There’s been a lot of dialogue surrounding depression — particularly in light of recent events — as people struggle to understand why and how it affects people in the ways that it does. And for the 350 million people worldwide who do struggle with the condition, it can be just as hard to articulate its effects as it is to understand it.
Depression can make people feel like their minds have completely rebelled against them. From a lack of will to physical pain, it can cause people to function poorly at work, in school and in social activities, according to the World Health Organization. Many people who experience depression can also experience symptoms of anxiety.
But those factors are just the start. Below, find nine things people with depression know to be true (and what others can do to help alleviate them).
The frustration that comes when someone suggests you can “snap out of it.”
suck it up
The hard truth is, depression is not the sort of thing you can just wake up and be over one morning — and suggesting such may be sending an unsupportive message. According to John F. Greden, M.D., the executive director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center, these phrases often stem from a lack of understanding of mental illness.
“When [loved ones] don’t understand what’s happening, their responses are ‘suck it up’ and ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself,'” Greden tells The Huffington Post. “It’s not understood that these are underlying illnesses and chemical abnormalities, so what they’ll do is use these phrases. … These comments are probably one of the worst irritations.”
People constantly confusing depression with sadness.
It’s a common misconception that depression is just a result of being overly sad. But as David Kaplan, Ph.D., chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association, stresses, the two are not one and the same.
“People throw around the word ‘depressed’ a lot,” Kaplan previously told HuffPost Healthy Living. “Depression is a clinical term — and a lot of times when people say they’re depressed, they really mean sad. The words that we use are very powerful and it’s important to make that distinction.”
There is no such thing as a little victory.
For those who deal with chronic depression, there are no little victories because every accomplishment is a big victory.
While everyday, routine motions come naturally to most people, for someone who is depressed, they are much harder feats, explains Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida. “Why do depressed people lie in bed? It isn’t because of great snuggle time under the blankets. It’s because depressed people can’t bring themselves to get out of bed,” he wrote in a Psychology Today blog. “Almost any activity or task becomes a painful ordeal, even things as simple as taking a shower or getting dressed.”
Lack of energy means more than your run-of-the-mill afternoon slump.
That 3 p.m. slump you feel when you need your third cup of coffee hardly compares to the drop in energy that occurs when you’re in a depressed state. Because of this lack of motivation, depression can sometimes make you feel like your muscles don’t work, Greden explains. “It makes it really difficult to go to work, to concentrate, to laugh, to keep your focus on assignments, when you’re hurting in this way,” he says.
There are physical symptoms — and they’re just as taxing as the emotional ones.
“At one point, everyone considered depression to be a mood state, and that’s a huge misconception,” Greden says. “Depression, for most people, actually involves major physical symptoms. And as a result, people don’t consider themselves depressed and they think something else is wrong.”
When someone experiences depression, physical ailments you already have can be made worse, Greden explains. Other physical symptoms include restlessness, indigestion, nausea, headaches, and joint and muscle fatigue. “These physical symptoms as well as the mood symptoms affect their routine life patterns,” he notes. “They’re all tied together.”
Things that used to be fun aren’t quite as enjoyable.
Depression can impact even the smallest pleasures in life. Hanging out with friends, fun activities like golfing and even intimacy with romantic partners all seem less exciting than they were before, Greden says. “Depression makes your life dramatically different.”
This lack of interest, coupled with the physical symptoms, are all major red flags when it comes to identifying the condition. To help someone who may be experiencing this downturn, Greden suggests approaching him or her with an open mind and continuous support, which includes offering to help find treatment.
The difficulty that comes with communicating your emotions.
When you’re experiencing depression, it can be challenging to put into words what’s going on in your mind when you know that not everyone around you feels the same way — especially when there’s a stigma around your illness. Only 25 percent of adults who experience mental health issues feel that people are sympathetic toward people struggling with mental illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Depression is a negative view of self, of the world and of the future,” Greden explains. “Everything is sort of being seen through dark-colored glasses. … It’s pretty common, when people are depressed, for them to think that no one understands them — and that’s a really tough place to be.”
The disorder is not one-size-fits-all.
Each person experiences depression in his or her own way — and because of this, experts recommend practicing empathy with loved ones who may be struggling. “Symptoms differ, causes differ, treatments differ,” Greden explains. “Jobs, relationships, families — everything gets changed by this illness.”
As HuffPost blogger Hannah Sentenac explains in a piece on life lessons she learned from depression, everyone’s journey is different: “For some people, medication is crucial. For others, long term psychotherapy might be the answer,” she wrote. “Whatever works. I’m not suggesting that my path is best for anyone but me. But I am suggesting that everyone has a path to healing — and the most important thing is to keep after it. Don’t give up.”
There are ways to help others break through the throes of depression, Greden says. That includes shedding any thoughts that could be perpetuating a stigma about mental health. “We need so much more openness, transparency and understanding that it’s OK to talk about depression as an illness,” he explains. “It’s not a weakness. It’s not a moral shortcoming. It’s not something people brought on themselves. And understanding that is a pretty powerful beginning to helping a loved one with depression.”
Have a story about depression that you’d like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.