I have talked about depression several times and you may wonder why I keep bringing it up as a topic. It’s quite simple – Depression is a disease that afflicts millions of people and yet, there is hardly any discussion about it in the public domain. Yes, occasionally some important people aka celebrities open up and talk about their experiences, but you rarely hear an average person talk about it. With the pandemic, there is a lot of stress on mental health, especially in the workplace, which I think is a step in the right direction, but depression is a serious illness which needs a separate conversation.
I have battled depression on and off for the last 12 years and being curious by nature, I have read extensively on this subject. Blogs, academic articles, research papers – you name it and I have read it. Knowing certain things has helped me manage my disease better. In today’s post, I will share ten things which I think everyone should know about Depression so that there is a better understanding of this illness –
Depression differs from stress, worry and sadness
It’s important to understand that depression is an illness caused by the decrease of certain neurotransmitters in a person’s brain chemistry. It can make the sufferer look like they are stressed out or worried or sad, but just removing the source of stress or creating a positive environment may not be enough to ease depression, until and unless it is treated with medicine and therapy. While it’s always good to remove stress and create positivity, but that alone is not sufficient in treating depression. Many people confuse depression with stress, worry and sadness and suffer for months, even years – it is important to seek professional help at such times.
Depression can be a lifelong illness
Depression presents differently in different people. Many people have 2-3 periods of severe depression in their lives and remain depression-free for the rest of it. Others need to manage their illness with medication for long periods, some even for the rest of their lives. A lot of people are unhappy to take medicines for long periods or are scared of long-term side effects. To them, I give two answers – first, what my father always says to me “If you had diabetes or hypertension, you would take meds for the rest of your life, then why not for this?”. I agree with him. Second, the idea of long-term side effects scares me as well, but I have made a choice. I have chosen my present over my future – I want to lead a happy life now which is why I take medicines and go to therapy whenever needed. It is up to you what choice you make – there is no right or wrong in this.
Depression is not a lifestyle disease
While several symptoms of depression can be managed by changing your lifestyle, but let’s just say that losing weight or sleeping better will not make depression go away. With regular exercise, meditation, proper food and sleep, a lot of symptoms of depression can be kept at bay, but when you are in a period of deep depression, medical treatment has to take priority. You can supplement it with cognitive-behavioural therapy when depression eases off. There are certain foods you can incorporate in your life which can uplift your mood. Exercise releases endorphins, which gives you a sense of elation. Knitting, art, dancing, etc. can also have a positive impact on your mood. All this is good and you should incorporate it in your life, but when things become serious, medical treatment will have to play a significant role.
Depression can be genetic
You go to a doctor with symptoms of depression and most likely you will be asked whether someone in your family has ever been diagnosed with depression or any other mental illness. Depression (in fact, a lot of mental illnesses) can travel down generations hitting and missing people randomly in every generation. People of our grandparents’ generation often went diagnosed, but think back or speak to your parents and maybe something in their behaviour will point to a symptom of depression or some other mental illness. Having this knowledge is an important weapon in your arsenal – it helps in early diagnosis, early treatment and in a better understanding of the disease.
Depression can happen to anyone
Depression is fairly democratic as an affliction. It happens to very young children and often goes undiagnosed. It is very common in adolescents but gets confused for puberty. Both men and women get depressed, even though women have a higher rate of depression. It is not restricted to any age, sex, economic class or religion. You can have every luxury in the world, everything can be right in your life and you can still feel depressed. After all, it is a game of chemicals something like Roulette – the ball can land anywhere. However, people with better resources get better treatment, while those in lower economic classes often go undiagnosed and untreated. The treatment for mental illnesses in India is expensive – a session with a good therapist can set you back anywhere from 2-5K – something which an ordinary, lower-middle-class person cannot afford. So consider yourself privileged if you get the disease and have the resources to get the treatment – it could have been worse.
Depression alters a person’s perspective
The worst thing about depression in my mind is the fact that it distorts your vision – the way you see yourself and the way you see the world. I often say having depression is like wearing glasses with grey-coloured lenses – everything looks dark, hopeless and dreary. There is nothing in life which seems bright, cheerful and worth living for. Caregivers need to understand this because trying to rationalise with a person who is wearing these glasses of gloom can become very frustrating. It’s no one’s fault – it’s just the nature of the disease and has to be accepted and treated accordingly.
Depression isolates you from other people
I wanted this heading to be “Depression ruins relationships” but I stopped myself, not wanting to be overly dramatic. And yet, it’s true – depression does ruin relationships. When friends, families and caregivers do not understand the nature of the disease and how it alters a person’s perspective, when they blame the patient for behaving abnormally, it is bound to ruin relationships. Sometimes after a person is cured, it is possible to heal those relationships; a lot of times the relationships get so damaged that nothing can salvage them. At the cost of repetition, I will say this that caregivers and loved ones ought to think of depression as something out of the control of the person afflicted by it and not level blame at them – I know it is difficult, but these are efforts we must make for people we care about.
People with depression cannot just snap out of it
For the diagnosis of depression, there are no tests available; nothing which can conclusively point to the disease. There are a series of questions which are asked from the patient and based on the answers, a diagnosis is made. One such question is “have you lost enjoyment in the things you used to enjoy earlier?”. Yes, people with depression no longer enjoy things they used to enjoy earlier, sometimes they don’t like meeting people or going out, they find it difficult to perform simple, everyday tasks; some even find it difficult to get out of bed. And no, they cannot snap out of it. These are not just some blues which you can snap out of; this is an intrinsic chemical change which requires treatment. Until treated, it is pointless expecting depressed people to become their old selves again. It requires tremendous amounts of compassion and understanding from family and friends, but having been a recipient of such compassion and understanding, I can say for a fact that it is humanly possible.
People with depression are not crazy
Even though I said that depression alters a person’s sense of perspective, it does not mean that people who are depressed are stupid or crazy. UNDERLINE THAT. They are in despair, lack hope, and may feel they have nothing to live for, but they are not crazy, idiotic or cognitively impaired. They continue to be the same people they were before depression, except the way see themselves and the world has changed. People with depression do not talk silly or say stupid things; it is more likely that they will not want to talk. People with depression are not always suicidal (although some people can have suicidal thoughts) and people with depression are not a threat to themselves or the people around them. So it is important to not stigmatise them or pity them. Only when the stigma is removed, will people feel more comfortable acknowledging that they are depressed and will seek treatment for it
People with depression can lead happy, productive lives
Even if you fall in that category of people who have to take medicines for depression for the rest of your life, it doesn’t mean you can’t live a happy, productive and meaningful life. Taking the treatment for depression is like hitting reset – you are back to the same playing field as everyone else. As long as you keep your symptoms in check (by medication or therapy or any other alternative method), your life can be the same as any other person who has never had depression. Some very famous, creative people have suffered from depression and some of the best work they have produced is during their depressive periods – not that I advocate you remain depressed to do your best work. I have noticed it in myself – when I’m out of depression, my productivity, efficiency and creativity are on an all-time high. So all you have to do is bide the period of depression in the best way you can; after that nothing can stop you. If managed right, depression can be a speed bump, but never a roadblock.
I hope this list has been helpful to those of you wanted to know more about this illness. If you have any more questions or want to share your experiences, you can put them in the comments section or write privately to me.
Please note I’m not a Doctor or a Trained Psychologist or Therapist – all views expressed above are my own and have been gleaned from my personal experience and extensive reading. You MUST seek professional help if you experience symptoms of depression.