Many people are of the belief that depression is a term appropriately used to describe people who are generally dysfunctional or grumpy and even anyone who has committed or threatened violent acts.
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Still others think that it is a mere state of mind, a choice made by individuals to tremble in their own mental shadows. In fact, depression is not a catch all for every mental disorder and it is far from a lifestyle choice. Getting to know depression starts with understanding some key facts outlined below.
What Depression Is
1. Depression is a mental disorder. It is not a choice or a “phase.” There are several mental disorders listed under the category of Depressive Disorders in the “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition,” but for simplicity’s sake here, we will refer to them to as “depression.”
2. It has common symptoms. Along with the stereotypical depressive mood – feelings of sadness, emptiness and uncontrollable crying are common. Characteristics of depression include loss or increase of weight corresponding to changes in appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping), lack of energy and ability to concentrate and a lack of interest in work, hobbies or relationships.
3. It wears many faces. The characteristics mentioned above are all good indicators of a depressed person; however, as with any physical disease or disorder some people exhibit symptoms differently. Cases of diagnosed depression can be categorized as mild, moderate, severe and profound and people drastically inhibited by this disorder can barely function. Others hide it well and have various ways of coping with or even hiding their depression (this is called “high functioning” depression).
What Depression Isn’t
1. A choice. Depression, like most mental illnesses, has a biochemical character. The narrative itself may play out differently, but the root of depression lies in the brain, well outside of a person’s decisive reach. Sometimes it is genetic, sometimes it is cognitive or situational, sometimes it is even the result of a brain injury. The cause is for a proper doctor to recognize.
2. A phase. Similar to thinking of depression as a choice, many people mistakenly think that depression is something a person will “grow out of,” especially if they are of adolescent age. Anyone can be depressed and the reasons may be personal and not necessary to explore until the person is able to find help. Depression can in fact come and go and because people have varying levels of emotional support and distracting responsibilities, it can be easy for a mildly depressed person to shrug off their condition and assume it will just go away. This is not the case.
3. A nuisance. Depression is problematic, but it is important to clarify that it is not a problem with a capital P. In order for a person to get proper help for their condition, it is necessary for love, understanding and honesty to surround that person during their time of recovery and help. Some people are in therapy or on medication for years, while others only need a few months to treat their condition. Many people go to therapy and that doesn’t make them “crazy.” Some people regularly attend therapy sessions and they don’t even have a diagnosed mental illness!
Coping With Depression
1. Seek professional help. The most important thing you can do to help yourself or a loved one is to look for a good psychologist and psychiatrist. Treatment options vary, as do professional opinions and of course individual patients’ temperaments and situations. Medication is highly stigmatized, but countless people take medication for depression, as well as anxiety disorders.
2. Understand your diagnosis. Being careful not to get too obsessed with self-diagnosis, try to understand the biological mechanisms at play regarding your condition. Understanding the facts will help to temporarily distance yourself from your disorder, and help you to realize that it is just that, a disorder that is not unique to you, but shared by millions around the world.
3. Find peer support. Look for other people who identify with your diagnosis or state of mind. Online chat groups are the easiest way to begin, especially if your depression is more severe and limits your ability to interact in person. Research some safe local meet-ups as well for when you are ready to share your story with similar people.
4. Give yourself time. Rather than thinking of depression as something that has to be “cured,” think of it as something to understand how to live with. It’s actually okay to be depressed. Allowing yourself time to explore the coping process with help you to emerge as a capable and strong (if not stronger) individual.