7 things you’ve always wanted to know about depression, but were afraid to ask.
I live with depression.
For the past 10 years, starting right around the time I went off to college, I’ve been keenly aware that something just wasn’t right. Even so, it took me a long time until I was able to come to terms with it and even embrace it, no longer feeling ashamed.
I put together a list of some of the most frequently asked questions I get about depression — coming from everyone from those who think they may have depression, concerned family members, people curious about what they can do to show support for a friend with depression, and well, just about anyone.
So let’s get started!
1. What is depression?
This is the most basic question. Depression is a mental illness that affects an estimated 14.8 million American adults (or roughly 6.7% of the adult population) in a given year, marked by extended periods of feelings of sadness, discouragement, disinterest, or hopelessness. It can interfere with your daily life, and it’s the leading cause of disability for people in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 44.
2. But doesn’t everybody get a little depressed from time to time?
While depression can come and go, it’s not the same thing as having “the blues.” Everyone gets a little sad, whether it’s the result of a bad breakup, an argument, stress at work, or anything else. For most people, those feelings will clear up within a few hours or days. Depression is marked by at least two straight weeks of symptoms.
3. What’s it like living with depression?
Well, it’s not fun, that’s for sure. But in all seriousness, it’s probably not what you’re picturing, which is some sort of unending void of sadness. It can be that, but most of the time it’s a feeling of emptiness, worthlessness, self-doubt, and irritability. Yes, sadness mixes in there quite a bit as well, but for me, that’s just one of several feelings that hit me hardest during depressive episodes.
4. What causes depression?
The science is still kind of out on this. Most who’ve studied depression believe it’s a combination between your genes and your environment. However, given that, this means it’s not as though someone can run some labs and go, “A-ha! You have depression!” It’d be nice if it worked that way, but the actual method of finding a diagnosis and treatment pattern that works for you is much more tedious. Which brings me to my next point…
5. How do you treat depression?
Like I said above, this can be a bit of tedious trial and error. The answer? It varies from person to person. Anybody who tells you that one specific thing is the solution to depression probably doesn’t really know what they’re talking about.
Some people benefit from medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which work by affecting how chemicals travel through the brain. Finding the right chemical balance can help fight some of the symptoms of depression. For some people (myself included), SSRIs and other drugs are a huge help. Others benefit from regular therapy or counseling sessions, which work by helping the patient develop coping mechanisms for depressive episodes. And others benefit from things like improved diet, increased exercise, or better sleep.
For many people, however, the answer is some sort of combination of these treatment options. This will vary from person to person.
6. I think I might have depression, but I don’t know where to start or what to do. Help?
If you’re asking this question, you’re already doing so well (seriously). Because here’s the thing. It takes, on average, 10 years from first noticing some form of mental illness for people to seek out treatment. If you’re reading this and you’re serious about seeking treatment, you’re already way ahead of the game!
Why does it take so long? Well, for one, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness (even referring to depression as a mental illness — which it is — sometimes puts people off). And that stigma leads people to do things like trying to “tough it out.” The truth is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help.
So, now that you want to find help, here’s the first step: find a therapist or give your primary care physician a visit. I know it can be tricky to open up about what’s going on in your life, but it’s the first step towards a healthy recovery. (And you can do it!)
7. I have a friend who may have depression. How can I help?
If someone you know strikes you as possibly having depression — symptoms aren’t always particularly visible to others — the best thing you can do is the same thing you’d do with any friend you notice something’s up with: talk to them.
Let them know that you’ve noticed certain behaviors that have you a bit concerned. If they start to describe signs of depression, let them know that you understand depression is a medical condition; it is not a sign of weakness. Ask if they’ve considered seeking professional help, and if so, ask if there are any things they’d like help with such as helping them find a therapist, setting up appointments, or coming up with questions to ask their therapist during the first meeting.
Be a good, open-minded friend. That’s all.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, seek help immediately.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1–800–273-TALK (1–800–273–8255). And if you need to, call 911 or visit a local emergency room for immediate assistance.