“I’m so depressed since they cancelled my show.”
“My electric bill was surprisingly high this month — it left me depressed.”
“I don’t feel like cleaning my house today; I guess I’m just depressed.”
How often do you hear similar comments or even say them? With the commonly accepted use of the word “depressed” it’s no wonder we don’t have an accurate understanding of what depression really is. The misuse of the word has contributed to a sad and vast misunderstanding of — and therefore a widespread inappropriate reaction to — depression.
- Many people who are clinically depressed don’t recognize it as such, because their symptoms don’t match the overused notion of depression (which often amounts to feeling down in the dumps, usually in response to a particular source of stress or disappointment). Failure to recognize depression for what it truly is will delay or even prevent the depressed person from getting the help they need.
- Even among those who do recognize that they are clinically depressed, finding empathy among friends and family can be difficult. Too many people hold the misconception that depression is simply an overreaction to ordinary troubles in life, or that the depressed person is just looking for an excuse to be lazy, or antisocial.
- Others believe they have been depressed when what they actually experienced may have been sadness, exhaustion, the “baby blues” or another source of stress that caused negative feelings. While these are all difficult and unenjoyable, they are not depression. Believing you’ve been depressed when you haven’t diminishes your ability to empathize and offer help to someone who really is.
- On the other end of the spectrum people may use the word “depression” as a mask or an excuse. Instead of facing the uncomfortable and unenjoyable consequences of living a foolish life, they find it easy to blame their life-issues on “depression.” It seems like the easy route at first, but their true problem is not being dealt with.
Last week, I wrote “It’s Time to Fight,” an article that declared my recognition of depression in my own life and the commitment to fight it (by the grace of God). I’ve been doing a lot of research into this illness as well as a lot of praying (for strength to fight, for wisdom). I’ve also been praying for the friends who have come to me and thanked me for writing that article because they too fight depression. To me, it seems logical to start with an understanding of what depression really is, and what it’s not. From there we can start learning how to fight it.
Depression is not the same as a bad mood or feeling sad or blue. Depression is not something a person can choose to “snap out of” nor is it merely an emotional illness. Depression is caused by a disturbance of the intricate and delicately balanced chemical system in your brain. It is a physical illness, every bit as much as cancer or diabetes are physical illnesses.
How do I know that depression is a physical illness and not just an emotional response to negative situations? First, there is overwhelming scientific evidence to that effect. Second, I’ve experienced it. In each of my four significant episodes with depression, there was a specific, definable moment that I felt the “black curtain” fall over my life. The circumstances of my life did not change so drastically in mere moments to throw me into a deep depression. What changed so drastically and suddenly was the complicated balance of chemicals and hormones in my brain as my body attempted to respond to my life circumstances.
The following is a list of symptoms that doctors use to evaluate whether or not a patient is suffering from depression. Notice how many of them don’t involve “feelings” at all, but affect mental and physical functioning.
- Depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in all (or nearly all) activities, even those you formerly enjoyed
- Large change in appetite or weight (increase or decrease)
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
- Slowing of physical movements, or agitation
- Intense fatigue
- Excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Frequent thoughts of death (your own or someone else)
- Feelings of hopelessness or irrational ‘certainties’ about the future
*The Depression Cure, Stephen S. Ilardi, PHD, Page 28.
A medical diagnosis of depression requires either “depressed mood” or “loss of interest” as well as four other symptoms from this list. Your doctor will look to see if these symptoms have persisted all day or most of the day, almost every day for at least two weeks. It is wise for you to keep a journal if you can, or ask someone such as your spouse to do so.
If you are feeling some of these symptoms, it’s important for you to see your doctor right away. (Even a family practice doctor is trained in identifying depression and can prescribe or refer you to appropriate sources of treatment.) It is also imperative that you are accurate and objective with your answers to his questions. There are other serious medical conditions that share similar symptoms and your doctor will need accurate information in order to make an accurate diagnosis.
In his book “The Depression Cure”, Stephen Ilardi Ph.D. describes depression this way:
“It’s a syndrome that deprives people of their energy, sleep, concentration, joy, confidence, memory, sex-drive — their ability to love and work and play. It can even rob them of their will to live. Over time, depression damages the brain and wreaks havoc on the body. It’s a treacherous illness — a shudder-inducing foe that no one in their right mind would ever take lightly, certainly not if they understood the disorder’s capacity to destroy life.” (The Depression Cure, page 26)
Depression is complicated. There is no way we can really answer the question “What is depression?” in one article. I’ll share much more as we go along on the quest for weapons against this dark and debilitating illness. Next week I’ll share some insight into what I personally have felt during my various episodes of depression.
For now, I’m going to watch some Tim Hawkins with my family. Laughter is a very effective weapon on the war against depression! (Proverbs 17:22) Click that link and treat yourself to some laughter therapy!