Did You Know Depression is Contagious?

Empathy can make you feel strong things.

Photo by Jose A.Thompson on Unsplash

Nobody ever told me what to expect when I became depressed. It’s not something that’s discussed at home, in the classroom, at work or even at the doctors’ office.

But even in the places depression was discussed openly and freely, everybody failed to mention one thing that is pretty important:

It’s contagious.

If you’re turning your head in confusion I totally get it; From a purely physical standpoint, depression is not contagious at all. A depressed person can’t sneeze on you and suddenly you catch it too, so relax.

But one thing I’ve discovered is that it’s incredibly easy to feel depressed as a result of someone else's depression, to the point where you begin to feel the same or even worse.

Photo by Toimetaja tõlkebüroo on Unsplash

Let me paint the picture for you… My partner hasn’t been having the best of times lately. On top of the fact we haven’t seen each other in over two months now due to the Coronavirus outbreak and lockdown restrictions, like countless others around the world, her job isn’t exactly stable at the moment. The continued uncertainty has caused a serious decline in her overall mental wellbeing (very common for somebody suffering from severe anxiety) and has probably fallen into the category of depression once again.

While my own mental health hasn’t been perfect these past couple of months, I’m happy to report I’ve been managing fairly well given the situation. But since she began feeling down, there has been an undoubtedly negative shift in my own mental state, too.

It’s harder to get up in the morning. Motivation to get things done around the house is at an all-time low. Optimism for the future is virtually non-existent at this point.

Now, in no way am I blaming my partner for the way I feel; I’m my own person capable of managing my own emotions, but it would be a lie to say our two states of mind aren’t directly related. Thankfully, I know why…

Empathy.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Humans are naturally empathetic creatures. We have the brainpower and the intelligence to recognize and empathize with pain when we see it. It’s why we’re able to make decisions based on emotion, rather than statistical outcome all the time. It’s one of our many gifts. But it’s also a curse.

The phrase “I feel bad for you” is pretty common, but rarely does it ever actually result in a clear and unwelcome drop in happiness. Do I “feel bad” that I feel this way? Not at all. If anything, the fact that my partner’s feelings have resulted in me following suit just goes to show how emotionally intertwined we both are and it’s something I hope other couples are able to experience in a lesser form. It’s romantic, in a kind of messed up way!

But one thing this whole ongoing experience has showed me is that I should be proud that I’m able to empathize with another person as much as I am right now. There are so many people who simply don’t have the emotional capacity to legitimately feel for their fellow man or woman that they wander through life only looking out for #1. Because of this, I doubt they ever genuinely manage to connect to another person, which in my opinion is the key purpose of life in the first place.

That isn’t to say we should always allow ourselves to become fully immersed in another’s emotional state; Sometimes it’s wise to stay disconnected, if only for a little while so that we are better prepared to offer solutions as to how to escape the pool of sadness one may find themselves in. I’m still trying to figure out the balance.

Photo by yang miao on Unsplash

I know things could be a heck of a lot worse, which in turn makes me feel even worse about the fact things could be worse, and yet I still feel terrible. It’s a never-ending downward spiral!

Do I wish things could be different? Yes. I wish my partner could find the solace of mind within herself that she needn’t be bothered by thoughts of anxiousness and fear of what the future may bring. I’m working on that old dagger as well.

But for the time being, I take some comfort in the fact that my mirrored feelings of depression and anxiousness I see in my partner proves that isolation may have robbed me from regular human contact, but it has not robbed me of my ability to perceive and appreciate human connection.

With much of the world feeling far more alone than it has in a very long time, sometimes connection, even when it stirs feelings we’d rather avoid, can help us remember just how connected to others we really are.

It hurts, but it’s something to be appreciated.

Full-time Content Writer. Mental Health, Self-Improvement, putting one word in front of the other. Coffee and cake tends to help!

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