In any given year, 6.7 percent of the adult population in the United States will experience a major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. For those who are not part of that group, it may be impossible to understand what someone with depression really goes through.
A lack of awareness and education surrounding mental illness, as well as gross inaccuracies in the media, inevitably result in misinformation. I hope the following truths can help clarify some of the myths associated with depression, and offer some examples of what not to say to someone who is depressed.
1. Depression is more than just sadness.
Everyone experiences periods of sadness or grief during their lifetime, but not everyone will experience a clinical depressive episode.
A pervasive disease of the brain, depression goes beyond sadness, affecting every aspect of a sufferer’s life. It can be a debilitating disease and, as a primary cause of suicide, a fatal one.
When someone is depressed, something as simple as taking a shower can seem like an arduous task, as can any social interaction. Often one’s view of themselves becomes so distorted that they may see the world and everyone in it as an adversary, including family and friends.
They may know, intellectually, that they are loved, and that the world is not “against” them. However, intellect and reason play little role in depression.
What do play a major role are feelings of inexplicable guilt, helplessness, and deep despair. Sometimes there may be sadness, and sometimes there may be no feeling at all — just a dull, paralyzing numbness, with the prospect of things ever getting better seeming like an impossibility.
2. Depression is not weakness.
Depression has absolutely nothing to do with strength or character, any more than cancer or any other disease does. It is brought on by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors that goes beyond mood.
“People with illnesses like cancer are often described as ‘courageous’ and ‘determined.’ Those with mental illnesses deserve the same respectful language,” according to the Make It OK website, a campaign to reduce stigma by encouraging individuals to talk more openly about mental illness. The site provides educational information around mental illness and aims to clarify myths perpetuated by the uninformed.
If someone had a heart condition, you likely wouldn’t say, “Just think positive to avoid that next aneurysm!” Saying “snap out of it,” or any statement containing the word “bootstraps,” continues to further stigma, discrimination, and the prevalence of untreated depression and other mental illnesses.
Credit To: Allison Abrams, LCSW-R “Six Important Truths About Depression” Psychology Today,