone about it these days aside from my doctor and, sometimes, my husband. People make so many assumptions about depression that, frankly, it annoys me. I’d like to dispel some of the incorrect responses people make to depressed people here.
Incorrect Statements to Make to Someone with Depression
You shouldn’t feel depressed if you have a lot of things.
This comes in many forms. People will say things like, “How could you feel depressed? You have so many great things going on in your life!” I’ve heard people comment on celebrities who “have it all” and commit suicide. Money, fame, good families, etc., do not negate the presence of depression. That’s right. You can feel depression even when you have a lot. And the reminder that you “have so much” only makes us feel worse because then we feel guilty about the people who have less than us. You might feel like you’re helping, but you’re not. You’re providing a source of guilt when you question the existence of depression in this way.
Everyone has the blues sometimes.
While this statement is somewhat true (not everyone suffers from the “blues” sometimes, but a lot of people do), it does not compare to depression. If you look at DSM criteria for depression, you’ll see that in order to obtain a diagnosis of depression, the symptoms must last for longer than 2 weeks. Not only that, but you must suffer from 5 or more of the criteria listed. Depression feels like more than the blues. It’s a lack of interest in everyday activities, depressed mood nearly every day, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia OR hypersomnia, fatigue, either restlessness or the feeling of being slowed down, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, lack of concentration, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. You can feel most or all of these things to get a diagnosis, but it’s certainly more than just the “blues.”
Can’t you just “snap out of it”?
Actually, no, we can’t just “snap out of it.” It takes a lot of work to climb out of depression. Diminishing our feelings by assuming it’s as easy as telling ourselves we should just feel better doesn’t help.
But you seem so happy!
Maybe. Some people can function in society with depression and others cannot. Sometimes it’s easy to put on a mask so that other people don’t see what we feel or ask any questions. For myself, I feel an obligation or duty to my children and my job that makes me power through it. When I get home and the kids go to bed, the breakdown occurs. It gets exhausting putting on a happy face so that we don’t bum other people out. Most of us feel guilty just for having depression. Of course we might seem happy on the outside. Just think about funny-man Robin Williams. His suicide came as a shock to us because he put on a great mask of happiness to make crowds of people happy. We then found out that he struggled with depression for years.
What’s making you feel depressed?
Sometimes it’s good to have someone ask this question, and sometimes it’s not. I often cannot verbalize or figure out what’s triggered a bout of depression. Why? Because there’s often not just one thing. When someone asks me this question, my mind starts to circle around everything going on in my life. It’s an endless circle of thoughts that I cannot escape from. And, honestly, sometimes I don’t know what caused it. This makes me think things like, “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel this way?”
People who commit suicide are cowards.
Do you realize that oftentimes, people who commit suicide feel so worthless that they actually feel that eliminating themselves from everyone’s life will make things better for them? It seems like “the easy way out,” but people usually contemplate and resist suicide for a long period of time before carrying it out. The fight against these feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and death become unbearable after some period of time. When you feel like a burden to everyone around you, sometimes you feel it’s better to end it all so that your family, friends, and other loved ones can live happily without you. That’s the warped part of depression, honestly. The thought that everyone would be better off without you in the picture is hard to shake. That’s why it’s so important to make sure a person with depression gets help sooner rather than later. We cannot fight these feelings alone. And those who do commit suicide, tragically, do harm the people around them, but at the moment you feel like committing suicide, it doesn’t feel possible that anyone at all would care.
But you’re on medication. Shouldn’t that help?
Another variation on this is the question about whether we’re taking our medication. If a person has just started medication, it can take weeks for it to come into effect. On top of that, the medication may not work for that person, which means trying another medication after waiting weeks for the medication to work. Even with medication, the negative self-thoughts become ingrained and difficult to fight. If someone with depression does not also see a therapist, it’s difficult to learn the correct coping skills for dealing with those feelings of hopeless and worthlessness. Medication alone does not make a person with depression lose those feelings.
What can you say to someone with depression?
The most important thing you can do for someone with depression is just be there for them. People who suffer from depression easily become isolated. Friendships dwindle because they don’t want to deal with someone else’s seemingly endless sadness. Family members who don’t understand unintentionally hurt us. Sooner or later, there’s no one left to support us because it seems we’ve pushed them away. Just offer to listen and offer a should to cry on. Don’t question why we feel depressed. Accept the reality of depression, suggest you’ll go with them to a therapist if they’ll try going to one. Recognize that depression lasts a long time, but it’s not always forever and that there are moments of sunshine in between the rain. In other words, be supportive, because support is often the thing people with depression lack in their lives.