- Mental Health
The Stereotypes Surrounding Depression Versus Its Reality
The Stereotypes As Opposed To The Actuality
"Depressed people just need to think more positively. Most of the depressed people I've met just seem to want attention. Depression is the common cold of mental health."
These labels, these stereotypes, are more than common. It's the way most people who haven't experienced the disease itself view it from an outside point of view. Depression is a hard thing to comprehend admittedly; a person unable to function just because they are unable to sum up the energy? It's hard for someone to not view that as being lazy. A person isolating themselves but then claiming they're alone? It's hard for someone to not view that as attention-seeking. In all reality, though, depression is indescribable in its essence. People who suffer from it don't even know what's going on with themselves, and that's what is most terrifying about it. This seems surprising considering how common of a mental health issue depression is, despite it coming in many forms. The fact that it's viewed so flippantly is what hurts people the most though; depression either isn't viewed as a real problem or is tossed around like a casual term for our generation. But there's more to it than most realize.
Why Do These Stereotypes Exist, And What Stereotypes Are There?
Similar to all stereotypes, depression stereotypes started with a false generalization.
Once someone notices an individual doing something, it's assumed that other people similar to said individual do the same things. For example, one is that all rich people are egotistical.
A couple things that fuel the fire for these generalizations include how many people confuse being sad or down with actually having depression. Depression encapsulates much more, so this, consequently, leads to falsification of depression from lack of knowledge and people doubting whether someone who claims they have a mental health issue actually has a mental health issue. This causes the stereotype that people "fake" depression, or use it as a ploy to gain attention.
Another stereotype is that depressed people are lazy. If you have depression, it's not uncommon to have sleep problems or feel a constant exhaustion no matter what you do. Along with that, they have no energy or will to do anything, whether it has a benefit or not, and whether they used to enjoy it or not. Unfortunately, this isn't always clear (or when it is made clear, is viewed as complaining), and the assumption is that people with the disease are simply too lazy to get things done. There are several circumstances I've experienced where there were things I really wanted to get done, from housework to schoolwork to trying new things, but I was simply so exhausted that I didn't even want to function. It makes you feel sluggish and unmotivated, which is an extremely miserable feeling. This is something that needs to be understood; it's not a solid "I don't feel like it", as much as it's "I want to but I don't feel like I can".
Along with that, depression isn't something that can be solved or even helped by "thinking positively". Although this is normally said when someone wants to help, it comes off as patronizing. Of course that's been thought of by the person with depression, and has been told to them by at least a dozen people prior. But I can't express it enough: Depression is not a state of mind. It's not a switch you can flip on and off, it's not something that a little bit of yoga and positive thinking can fix. Although it is in the mind, it being a state of mind suggests that it can be changed easily, and is only there if you allow it to be, which is not true whatsoever. People do not decide to have depression. Depression isn't "all in your head". This is one idea that tends to be hard to understand considering depression is all in the mind technically speaking; but that does not mean people have full control over it and its existence. It's not a sign of mental weakness, but a sign of mental exhaustion. Exhaustion only comes with working so hard that it hurts you, which is not weakness. It's an extremely complex disease that is different for every person, but, as stated before, is completely impossible to explain.
One last stereotype would be that medications will fix everything. The problem with medicines designed for anything within the brain is it'll always have side effects that mess up the balance of things. It doesn't just click the happy button, it clicks the drowsy button, it clicks the nausea button, it clicks the insomnia button (to put it simply). And in quite a few cases, it doesn't even improve people's problems. Unfortunately, there's no medicine out there that specifically targets that one part of the brain and only switches it "on". In other cases, these medications take a couple months or more to kick in at all. For example, I took Prozac, an SSRI, for a bit last year. I wasn't given enough time to let it settle in, and after a month they rose my dosage. Eventually I started experiencing side effects that worsened once my dosage rose again, making it so I was so tired and sluggish that I couldn't function. In the grand scheme of things, it was worsening my state. These medications won't solve inner peace, despite what others think.
Okay, there's a lot of generalizations out there. But why does it matter if these exist?
Why Does It Matter If These Stereotypes Exist?
To name a few reasons: It's insulting, it's degrading, and it's patronizing. Imagine if you had a disease but everywhere you go, you're assumed to be a liar, an attention-seeker, pathetic, weak, lazy, the whole bit. Just because everyone else thinks a certain way, doesn't make it true, and doesn't mean you should too. Until you've walked around in another person's shoes, tried to understand their side and what they're feeling, you have no right to claim things as if everyone with depression is "one in the same", or as if it's "Oh, it's another depressed person, like all the others. What a pitiful child. I heard they want attention, you know." It acted like people with depression aren't normal human beings.
People in these situations don't need to have false generalizations thrown at them, and the internet surely isn't a help. In our current generation, it's become a fad to an extent to act depressed as well. It's an embraced "phase". But to those who are silently struggling every single day and get no support at all, it hurts to see this happening. In the long run, every single one of these stereotypes cause less and less people to help and show empathy towards those who need it most. Someone who is "depressed" doesn't stand on a pedestal and discuss every single thing that makes them depressed, and point out their depression to every person they can, no matter the conversation. Speaking for many, that is, because I'm aware every one handles depression differently, but depression isn't exactly the thing to proudly announce to every person you meet; not to say it's shameful, but not quite the conversation starter. Then again though, why would someone talk about it to everyone possible, as much as possible, unless they want something out of it? It's things like this, where people with the disease don't know what to do. Open up about your problem? You get judged, you get accused, you get talked about. Keep quiet? You're ignored, everything festers, and you have no support, no source of comfort. It's the reality of the situation, and it comes directly from stereotypes, which sometimes can cause dangerous problems.
What Is True About People Who Have Depression, Then?
You have to keep in mind how many levels and types of depression there are. From postpartum to major depressive , every person is affected differently and handles it differently. Just because you don't understand why they feel a certain way or what they're experiencing does not mean you should assume things.
Depression makes people feel isolated and hollow. It makes you constantly tired, blurs your thoughts together and makes you feel, for lack of better words, heavy. You don't enjoy anything anymore. You lose almost all your confidence. You overthink everything.
A good metaphor would be this:
You’re in an ocean, surrounded by your friends. They’re talking, you’re talking with them. Yet, while they’re out on the beach, you start drifting off into the ocean, although you’re not sure why or how. Suddenly, but not quickly, and silently, you’re forced underwater. Your friends don’t realize, and they keep talking and you keep responding, however that may be. But you want to be on the surface, and hear what they’re saying in full clarity, and not have the pressure of water coming from all directions. You desperately try to swim to the surface but you’re unable to move, you don’t get anywhere. Over and over again.
Similar analogies have been used before, because it's so accurate. That's the most surface way you can explain depression; it makes you feel like there's a constant, thick fog over your mind.
People with depression are not weak. They deal with every single one of these things, not knowing why or how to stop it, every day. They still have to function though, or at least try to. They still need to present themselves a certain way for everyone else. They may be exhausted, they may be drained.
Depression is not "all in your head". Just because it's a mental illness, doesn't mean that people that people choose to have it. It's not a switch that flips on and off whenever something goes wrong or right. It's continuous, no matter what occurs. It's not something that if you think about having enough, you get depression.
Depression affects all people. Every age group, every ethnic group, every economic group, and every gender.
Whether it's realized or not, depression is one of, if not the hardest battle a person can endure. It takes thousands of lives a year. If it were as easy as thinking happy thoughts and taking medicine, depression wouldn't be what it is, suicide rates wouldn't be what they are, and everyone would be happy. It takes over, it's debilitating, changes you as a person and everyone around you. It changes your life, for better or for worse.
What Should You Do If You Know Someone Who Is Depressed?
Comfort, support, and talk.
When you're depressed, sometimes all you really want is a hug, to be asked if you're okay, to be listened to. I have some news too: "Relating" to someone in these types of situations does not help. Why? When someone comes to you (or you go to them and they open up) about their depression, and you say something such as "Oh yea, I get depressed sometimes too", or "I know how you feel", or "I know someone who has depression. They say I'm a fantastic listener", it turns the conversation around to you. That forces the person that chose to open up to you, and who is empty and in need of love, to give out attention and comfort that they need themselves to you. The best thing you can do is notice that they're upset, tell them (in private) that you're there for them if they ever need to talk, try to offer them comfort, listen to them when they talk to you, don't try to relate to them but really understand what they're saying and the magnitude of them confiding to you, and contact help if necessary. Don't push too hard on comforting them because they may be sensitive or agitated. No means no. But all it takes is showing true caring towards another person, and it can change a life.
Everyone handles attempted help differently. You may mean well, but some people are scared, and don't know how to handle it. Keep that in mind, never push too hard, but make them aware that you want to help and are there for them. If they seem like they don't want to talk or you've reached a sensitive topic, back off a little bit. The fact that you care will resonate nonetheless. And never, ever make a promise to keep their problems a secret. That doesn't mean share it with everyone you know and talk about their personal life because they talked to you, and just you, because they trusted you. Don't break that. But if they ever are in risk of harming themselves or others, you have to be able to contact help. And if that costs a friendship, it's better than costing a life. If they ask you to promise, just explain it to them; that you care deeply about them and that you know that they put trust into you, and that you'd never share their information, but that you'd like to be comfortable contacting help if necessary.
As always, if you, a friend, peer, or loved one is showing symptoms of suicidal thoughts, suicidal actions, or depression, call 1-800-273-8255. The people on the line are trained to help, and are there for a reason. Don't wait until something happens. Warning signs should always be taken seriously, and it's always better to be safe than be sorry, especially with lives at hand.