21 May 2011

What comments or assumptions about depression really get your goat?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad


Nia: My list:

  • "Happiness is a choice." Happiness is not the opposite of depression. The opposite of depression is Not. Being. Depressed. You can be non-depressed and still be miserable.

  • "Everyone has bad days." ...Which they know will end tomorrow or next week. Depression doesn't end.

  • "You have to try harder" or "Nothing will be handed to you." I had to work harder than a normal person will in his entire life just to get up in the morning, and I did it for years. We're talking about completely different scales of effort.

  • "Lower your expectations." Because you'll be so much better off when you abandon your goals and accept your fate as a mere onlooker of real life, peasant!

  • "Count your blessings." This doesn't work.

  • "You don't act/look depressed." Acting depressed is not socially rewarded, and social exclusion doesn't help much of anything. And why should I have to act a certain way to meet your expectations? Shall we bring back sumptuary laws, too, so you can tell how much money I make based on the clothes I wear?

  • The assumption by doctors and lay people, even after you've recovered from depression, that your health problems are still due to it. My mood has been relatively fine for years but I am still cursed with insomnia, brain fog, and fatigue, and each time I bring this up with a doctor, I have to go through the same "No, I'm not depressed" spiel.

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Pastor Jayne: The most common misconception about blessed depth (which I shared prior to my own bout with it) was that it's simply "the blues." The connotation is therefore that happy thoughts can help you snap out of it. Nice idea...but it didn't work. I'm a naturally upbeat, positive person, but when I sunk into blessed depth I realized how judgmental I had been toward its sufferers. If one could simply think positive thoughts and snap out of it then I wouldn't have spent more than two days with depression. (Seriously, who would choose it for more than two days???) The biochemical component (whatever the trigger) is powerful, and needed to be treated.

This leads me to the second assumption about depression that plagued me: that taking medication and getting therapy for it was somehow a sign of emotional/mental weakness. (I must confess, I was the main one who held this misconception and sat in judgment over myself more than anyone else). I learned that seeking treatment in the form of medication and therapy was actually a sign of strength (for me, spiritual strength). I finally gave myself credit for having the wherewithal to get some help. As the apostle Paul so eloquently stated: "His strength is made perfect in our weakness."

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Soledad: When people assume that depression is a character flaw, I get really upset. I have an old colleague who basically felt that if you are depressed, too bad, you are damaged and there is no help for you. He felt a depressed person is an irreparably damaged drag on society. He definitely didn't see depression as an illness that could be treated, or helped by different ways of working with that person. If you were dealing with depression, he thought you should be fired. He didn't believe in teaching people to work with others based on what works best for them. He was old school, and very narrow in his view. Unfortunately most people are ignorant about depression, and this is how they think. The person must not have any redeeming value, and they are permanently "screwed up," as my mother, who ironically also suffers from depression, would say.

Depression has a long way to go before people see it as something a person has little say in. They deal with it the best way they can. And often others will avoid them because of it. It's a sad state of affairs that causes lots of broken relationships, lost productivity, and unnecessary suffering. But for now at least, it's how most people think. Really what it comes down to is -- if you are depressed, you are on your own to figure out the best way to deal with it. Because others are going to consider it your problem, not theirs.

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Image: photo detail, "Wm. Lee's School, Georgetown, D.C.," between 1910 and 1920, National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress). No known restrictions on publication.