14 Things I Wish People Understood About Depression

Written by Tracy Thomas, PhD

Part of being human is experiencing discomfort and pain, both physical and emotional. Unfortunately, many of us have been conditioned to believe that feeling deeply, including the discomfort and pain, is inherently wrong.

Often sensitive people feel chronic pain just because they believe they are wrong for feeling deeply. This can lead to depressive symptoms and a suite of coping mechanisms.

Depression is chronic psychological pain that distortedly appears to have no end, which makes people feel powerless and hopeless. There are reasons why one in five people will have the experience of being depressed in their lives.

In working with many sensitive people who have had depressive symptoms (plus having had them in the past myself), I’ve realized that there are several things I wish people would understand about depression.

1. Our society doesn’t talk about the pain of being human.

Our society teaches us to act and feel in certain ways that may not be true to us. We’re taught, for example, that crying is inappropriate, when really it's a natural mechanism for our body to release emotion.

2. You can try to stifle your pain, but the body doesn't lie.

People are designed to express and release the experience of being human. Trying to stifle pain can cause the body to reveal the reality of the pain through a constellation of symptoms we refer to clinically and culturally as "depression."

3. Depression can stem from the shame of being human.

Even though it's natural to feel pain and to want to express it, many of us have told ourselves that we “cannot” or should not release the pain in our daily lives. That somehow we are weak if we share that we feel. This leaves us feeling hopeless and closed off, especially when facing depressive symptoms.

This also leaves us with an opportunity to shift the paradigm. It starts with acknowledging we are human and it begins with talking about it shamelessly.

4. Depression is really a communication vehicle.

Your body is functioning well (even though it may not feel comfortable) by prompting you to respond to emotions such as sadness. Your body is telling you to take a close look at how you are relating to your environment, how you may be living, and how you are (or are not) caring for yourself.

5. You have the power.

You can reduce pain in every moment of every day through cognitive and behavioral choices that can be learned with a highly skilled cognitive-behavioral therapist. But if you’ve already perceived pain along the way or if you experience it in your daily life, it’s important to release it. Depression is your body’s way of telling you that you not only need to express yourself but that you need to address yourself, ASAP.

6. Depression is also about love.

Our cultural norms have made it seem shameful to express many emotions, including love. Our untrained subconscious thinks that if we share our love for someone (romantic, friendship, family) and don’t receive the equivalent, expected return of love, we must feel rejected or unsafe in some way. In this love exchange paradigm, shame and vulnerability can compound into more pain when we don't receive the expected return on our "love investment."

7. Depression can be caused by searching for love outside ourselves.

When we believe that we have to behave a certain way to get love instead of allowing it to flow from ourselves, we are setting ourselves up for profound disappointment, because it's no one else's responsibility to make us feel whole. Love your Self first and foremost instead of "outsourcing" love to someone else.

8. Depression is not an identity.

You may have depressive symptoms. Your identity is not as a depressed person. You are not depression. You are a someone who has developed a constellation of depressive symptoms. There is a difference.

9. Depression is a symptom of a root cause.

There is a reason for your depression, and it exists deep within you. There are most likely layers of reasoning, biases and evidence that you’ve built around the cause to keep a specific belief going. You are not defective: you simply have built evidence to believe something deep within you.

10. Depression is related to our chemistry, but the “depression gene” doesn’t exist.

Neurotransmitters and hormones are involved with the symptoms of depression, but they don't necessarily cause depression. It’s a “chicken or the egg” conundrum. Neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine influence the mood of human beings, but it’s hard to say which came first — the neurotransmitters influencing the mood, or the (pain response) chronically influencing our chemistry.

Feeling a constant fear and stress releases cortisol, which shifts your neuropathways. Medication is not the sole answer, but a combination of talk therapy and medication for a short period of time can direct you to the feelings and to the root.

11. Ask your medical professional for comprehensive lab testing.

Comprehensive lab testing should be completed for each person with depressive symptoms. Testing neurotransmitters and hormone levels may reveal imbalances, which can lead to more accurate treatment. Treating depression at the level of emotions (talk therapy) and organic chemistry (medication, if needed) produces higher levels of remission. Ask for these types of tests as well-intended professionals may not have the awareness or training to address each human being in entirety.

12. Living with chronic pain is sometimes unsustainable.

Even with treatment, many people continue to experience chronic depressive symptoms. A person’s choice of a permanent pain-relieving solution (i.e. suicide) is related to the belief that they are also defective at recovering from depression. This can exacerbate a hopelessness that their inherent defectiveness will result in ongoing and permanent pain. Staying in unyielding pain simply isn’t natural.

13. You can heal your depression.

If treatment isn’t reducing depressive symptoms, you need a more holistic approach to your needs (emotional, behavioral, physiological, and spiritual). Just because a treatment (or several) doesn't work for you, that doesn't mean you can't move past your depression.

14. The prevention of multigenerational depression is possible.

“Depression” has become a story of defectiveness rather than about discovery of the reasons the human being experiences such profound and sometimes fatal symptoms.

Let’s start a conversation that’s about looking at depression as a symptom of a functioning person and support depression recovery and prevention by addressing the root cause.

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