Since I’ve become so open about my journey with depression, I’ve had a lot of people ask me the questions they were maybe a bit too shy to ask before.
I think it’s sometimes much easier to approach someone who is going through the same thing you think you might be going through. It can be hard to broach the subject with a professional sometimes because, well, you’re fucking scared.
So here are some of the questions I’ve received over the years. If you click on the question, it’ll take you directly to the answer or you can just read through the entire blog post as you usually would.
- Can you define depression?
- Is depression a mental illness?
- Is depression a disease?
- How common is depression and how many people have depression?
- What are depression risk factors?
- Is depression genetic?
- What Are Some Depression Signs and Symptoms?
- Is it depression or sadness?
- What does depression mean?
- What is depression like?
- Is depression curable?
Can you define depression?
The short answer is, yes. Depression definitely has a set definition. I think one of the better ones I’ve ever seen comes from, not surprisingly, the American Psychiatric Association. They define depression as,
“…a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.”
Now for the long answer. Depression is different for everyone. If an individual had to define theirs, it would be a kaleidoscope of interchanging emotions and thoughts.
The common thread would be the weight of an emotion that affects every single part of your life. It leads to a bunch of different feelings that include intense sadness and hopelessness. It always affects a person physically (I’ll go through the symptoms further down the article) like sleeping too much or too little, an increase or decrease in appetite etc.
For me personally, depression is periods of intense crying, a feeling of hopelessness so deep suicidal thoughts would creep in and a lack of motivation to do anything. Sometimes I’d go for days without showering or leaving the house. There were times when getting out of bed would feel like climbing Kilimanjaro (which I have done and hated FYI).
It made me want to sleep for hours on end and I never, ever felt rested. It also made me eat junk food like crazy and gain a ton of weight. Depression kept me from phoning or writing back to friends and family. It made me withdraw socially which was highly out of character for someone who is an outgoing extrovert.
In short, depression changed the core of who I was (am) and it was (is) very, very scary.
Is depression a mental Illness?
Yes, depression is a common and serious mental illness. A mental illness can be caused by environmental stress such as a death or divorce, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances (lack of dopamine or serotonin in the brain) or a combination of all of those things. It can come on slowly or blindside you out of the blue.
Is depression a disease?
Whether or not depression is a disease is a bit more complicated. Yes, in many ways it is. In other ways it is not. That question is more suited to medical professionals than to me and, if you really want to get into it all, here’s a great article on the topic by Psychology Today.
How common is depression and how many people have depression?
Depression is a lot more common than most people imagine it to be. In fact, there are quite a few people out there in the world who are depressed but either don’t know or don’t want to admit it. As far as we’ve come in the world of mental health, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and depression. Facts about depression only support my thoughts.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, every year 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness. About 8% of people will experience major depression in their lifetime. By age 40, about 50% of the population will have had or have a mental health issue.
What’s sad is that almost half (49%) of people who have experienced or think they are experiencing depression have never spoken to their doctor about it.
What’s even worse is that statistics about depression show that 24% of all deaths for those between 15 and 24 years of age are due to suicide. Between 25 and 44, that percentage drops to 16%.
Depression isn’t just common. It’s an epidemic.
That’s why when people say things are better in terms of the stigma around mental health I’m quick to point out it’s simply not good enough. When almost a quarter of our youth is committing suicide, something is horribly wrong. There is a reason they’re not getting the help they need. There is a reason they’re not being saved and I think fear plays a bigger role than we, as a society, are ready to admit.
Depression Risk Factors
While depression can come out of nowhere, there are certain risk factors that make a depression or a depressive episode more likely. This list from the Mayo Clinic is pretty comprehensive:
- Traumatic or stressful events such as death, financial problems, abuse etc.
- Blood relatives with a history of depression
- Being a new mother
- Being lesbian, gay or transgender in an unsupportive environment
- Having low self-esteem, being pessimistic or other specific personality traits
- Having a history of other mental disorders
- Abuse of alcohol or other drugs
- Serious or chronic illness such as cancer, chronic pain etc.
- Being on certain medications
It’s important to remember that risk factors aren’t the only cause of depression. Sometimes depression can come on for apparently no reason. Changes in brain chemistry and hormone levels can cause a lot of complications.
Is Depression Genetic?
While depression is known to run in families, the exact links are still unclear. Research into the subject is still in pretty early stages. Very little is known about the genetic basis of depression. What makes it difficult to study in this way, is the fact that depression can actually be a number of disorders disguised as depression. Additionally, environmental factors play a huge role and those areas can be difficult to assess.
What we do know is that people who have a first-degree relative (like a parent) with depression have a two to three times greater risk of developing it than the average person. However, not everyone who gets depression has a family history and some people with a depressed relative never become depressed themselves.
See what I mean? Sounds like a MAYBE to me.
What Are Some Depression Signs and Symptoms?
This has to be one of the most common questions I get and it’s no wonder. A lot of people are unsure if what they are feeling is normal.
Sometimes we have this little nagging doubt following us around letting us know that what’s happening deserves further discussion and exploration.
For a comprehensive list, I went to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). It is Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital and is leading the way in mental health research.
CAMH says that the main symptom of depression is a sad, despairing mood that:
- Is present most days and last most of the day
- Lasts for more than two weeks
- Affects job and school performance as well as social relationships.
Other symptoms of depression include:
- Sleep problems
- Changes in eating habits and weight
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable.
- Crying easily
- Trouble concentrating and remembering things
- Feeling useless, hopeless, guilty etc
- Thoughts of suicide.
I do want to point out that depression symptoms in men aren’t usually the ones you’d expect. A lot of men will feel irritable, angry and discouraged more than they will feel openly sad.
This makes it harder to diagnose men.
Couple that with the fact that many men feel uncomfortable seeking help, and it’s easy to see why men with depression are four times as likely to complete a suicide attempt than women. There is still a huge stigma when it comes to men and mental health.
Depression VS Sadness
A quick note on sadness…
Feeling sad is a normal part of everyday life. We can have a bad day at work that gets us down or read a news article that makes us despair for the future of the world.
The difference between depression vs sadness is that depression is long-lasting. While your feelings of sadness fade, depressed feelings stick around and pollute your day-to-day life.
Sadness might affect your work, schooling or relationships just a little bit. Depression has a major impact that others will most likely notice.
If you aren’t sure whether your feelings are those of sadness or depression, it’s always a good idea to speak to your family doctor. If you’re concerned, chances are what you’re feeling isn’t normal.
What Does Depression Mean?
I think, as human beings, we are always looking for meaning in life. For life to make sense for the average person, we have to figure out why things happen the way that they do. I think that’s why many people have asked me, “What does depression mean?”
I think what they’re really asking me is…
“Does this mean I’m going crazy?”
“Am I losing my mind?”
“What did I do to deserve this?”
“Will I ever be okay again?”
The truth is that depression means a lot of different things. It could mean that you’re suffering through something terrible like a death or a divorce. It could mean that your body isn’t producing enough serotonin or dopamine. It could mean that you have a predisposition to depression that somehow runs in your family. It could mean you aren’t living life according to your passion and purpose.
It could mean some of these things. It could mean all of these things.
I don’t have a clear cut answer for you. I can’t say why exactly this is happening to you or someone you love. What I can say for sure is that you aren’t going crazy, you don’t deserve this and you CAN GET BETTER.
In fact, 80% of people who seek treatment for their depression receive relief. I’m one of those success stories and I know many, many people who are in the same boat.
I won’t lie to you and say it’s easy. It’s not. I won’t say it will happen overnight because it won’t. What I can say is that there is a life out there worth living for every single one of us and you are no exception.
Depression doesn’t mean life is over. It means life as you know it will now be different and, you know what? That’s okay.
What is depression like?
I get asked what depression feels like by a lot of people. Sometimes it’s from friends and family who seek to better understand what their loved one is going through.
Most times it’s because someone is trying to suss out if they themselves have depression.
As I said earlier, depression is different for everyone and it manifests in painfully different ways.
I once heard someone say that depression felt like being underwater struggling to breath and watching people around you breathing just fine.
Another apt description was from someone who said that depression was like being colourblind and having everyone around you constantly telling you how colourful the world is.
Everything just feels a bit dull and lacklustre when you have depression. Things don’t taste as good. They don’t look as beautiful. Life feels pointless and empty.
Depression is a thief of joy. For me it was an endless struggle between a body that wanted to live and a mind that wanted to die.
If you even think, for one second, that you might be suffering from depression, talk to someone (preferably a doctor). It doesn’t hurt to ask questions. In fact, it might just help a helluva lot.
Is Depression Curable?
A lot of people want to know how to cure depression. If I had a cure, I’d be a billionaire.
Depression cannot be cured so much as it can be managed.
Sure, some people go through a major depressive episode and never experience depression again. We’re not exactly sure why.
For most of us suffering with depression, it is a long battle with many peaks and valleys. Life, after all, doesn’t stand still. It brings a lot of joy and pain at different times.
My psychiatrist once told me that the aim wasn’t to help people with depression be happy all the time. He said it is inevitable that we will have low periods. The goal of depression treatment is to make those low periods shorter and less intense.
When you’re on the proper antidepressants, depression can fade into the background. It will no longer play a central role in your life but it will always be a supporting character.
Some days it just stands there.
Some days it has a small speaking role.
Once in a while it has a full monologue.
I have found that mindfulness, proper nutrition, exercise, consciously choosing joy, talk therapy, travel, dogs, a healthy marriage and many other things can help push depression further backstage.
So, while depression might not be curable in a traditional sense, it can be managed and sometimes it does just go away. I’m still hoping mine will, but I have a feeling it will always be just off stage waiting to take centre stage if I let it.
That’s why I have this blog and that’s why I consciously work on my inner dialogue and thoughts. There is a war within my brain but I know for a fact that I’m on the winning side.