Depression is a medical disorder
Stop telling people to fight it. Encourage them to treat it.
By Dayna Rowden
Let’s talk about Depression, folks. I’ve been seeing some memes, posts, and articles from folks (even folks with Depression) who need some help to properly discuss this disease.
A lot of people who have never had mental illness have a hard time understanding the complexities, because they’ve never had the disease. People use terms like “fight,” “struggle,” and “battle,” or “weak,” and “strong.”
Depression is not a mood or sadness you just “get over.” It is not something you “fight,” because fights have losers. Depression is a disease, an illness, and a disorder. It happens when your brain — that squishy bit between your ears that keeps you alive by creating chemicals and electricity — doesn’t function properly. As a result people suffer side effects. You can’t think, wish, or will yourself out of it.
Stop making people with Depression think that way. Accept them and their disease. Instead of being a cheerleader and assuming you know best. Ask how you can help. Ask what they need.
For those still confused about Depression and how to treat someone with depression, let me break down for you.
Think of Depression like Diabetes. Diabetes happens when your body does not make or use insulin well. Sometimes you are born with it, sometimes you develop it, and sometimes you might get it during pregnancy. You may eat the same or workout the same as a healthy person, and you may develop Diabetes. Depression is the same way. It happens when parts of your brain don’t operate the right way.
Diabetes, like Depression, is not curable. It is treatable and manageable. But no two people are alike. There is evidence of people turning their Type II Diabetes around through diet and exercise, but there are people who after changing their exercise and diet who are still dependent on insulin. Depression is the same way. For some people, diet and exercise help. People with Diabetes are expected to take medicine for their illness.
No one would shame a diabetic for taking their meds. Why do people think that Depression meds are for the weak?
People are sometimes shamed for developing Diabetes, as if their lifestyle condemned them to the illness. “If they ate better or worked out, they wouldn’t be sick.” People treat those with Depression the same way. “If they got out more, walked more, did more happy things, ate better, slept better, worked out more, etc… they’d feel better.”
People with Diabetes may not have the same amount of energy as someone without Diabetes. This is due to the body’s inability to control blood sugar. You would not shame them for this. You would not say, “Well, if you exercised more, you’d have more energy.” Depression negatively impacts sleep, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Depression affects neurotransmitters associated with alertness and the reward system, and it takes a toll on motivation, making it physically and emotionally exhausting to carry out simple tasks. Getting dressed for work, buying groceries or saying hello to co-workers can feel like monumental feats for someone with Depression.
Diabetes causes brain fog and memory loss. Both are frustrating and can drastically reduce someone’s ability to complete daily tasks. Brain fog makes people feel as though they’re enshrouded in a fog so thick they don’t know how to find their way out. Guess what? Depression does the same thing. People with Depression are not intentionally flaky or unreliable. Depression can cause brain fog. Someone with Depression has to expend even more energy to make decisions or focus on work.
People with Depression who push themselves to get through their day can, in turn, experience more fatigue, which can then make them feel even more depressed, and the cycle keeps going.
There are a lot of other similarities, but what it boils down to is this. You are not going to question or shame someone who has been diagnosed with Diabetes. You aren’t going to encourage them to “fight” their illness or make them question their doctors’ directions.
Don’t tell someone with Depression, “I was able to pull out of the funk. Why can’t you?”
People with Depression can feel better, for a moment, but the Depression may come back. A person can manage their Diabetes and still experience hyper- or hypoglycemia.
They are not weaker. They didn’t lose a fight. They have a disease. A lot of people with Depression think they should “fight it,” or “be strong.” All it does is make them more tired and more frustrated.
There are many people with Depression who want to be happy. They don’t want to worry about when the next Depressive episode will come. They don’t want to dread the next spiral. And they don’t like dealing with obsessive and intrusive thoughts about suicide.
There is nothing wrong with accepting and acknowledging the illness. Listen to the doctors. Know your limits. Allow yourself to be a patient, not a warrior.