As a psychologist, I am frequently asked by my patients about the seriousness of their condition: “What does this mean? Am I crazy to be feeling this way? Do I have mental issues?”
Medical terminology is sometimes applied to a pop culture definition that usually leaves one feeling lost and confused about what is actually happening. Mental issues, or what those in the mental health field call a psychiatric disorder, is the culmination of symptoms that when combined cause significant distress or impairment in nearly all life domains for a longer-than-expected period of time.
Depression, for example, happens when a set of symptoms connect and leave us feeling disinterested in the things we usually enjoy, sluggish, sad, hopeless, helpless, irritable and even fatigued or exhausted. This often includes changes in lifestyle behaviors such as sleeping or eating too little or too much, withdrawing from friends and family, or seeking vices such as alcohol or caffeine more regularly in order to temporarily boost mood.
When it comes to clinically significant depression, these changes or coping strategies can last for months or even years, and eventually get in the way of day-to-day functioning. You will not feel your best, nor perform your best.
For those who suffer from more severe or long standing depressive symptoms, there is a deep sense of sadness that often accompanies a bone-deep exhaustion that goes beyond the physical sense. For them, ordinary tasks like getting out of bed, dropping the kids off at school, food preparation, tolerating traffic, or focusing on work may require extra effort and often includes little to no subjective experience of joy or purpose.
Depression can be spurred by a range of factors such as a change in life circumstances, a change in lifestyle behaviors, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or even loss of hope. While grief is a natural and normal part of the human experience, prolonged and sometimes complicated grief can develop into a depressive episode that can require more focused and proactive measures.
So what’s the antidote to depression?
The antidote often begins with talking to people. I cannot tell you how many patients I’ve had over the years tell me, “I told a friend or family member I had depression, and they responded, ‘me too.’”
In our society, our perception of mental health conditions, like depression, have become almost like mental leprosy; “If you got it, don’t touch me. I might get it too.” Yet, depression and clinically significant depression are experienced by nearly 17.3 million people in the U.S. alone, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
The Center for Disease Control also states that 1 out of 6 adults will experience depression in their lifetime. The World Health Organization’s statistics on depression show that at any given time about 300 million people are experiencing depression worldwide.
Let’s put these numbers into perspective. The current U.S. population is approximately 327.2 million. That is a staggering number of people who may be experiencing the same issue as you. For those willing to initiate a conversation about their own suffering, this condition is shared by many.
For those suffering, many will recover naturally, much like recovering from a brief illness like the flu. When those symptoms become complicated or worsen, people typically seek out their doctors for more specialized treatment.
People often find improvement in their symptoms when they utilize helpful methods, such as going for a run, playing with a pet, a brief cry or relaxing. Other times, the symptoms may be more severe and you need to see a professional who will likely recommend psychotherapy and/or medication, and then you recover and get better.
Yes, that’s right, most people recover. Depression is treatable, even when it feels debilitating. While it can feel isolating, depression is an opportunity for connection with friends, family, coworkers and perhaps even your medical team.
Additionally, if you are a veteran or concerned about a veteran, call 800-273-8255 (TALK) to connect with the Veterans Crisis Line and reach a caring, qualified responder. You may also text 838255 or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org or https://www.veteranscrisisline.net to chat. In the event of an emergency, call 911.