Depression Is Not Just Feeling Sad: Explaining Depression
One of the worst things that can happen when we try to come forward with our feelings is having people downplay them and say something like, well, everybody gets sad! This is why explaining that depression is not just sadness is a critical first step.
Sadness is a normal emotion and generally comes about when something bad happens. Sadness usually goes away after a few days. But, depression is a persistent sadness that can last for weeks, months, or years. Depressions impact is much more significant than that of sadness and can change your personality, interests, how you view the future, and it can even impact your memory.
With sadness, most people can continue their daily routines and responsibilities. But, depression makes it hard and even impossible to get out of bed, bathe, prepare and eat proper meals, etc. It can also be extremely challenging to focus on work, school, and other tasks when youre feeling thoughts of despair or like theres no point in trying.
How To Describe Depression To Someone Whos Never Had It
My partner is a strong, resilient and kind person. We have a lot in common: we both love food, comedy and our love for each other. But there is one thing that we will never have in common, and that is his understanding of how it feels to have depression and anxiety. So, this is how I tried to explain it to him:
Imagine that you wake up one day and youre the only person left in the world. Not only this, but the sun does not rise. There is only dark.
The first weeks are about surviving. You find what little resources you can, and then you scavenge for food. You eat only to survive. Even when you find luxury food items, you do not enjoy them as much as you did before.
Over the next few months, night and day merge into one and you have no concept of time. After a while, your clothes become torn and tattered, but you do not care. You stink, but you do not care. Inside you feel numb dead already, but not quite dead. The loneliness is unbearable.
Soon the darkness starts to become your friend. You feel comfortable there with no light. These feelings are normal now, and surviving is not important anymore. You are only existing. With no hope, no companionship, no nothing. Numb, alone, hopeless and comfortable there in the dark.
Getty image via Nikodash.
Depression Is Not The Same As Sadness
The first step to helping others understand the condition is by explaining what is it. Although it is normal to have a bad day and get sad, depression is not the same as sadness. It is a mental illness that may be severe enough to impair your ability to perform daily activities. While it has elements of sadness, depression is more than that.
Some of the symptoms of depressions include:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Lack of interest in previously pleasurable activities
- Lack of motivation
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Sleeping problems
- Avoiding contact with friends and family
- Difficulty keeping up with daily activities
- Suicidal and self-harm thoughts
- Continuous sadness and anxiety
Unlike sadness, you feel depression physically. It may come off as sleeping problems because you are constantly worried, stressed, fatigued, and lethargic. Depression can also increase your heartbeat and cause upset stomach.
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What If I Need More Help
Sometimes talking to a parent is all you need to start feeling better. Sometimes you need more help. That’s OK, too.
If you are having a sad or bad mood that lasts, let your parent know. Ask them to set up a health visit to check for depression. You might need to talk with a therapist even after you’ve had good talks with your parent. Your parent can set this up for you. And if you see a therapist, a parent’s help still matters.
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Supporting Your Loved Ones Treatment
One of the most important things you can do to help a friend or relative with depression is to give your unconditional love and support throughout the treatment process. This involves being compassionate and patient, which is not always easy when dealing with the negativity, hostility, and moodiness that go hand in hand with depression.
Provide whatever assistance the person needs . Help your loved one make and keep appointments, research treatment options, and stay on schedule with any treatment prescribed.
Have realistic expectations. It can be frustrating to watch a depressed friend or family member struggle, especially if progress is slow or stalled. Having patience is important. Even with optimal treatment, recovery from depression doesnt happen overnight.
Lead by example. Encourage the person to lead a healthier, mood-boosting lifestyle by doing it yourself: maintain a positive outlook, eat better, avoid alcohol and drugs, exercise, and lean on others for support.
Encourage activity. Invite your loved one to join you in uplifting activities, like going to a funny movie or having dinner at a favorite restaurant. Exercise is especially helpful, so try to get your depressed loved one moving. Going on walks together is one of the easiest options. Be gently and lovingly persistentdont get discouraged or stop asking.
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How Is Depression Diagnosed
To be diagnosed with depression, an individual must have five depression symptoms every day, nearly all day, for at least 2 weeks. One of the symptoms must be a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities. Children and adolescents may be irritable rather than sad.
If you think you may have depression, talk to your health care provider. Primary care providers routinely diagnose and treat depression and refer individuals to mental health professionals, such as psychologists or psychiatrists.
During the visit, your provider may ask when your symptoms began, how long they last, how often they occur, and if they keep you from going out or doing your usual activities. It may help to make some notes about your symptoms before your visit. Certain medications and some medical conditions, such as viruses or a thyroid disorder, can cause the same depression symptoms. Your provider can rule out these possibilities by doing a physical exam, interview, and lab tests.
Read NIMHs Tips for Talking With Your Health Care Provider to help prepare for and get the most out of your visit. For additional resources, visit the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website.
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How Can I Help Someone With Depression
Depression is a serious but treatable disorder that affects millions of people, from young to old and from all walks of life. It gets in the way of everyday life, causing tremendous pain, hurting not just those suffering from it but also impacting everyone around them.
If someone you love is depressed, you may be experiencing any number of difficult emotions, including helplessness, frustration, anger, fear, guilt, and sadness. These feelings are all normal. Its not easy dealing with a friend or family members depression. And if you neglect your own health, it can become overwhelming.
That said, your companionship and support can be crucial to your loved ones recovery. You can help them to cope with depression symptoms, overcome negative thoughts, and regain their energy, optimism, and enjoyment of life. Start by learning all you can about depression and how to best talk about it with your friend or family member. But as you reach out, dont forget to look after your own emotional healthyoull need it to provide the full support your loved one needs.
Understanding depression in a friend or family member
Depression is a serious condition. Dont underestimate the seriousness of depression. Depression drains a persons energy, optimism, and motivation. Your depressed loved one cant just snap out of it by sheer force of will.
Its Easy To Dismiss Anxiety And Depression But You Shouldnt
If you or a loved one has been struggling with depression and anxiety for a while, it can be easy to begin to dismiss it, even unintentionally. For a loved one, it is difficult to time and time again be supportive. Reactions start emerging: you may feel like the depressed or anxious person is overreacting,being lazy,too sensitive,should just let it go,is looking for attention,being a failure etc.
However, these dismissive thoughts or negative stereotypes often keep those suffering with them from talking about their experiences. It is hard for many to share how they feel, let alone share when it runs the risk of them being seen differently or being abandoned.
Dismissing what someone is struggling with only adds to that persons feelings of isolation, which can feed depression and anxiety.
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Don’t Tell Them To Try Harder
Avoid making comments like:
- “Snap out of it!”
- “Just try harder!”
Having someone tell you to try harder when you are already giving it your best effort can be demoralizing and may make a person with depression feel their situation is hopeless.
There are many reasons depression develops and a person cannot necessarily control all of the risk factors involved. Once a person has become depressed, it’s not a matter of just “talking themselves out of” a low mood.
Like diabetes or hypothyroidism, depression can happen because the body is not making enough of substances it needs to function properly. A person with diabetes cannot will their body to make more insulin.
A person experiencing depression due to low levels of neurotransmitters can’t simply “think” themselves into having more.
Similar to how people with diabetes might need treatment with insulin, people who have depression need medical intervention and support. For some people, this may mean taking medications that address chemical imbalances that can contribute to the condition.
When In Crisis Its Difficult To Think Straight And Make Rational Decisions
Everyone has their own set of coping mechanisms to maintain emotional balance, especially when under stress. And, depending on the level of stress, if these strategies fail, we attempt new ways to cope.
When anxious, depressed, or under extreme stress, your thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations can be so overwhelming it causes previously effective coping mechanisms to fail. This coping crisis can lead to confusion or more stress, making it impossible to think straight through the experience. Extreme stress, anxiety, or depression can alter your perception and memory, resulting in ineffective decisions or behaviors choices.
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Who Can I Talk To About Depression
Figuring out how to tell someone you’re depressed can be daunting, however, once you open up, you may start to feel a little better. It helps to talk to someone about what youre going through, but dont feel as though you have to tell everyone, at least not straightaway.
Try to reach out to someone who is a good listener, discreet, trustworthy, reliable, non-judgemental and supportive, so they can offer a different perspective. If possible, it can also be very helpful to speak to somebody who has gone through something similar, as its likely that they will be able to empathise with you and provide tips on how to cope with depression.
With regards to working life, inform those that need to know so they can support you effectively in the work environment. HR, occupational health and immediate line managers are top of the list on this. Some people have reservations about speaking up at work as they fear that they may be judged, their competence may be questioned or that they may be gossiped about. In the modern world, this is rarely the case – youre far more likely to be met with support and understanding.
How To Talk To A Friend About Depression
Whilst its impossible to predict exactly how your chosen person/people will react when you’ve told them you’re depressed and struggling, it can help to weigh up the different possibilities so you can prepare:
If your loved one has never experienced depression, its entirely possible that they wont understand what youre going through, and why you just cant stop feeling sad. They might feel like its their responsibility to try and fix you and try to suggest things that will cure your depression
Other people may become upset. They may be worried about you and could even blame themselves for not recognising your depression
Some people may simply not know how to respond to the news, having never experienced a situation like this before, and therefore, they may try to change the subject and avoid talking about things
The person may respond really positively. They may ask you questions about your depression, ask how they can support you, and reassure you that they will always be there for you when you need them
It may turn out that the person you confide in has personal experience of depression, as 19% of adults have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives. They may also know someone else knows someone who struggles with low mood or another mental health condition. They may therefore be able to empathise with you, or offer words of advice and wisdom that can help you on your recovery journey
Sharing Information About Depression
If you simply want to share information about depression in general or about mental health, this is an admirable thing to do. In the past, mental health has involved stigma, lack of information, and has been a hard thing for families to talk about. Between 2007 and 2018, the youth suicide rate increased by 60%, making mental health discussions a top priority for families.
As a parent, its important to break down these barriers with your children at an early age since depression is an issue that could eventually affect someone in the family. This may be especially relevant if you have blood relatives who have been diagnosed with depression.
While it may feel hard to talk about, if you wait until your child grows older, the conversations will be harder to start. If you begin now talking about depression or other mental health issues as you would talk about a physical illness such as cancer or diabetes, then your child will be more likely to come to you if they are having problems. In this way, you open the door for conversation when you start young.
Again, youll want to consider the age of your child before doing so. Below are some tips on how to handle this conversation at any age.
Back Up Diagnosis With Validation From Somewhere They Trust
Hell, even Fox News treats depression as a valid mental illness. If the non-believers are more likely to believe a doctor than you, get a doctor look for positive quotes about depression from politicians or parties that they follow and if they look to religious leaders for guidance, cite them.
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Sharing About Your Own Depression
What if you want to talk to your child about your own depression? While it may feel hard to talk about, its best to eventually get your condition out in the open. While younger children may have more trouble understanding, there are ways you can speak to your child that will help to explain it to them.
You may also be wondering when is the best time to share with your child about your own depression. When you first have symptoms? After youve developed a treatment plan with your doctor? Or after your treatment is well underway?
The truth is that most children will pick up on the fact that you are not well. If you try to cover up the truth, they may make up stories about what is happening that are more frightening than the actual situation, particularly in the case of younger children.
For this reason, its best to talk about your mental health as soon as you feel comfortable. You dont need to talk to them as though you have everything figured out or a plan in place as to when you will be cured.
Instead, youll want to reassure them that despite your illness, everything is going to be fine and that they dont need to be afraid. What your children need most from you is reassurance that they are loved and that everything will be okay.
How Else Can Parents Help
Parents can help in lots of ways. Talk with them about what you want their help with. Here are some of the things parents can do to help. You might think of other things that aren’t on this list. But this list can give you and your parent some ideas.
- help you practice skills you learn in therapy
- remind you that they love and believe in you
- let you know they see the good in you, and are proud of you
- keep expecting good things from you
- talk through problems with you
- ask you about good things that happen in your day
- help with homework or projects you’re having trouble with, or get you a tutor
- hold you to your responsibilities at home and at school
- help you get enough exercise, sleep, and healthy food
- help you limit the time you spend on screens and social media
- help you wake up in the morning at the right time, but do it in a friendly way
- do things with you that you both enjoy walk, play a sport or game, watch a movie, do a craft, or cook
These things may seem simple, but they add up. They start to change the way you think and feel. They can lift your mood, and help you think better about yourself. They can help you and your parent feel close. That’s a recipe for feeling better, even if you’re going through depression.
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