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.
I often hear the question, “What do you have to be depressed about?” Depression is not limited to traumatic events such as divorce or a job loss. Of course, life events can contribute to depression. I often find that it amplifies my episode.
Contrary to popular belief, someone can be rich and have all of the material possessions in the world and still experience depression. Depression is not only triggered by life events such as a job loss or divorce. It is a science behind why someone is behaving a certain way---it's biological. There is a chemical imbalance in the brain, and the individual isn’t being lazy and can’t “snap out of it.” The brain chemical that is commonly associated with depression is serotonin, and it impacts one’s mood. Depression influences one's behaviors and thoughts. Sometimes, when someone is experiencing depression, their brain isn’t producing enough serotonin; therefore, it impacts their thoughts and behaviors. I’ve taken medication to help with increasing my serotonin levels so that I can do simple things like cook and shower. It can be a life-long chronic illness. Asking, “Why are you depressed?” isn’t always the best approach.
Depression impacts more than three million people.
According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms can include the following:
Mood: anxiety, apathy, general discontent, guilt, hopelessness, loss of interest, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, or sadness
Behavioral: agitation, excessive crying, irritability, restlessness, or social isolation
Sleep: early awakening, excess sleepiness, insomnia, or restless sleep
Whole-body: excessive hunger, fatigue, or loss of appetite
Cognitive: lack of concentration, slowness in activity, or thoughts of suicide
Weight: weight gain or weight loss
Also common: poor appetite or repeatedly going over thoughts
A variety of therapy methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy (commonly known as talk therapy), play therapy and dialectical behavior therapy (also referred to as DBT), support groups, and medication are often used to treat depression.
If you or a loved one is experiencing depression, you can find visit Psychology Today, Therapy For Black Girls or click here for other resources. For those who are in a crisis, they can text the Crisis Text Line 741741, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 or speak with someone via the chat line.