What Most People Get Wrong About Depression

Even those of us who suffer from depression sometimes make this mistake.

Do You Have This Common Misconception?

Major depressive disorder has been an unfortunate, recurring event throughout my life. I first experienced depression when I was in high school, and depressive episodes have come and gone ever since.

The simplest way that I could describe what depression feels like is that I’m bogged down by a sense of overwhelming sadness. There’s a lot more that goes along with it too though: when I’m depressed, I have trouble with both falling asleep and getting up, I don’t cook or eat as much, and it’s incredibly hard for me to find the motivation to do much of anything.

My depressive episodes often seem to come out of nowhere. I’ve had them when I was at the lowest points in my life, but I’ve also had them when I was otherwise doing great.

This brings me to the biggest misconception that I’ve experienced when it comes to depression: Many people wrongly believe that depression is always the result of something going wrong in your life.

A common question that people with depression get is “Why are you depressed?” It’s such a frequent and irksome question that it’s almost become a joke.

The reality is that there’s rarely any straightforward answer to what causes depression. It isn’t normally the result of something going wrong in life; instead, it’s a disorder caused by the brain.

When my depression comes, it isn’t because I’ve just had a relative die, or because I went through a breakup. Instead, it just shows up.

I’ve seen people complain when celebrities open up about their depression. Skeptical observers get frustrated and ask how a rich celebrity could possibly be depressed — what do they have to complain about? But the truth is that no matter how successful you are, or how great your family is, or how much you love your job, depression can still strike.

The best way to empathize with a depressed person is to throw out all of your preconceived notions about what causes someone to feel sad. Sadness from depression isn’t like the sadness you get when things go wrong.

Depression Is Complicated

The truth is that the causes of depression are complicated. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can be caused by a variety of factors including brain chemistry and hormone.

In addition, just because depression isn’t normally caused by things going wrong, that doesn’t mean that negative effects don’t affect it. When when depression seems to appear out of nowhere, bad things happening will certainly exacerbate it.

When I’m depressed, I can’t help but dwell on everything that I’m unhappy with in life. These things didn’t cause the depression, but the depression does make them seem worse. These feelings then end up worsening and dragging out the depressive episode.

This has been on my mind lately because I started feeling depressed again a few months ago. At first, the depression didn’t seem to relate to anything particular going on in my life. The coronavirus was, of course, making everyone’s lives somewhat worse, but it hadn’t really had a huge effect on me.

Then, a few weeks ago, I found out that I was getting laid off from my job. Although I had already been depressed, my depression suddenly got much worse. These past weeks have been much more of a struggle.

Getting laid off absolutely didn’t cause my depression, but it would be a simplification to say that my depression has nothing to do with it. It absolutely has had a negative effect on this mood, and it’s upsetting me much more than it would have at other times in my life.

Even We Get It Wrong

The truth is that even those of us who are depressed often fall back on the misconception that our depression is caused solely by the things going wrong in our lives.

Over the past few weeks, I keep thinking that I would be happy if I could just find a new job that I like. Although it is important for me to find a job that I’ll enjoy in the long-term, it wouldn’t actually magically cure my depression. I need to remind myself that I was already depressed for a couple of months before the layoff even occurred.

Why is it so important for me to make this distinction? Because it has direct ramifications on how I seek treatment for my depression.

If I was only feeling sad because I got laid off, then I really wouldn’t be too concerned. I’d find a job, and the sadness would disappear.

Unfortunately, depression is much more complicated than that. I know that I do need to address getting laid off, but I also need to address the underlying causes of depression. That means I need to continue a regular exercise regime, which has always been a tremendous help for my mental health. It also means I need to start seeing a therapist again, because I know from past experience how much that has helped me.

Depression is a complex problem, but I know that my depression isn’t completely unmanageable. By avoiding the misconception that depression is caused solely by bad events, and instead treating it as a disorder, I know that I’ll have the best chance at finding relief.

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

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