5 Things Sufferers Want You to Know About Depression

When we see depictions of depression in the media, it’s often pretty straightforward: someone’s entire life starts to crumble around them, and they spend a lot of time curled up on their bed crying.

The reality, actually, can be very different. This month is Depression Awareness Month, and to honor this today we’ll look at five things that people with depression want people who don’t live with the mental health problem to know and understand.

As with all mental health-related topics, people’s experiencesvary and are entirely their own. Rather than being true for everyone, this list is aimed at highlighting some of the common things that ourmedia maybe don’t get quite right or might miss out.

1. You can live with depression for a lot of years and not even know it.

Depression has a lot of nasty tricks up its sleeve that can enable it to hide in plain sight. “High functioning depression” is one such manifestation of this. This doesn’t look like a full-scale depressive episode. Instead, think of it as background noise invading the way we speak to ourselves and about ourselves, twisting it to constantly reinforce those beliefs that make us feel not good enough, unsatisfied and drained.

The effect of this constant low-level chipping away at our self-esteem may not be immediately apparent to other people or even ourselves, particularly because to everyone else we appear to be doing fine. We hold down a job, we pay our bills, we socialize occasionally, and we seem relatively happy. But, high-functioning depression can cause us to decide to not take the chances we are offered, to only ever do just enough.

For example, that promotion that everyone says you’re perfect for? You’ve not quite got round to applying for it. That gym schedule that you really want to stick to but can’t quite get on board with week after week after week? Maybe next month. That feeling in your significant relationships, that distance, not because you don’t love each other but because there’s a feeling of helplessness about…well…everything?

This is the kind of story that depression can tell us, morning, noon and night, without us even really being aware of it. It can lead us to self-sabotage, to switch off, to function but not reallylive.

So while the crisis point moment where everything gets too much might make for good TV, for many people living with depression there have been so many days leading up to that quietly suffering from a life that is only ever half of what it could be.

2. Depressionmight make you the complete opposite of the “Depressed Person” archetype.

People with high functioning depression can become fearless and often reckless. With little regard for their own health and wellbeing, they will throw themselves at things they want to achieve, for example getting a business off the ground or getting that so-called “perfect body”.

For a time, this could look to everyone else like hard-earned success. Inevitably, though, there will come a point where all that energy, all that drive, all that power, is just…used up. And yet, because the high achiever is used to being able to “power through” obstacles, they still won’t relent. They will keep pushing, and their mental and physical health will slowly get worse and worse.

Yet still, to everyone else, this might just look like someone going after their dreams when, in reality, they are spiraling and about to crash. We can see how dangerous that can be, because the system is not set up to catch people like this. If anything, it often cheers them on.

This may manifest in other ways, too. Some people with depression begin socializing to the extreme, and at first this can mask other behaviors,like drinking to excess. Alternatively, they may become hyper focused on parenting their child, something that could be mistaken for being an attentive parent but is really unhealthy for both the parent and child.

3. Depression doesn’t necessarily mean you’re suicidal.

Not all people with depressionare suicidal. In fact, many are not. While suicidal ideation does emerge from depressive episodes, the two do not necessarily walk hand in hand. As a result, depressed peoplemay not recognize they are depressed precisely because they lack the persistent notion of ending their own lives. That can prevent them from seeking help.

As I mentioned above, depression can look very different for different people, so it’s important to honor that when we think and talk about mental health.

4. Depression is actually a physical problem we can see happening.

I’ve talked before about the physical symptoms of depression that are often missing from the dialog about this mental health condition. However, it is really interesting to note that scientists can actually see depression going on in our brains.

Ifsomeone has been depressed for a long time, brain scans show that the person’s hippocampus, the area of the brain that is perhaps most well-known for its role in our emotional life and our memories,can actually shrink. There are a number of other physiological issues we can see as both a precursor and a result of depression.

The following video digs into the science surrounding the physiological signs of depression in our brains:

5. It’s possible to have persistent depression and still live an amazing life.

For many people, a depressive episode may be an isolated incident that, with the right treatment, can be resolved. A person may then never suffer from another episode, or may only experience mild symptoms from time to time that can be managed viasupport and, if need be, therapy.

However, for some people, depression can be a persistent and even life-long condition. I am one of those people. For me, it is unlikely (though not impossible) that the condition will ever leave me completely. As a result, I have had to learn to live alongside the disorder and to manage it. In the initial stages of treatment thatmeant medication and a course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT).

I was very lucky to find medication that worked for me from the outset, and that helps both my anxiety disorder and my depression. I am also privileged, because I do not have overlapping mental health issues that mean other medications must be carefully balanced to minimize ill effects.

Now, approaching three years on from my last major course of treatment, I manage my depression by taking several steps. I remain compliant with my medication schedule to ensure that I do not experience side effects that can result from withdrawal or from my disorder itself. I have also found a way to integrate CBT into my life through systems like regular journaling, checking in with my fiance and managing my workload around what I honestly believe I can do on any given day. I exercise frequently, and I also try to eat a healthy diet. I have chosen to no longer drink alcohol as I found that, while it doesn’t conflict with my medication directly, it tends to lower my mood. I also see my doctor from time to time to check in and discuss my medication, whether it needs adjusting and how I am feeling in general.

Strategies like these can allow people with depression to live full and enjoyable lives. Depression certainly does create significant challenges, butyoudon’t have to rule out a fulfilling life of creativity, excitement and meaningful relationships. Perhaps out of everything on this list, that’s one fact that is most important to know both for people who have never experienced depression and for those who are living with it.

Things can get better, and an enjoyable life is possible.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

47 comments

Chad Anderson
Chad A1 months ago

Thank you.

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Lorraine A
Lorraine Andersen2 months ago

thanks for the good information,

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Mark T
Mark T2 months ago

Ty.

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Thanks.

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Martina R
Martina Rimbaldo2 months ago

Thank you

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara2 months ago

Keep moving, eat as healthy a diet as you can. And play lively music. Stop watching violent depressing stuff.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara2 months ago

Yes, it can be hard to pick up when you feel that nothing ever gets better. Our leaders and banks walked us into this recession that is worldwide. Now they are lying to us that it is over or picking up.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara2 months ago

th

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara2 months ago

flag the spam

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