Living with major depressive disorder can be paralyzing, so much so that it is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life. Possible causes include a combination of biological, psychological, and social sources of distress.
Before being diagnosed, I thought it was a synonym for sadness without realizing it goes well beyond “the blues.” In my book Saved & Depressed: A Suicide Survivor’s Journey of Mental Health, Healing & Faith, I have an entire chapter on the difference between depression and sadness. I want to dispel myths and educate to help people have compassion for people who are experiencing mental illness, just like they do for those with physical illnesses.
It doesn’t look the same on everyone, but there is a common theme; it interferes with an individual's ability to function.
Depression is a disability.
It prevents individuals from taking care of their hygiene and being able to work a job. Before my suicide attempt, I was numb more than I felt sad and rarely cried. I couldn’t eat, slept for more than 15 hours (or more) at a time, had no energy, was extremely fragile and bedridden for days. I was forced out of my home to receive medical care.
Depression is not only sadness.
You may think of someone continually crying and feeling sad when you think of depression. But, that only represents a portion of the illness, it is essential that people understand the severity and not minimize it to only sadness. It is also a lack of energy, isolation, loss of appetite, weight gain or weight loss, sleeping too much or not sleeping at all, struggling with suicidal thoughts, and more. See below for other symptoms.
Depression has “levels.”
Before my therapist mentioned this to me, I had no idea that depression is on a spectrum, and there are times when individuals can function while experiencing an episode. Typically when it is mild to moderate, people can struggle with the illness and have a difficult time getting out of bed. If left untreated, not only does it progressively get worse, it becomes harder to pull yourself out of it. For some, it can even manifest in physical body pains. There are times when people are bedridden for days and they are crippled by this illness. Depression sucks, no matter how mild or severe it is. That’s why it is essential to seek treatment as soon as possible.
Depression doesn’t need a reason and is not a character flaw.