Depression At Its Roots
Depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder, is a common mental illness resulting in prolonged bad moods, disinterest in previously enjoyed hobbies, and other detrimental side effects that affect one’s livelihood for an extended period. The DSM-5 criteria for the diagnosis of depression are as follows:
Depressed most of the day, nearly every day as indicated by a subjective report (e.g., feels sad, empty, hopeless) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful)
Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by subjective account or observation)
Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day
Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down)
Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).
Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others)
Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide
It’s no accident that five or more of the symptoms listed above need to be present during diagnosis consultations. Major Depressive Disorder and its subsequent treatments can have long-lasting effects and the casual self-diagnosis of depression is dangerous, not only in the person withholding from diagnosis but also if the person is trivializing depression and using it as a cute, quirky aspect of their “personality.”
The truth is, depression is nothing to joke about. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “[d]epression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year[, and] one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life.” The feelings induced by depression are far worse than everyday sadness or grief. Oftentimes, a person will feel intense worthlessness, helplessness, and/or seemingly unrelinquishing sadness. Depression may even cause suicidal thoughts and possibly suicidal actions. With the growing use of joking about “being depressed” or “getting depressed,” it is important to remember that mental illnesses are not and should not be the subject matter of jokes that oftentimes come off as insensitive, demeaning, and invalidating to those truly suffering.
If someone confides in you and admits they are suffering from depression, here are a few things you could say to show that you care about and support them:
“You’re not alone in this. Even though I may not understand exactly how you feel, I care about you and want to help you.”
“Asking for help is a sign of strength. Have you talked to your doctor about this?”
“I’m here for you. If you ever need to talk, I’ll listen. I’m just one call or text away.”
“Your feelings are completely valid. Depression is a serious health issue but it can be treated.”
“What can I do to support you?”
Here are some thingsNOTto say, and why:
“I know how you feel.”
No one knows exactly how another person feels. This is not an effective way to make the other person feel understood and instead puts the focus on you–the person that does not require emotional support at the given moment.
“Everyone gets depressed sometimes.”
Not only is this dismissive and invalidating, but it’s also completely untrue. While, yes, depression is common, not everyone has depression. Everyone gets sad sometimes or has bad days, but that is not the same as depression.
“You have no reason to be depressed,” or “It could be worse.”
These are more phrases that are invalidating. By saying this, you could be making the person feel guilty or ashamed of their feelings–feelings that they have no control over. Sometimes, depression doesn’t come with a visible “trigger.” With or without this cue, a person’s depression is valid and should not be dismissed lightly.
“Hang in there. It will pass,” or “Everything is going to be okay.”
Another group of phrases that are simply untrue. The odds are that if they are confiding in you, they might have been suffering for a prolonged period and things still haven’t gotten better. They’re asking for support, and saying that depression will just have to run its course is unhelpful.
“Don’t be so negative,” or “Just think happy thoughts!”
If this was true, depression wouldn’t exist. This implies that suffering from depression is a choice, which is false. The person didn’t actively seek out to feel horrible for a prolonged period. Thus, the person cannot will or wish the depression away.
By recognizing depression’s hallmarks and knowing how to respond to someone’s confession of suffering, you will be able to handle the situation calmly, provide support, and help better someone’s life. If you or a loved one are suffering from depression, call any of the numbers provided below. Please know that you are not alone in this and that you are loved and valid.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
Trevor Project Lifeline– Hotline for LGBT youth: 866-488-7386
SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
by Kaitlyn Thitibordin
Co-Founder & Creative Director