Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I think this cartoon does a great job giving a little insight into what depression is. More importantly, I think they it gives insight into what depression ISN'T. (Note, I'm sad that this was written so many months ago. This dude (dudette?) writes a very successful blog that used to publish regularly, came up for air, and has now disappeared into the ether again. Classic model of depression).

Anyway, depression isn't feeling sad all the time. Being depressed is just not feeling much of anything. Certainly not happy, but also not really sad. You feel devoid of emotion (possible exception: hopelessness). You feel like shell of a person. And worst of all? You don't really care. Apathy reigns supreme.

It sucks. It is hard to do anything when depressed. When you hear about depressed people not getting out of bed, be assured that that is a very literal thing. Severely depressed people cannot even muster energy to leave bed, let alone shower, get dressed, or go get groceries.* Your advice for people just "snap out of it" is perhaps well-intentioned, but it is just not possible when someone has sunken too deeply in the quicksand that is depression.

So...what can you do when some is depressed? That's a great but freaking hard question. I'd suggest the following:
  • Have compassion. If possible, empathize but if that's not possible, sympathize. I'm not suggesting that you enable, but be kind and gentle.
  • Be there. Physically. Be there. Even if they say they don't want you, they probably need you. Be there. Don't let them isolate.
  • Be rational. Depression somehow sucks you of the ability to reason. Help them to see the big picture.
  • Realize you're not a mental health or medical professional. Be there for them, but realize you're probably not completely equipped to deal with the problem. Point them to someone who is, and take them there yourself if that's what it takes.
  • Release them from the shame. Make sure you know that you don't judge them or think any less of them for seeking help. In fact, recognize and praise the strength it takes for them to admit their weakness.
I think depression is one of the most insidious health problems out there, perhaps third to cancer and dementia. Depression is not something that is made up -- it is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Depression is a MEDICAL problem, as evidenced by mounds of scientific evidence. The brain chemistry of someone who is depressed and someone who isn't is completely different. Depression is not a weakness anymore than cancer is a weakness. While of course I advocate prayer, I think that it's pretty irresponsible to not seek medical treatment for depression because you think you can pray your way out of it. Would you not seek medical treatment if you had cancer? Should you not seek treatment if you have high blood pressure? I'm not saying not to work on the underlying causes (e.g., obesity in the case of blood pressure), but I think to just not treat the blood pressure in the meantime is irresponsible. I see failing to treat depression is similar. And -- trust me as someone who is terrible at this so I'm speaking to myself here too -- ignoring won't make it go away. It will make the problem grow. And get worse. And that's not good.

Last topic -- antidepressants. Before I took them, I mistakenly thought they were happy pills. They're totally not. Taking anti-depressants will not solve any problems. They won't necessarily make you feel happy. But -- wow -- they will make you feel again. When I start back up on anti-depressants I am just amazed at the difference that they make. It makes me realize what a funk and fog I had been walking around in prior to taking them. A friend likened taking anti-depressants to emerging from a fog. I think it is the perfect metaphor (ok, it's a simile if we're being technical). Just because fog lifts, it doesn't mean you're in a luscious garden or anything. Quite the opposite -- sometimes you're square in the middle of shit creek! However, with the fog lifted, you can see where you're going. You can make decisions. And you even have the power to act on them. And that is key to getting out of shit creek, really. It's for sure better to know where you're going than to be stuck in the middle, powerless to do anything because you're immobilized.

Again, depression is an ILLNESS not an imaginary thing. And taking medicine for an illness? It's totally legit. And, if it's prescribed right and taken in the care of a medical professional who's watching out for you and monitoring your treatment, it can help you GET BETTER. And that is the goal.

So -- why am I putting this all out there? What if people find this who I know in real life?

Trust me, I have thought about this. I am not embarrassed that I suffer from depression. Do not misunderstand, I'm not proud of it. I wish I didn't. But I do, and that's that.

I have a passion for mental health advocacy. I think that the stigma that surrounds depression and other mental illnesses is crazy. And it has to stop at some point. While I don't advertise the fact that I suffer from mental illness to strangers and I recognize that there are socially inappropriate times to talk about mental illness, I also think that if everyone just keeps this to themselves, mental illness will never be socially accepted or understood. The truth is, the disease can be managed. And to shame people into not seeking treatment because it's not socially acceptable or well-understood? That is a crying shame, and a detriment to society.

If I can be even a small piece in the HUGE puzzle of getting the tide to turn, I am proud to put a face on depression and mental illness. It is real, and it sucks. And you can get treatment for it, manage it, and return to productivity. And it is worth it. It really is.

*Somehow I always managed the groceries part. Compulsive overeater through and through, this one is.

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