One thing that makes depression so complex to understand is the fact that it varies so much from person to person. There are multiple lists you can find online with lots of symptoms of depression. When you get the flu, you might have a fever, sore throat and upset stomach and you will know something is wrong and will probably go into the doctor.
With depression, you could feel more tired than usual, irritable, and feel more down on yourself and may have no idea you’re experiencing depression because the “common” symptoms most people use to recognize depression are suicidal thoughts, loss of appetite, hopelessness, anxiety, emptiness and depressed mood. Therefore, because there’s a wide variety of symptoms and you may not match up with all of them, you could easily dismiss it as a rough patch in your life. Or you may not notice the change at all because it’s not uncommon to forget to pay attention to your mental health.
As a teenager, it took me even longer to finally go in and get diagnosed because my parents and I thought I was just experiencing something all teenagers go through. Moodiness, low self-esteem, anxiety, feelings of not being good enough and more. When my behavior and feelings began taking a bigger toll on my life, I went to a therapist. By the second or third time I met with her, she diagnosed me with depression.
That was a huge surprise to me. I didn’t feel depressed. I didn’t think I was as sad as people with depression are. My idea of depression was not being able to get out of bed, no appetite, suicidal thoughts, empty feelings, overwhelming sadness, etc. And at that point in time, I hadn’t experienced suicidal thoughts or self-harm, so I thought I was just fine.
As I talked with my therapist more, my eyes were opened to the reality of what I was experiencing. What I had earlier dismissed as “normal” definitely screamed depression. But I was only able to see my behaviors and thoughts as they truly are because I spent time with a therapist learning more about the different faces of depression.
Because I was able to move past the thought that certain symptoms (such as not being able to get out of bed and suicidal thoughts) were required in order to actually have depression, I was able to understand that everyone with depression experiences it in different ways.
As I’ve learned more and more about depression, I have noticed one recurring theme. There are categories for the classification of depression such as mild, moderate and severe. And these are useful in order for the therapist to know what kind of therapy to give. However, I sometimes hear people say things like, “Oh, well she says she has depression but it doesn’t seem that bad so I don’t think she’s necessarily depressed. If she was really depressed, she’d be sad all the time.”
This couldn’t be more untrue. Depression is depression! Just because someone has mild or moderate depression and experiences their depression in a different way than others doesn’t make it any less serious of an issue. Of course severe depression is very serious and requires a lot of work in therapy. However, depression on other levels on the spectrum require help as well and shouldn’t be dismissed. The worst thing you could do is neglect the mental health care needs of someone close to you because their depression isn’t very severe and “it doesn’t seem like they need that much help.”
That’s not your decision to make. If somebody is struggling with depression, anywhere on the spectrum, and they ask for your help, they really need it. Reaching out for help with depression is challenging and scary and most people don’t do it. So if they show any signs of needing help, please help them. The last thing they need is someone belittling the way they feel.
As a conclusion, I challenge you to change the way you think about depression and any other kind of mental illness. Of course some people have the mental illness more severely than others, but that never makes the milder cases invalid. Depression comes in all shapes and sizes. Make sure you’re paying close attention to your mental health because it’s easy to miss symptoms and therefore not realize you have a mental illness.
Also make sure you’re paying attention to the mental health of those close to you. If something seems off about somebody, ask them what’s going on because chances are if they are struggling, they’re too scared to reach out for help. Besides, asking how your friends are doing never hurts. It may even help them open up to you so you can listen and help them in whatever way is best.