LISTEN! Depression VS. Sadness
The common misconception about depression is that anybody who is sad is thought to be depressed. If you tell people you’ve been having a rough time and are constantly feeling low and don’t understand why you’re feeling like this, they immediately ask you, “How can you not know why? Something must have happened.” Most laymen don’t understand this, but there is not always some solid reason why someone might be depressed. That’s sadness you’re thinking of. You’re sad because of some particular reason. You’re depressed because you’re sick.
Sadness is an emotion, depression, is an illness. We all feel low, we all feel anxious at various points in our life, because sadness is one of the basic human emotions.
Then how do we distinguish sadness from depression? How do we determine, who is sad and who is depressed?
Unfortunately, unless you are a professional psychologist or psychiatrist, there is no way for you to fully know. However, there are some pointers that can help you understand if a loved one is sinking into the deadly D of depression.
One main factor (and these are my therapist’s words) is persistence. Sadness, while can be an overwhelming emotion, is usually short-lived. You can normally do something to cheer that person up and their mood will lift. Depression cannot be cured by “cheering them up.” Depression is a constant state of negativity, of feeling low, of lack of enthusiasm and joy in activities that would normally make the person happy. If someone has stopped finding meaning in the things that once, used to make them the happiest, that’s one sign that they might be going through depression.
Another pointer – NOT KNOWING WHY. If you ask them why they are low, and they cannot provide you with a solid reason, that’s a pointer for you to keep a close watch on them. See if this stormy mood of theirs persists for a few days, or weeks even. Often, depression doesn’t have a concrete reason. Yes, onset of certain things can trigger the illness within you, but mostly, depression, or any other mental illness for that matter, is just like a physical disease. It happens because it happens. No reasons why.
Yes, trauma can often trigger a person’s dormant mental health issues, but it’s not a generalization that can be put to use when it comes to mental illness.
Not everyone who’s sad or upset is clinically depressed. Depression is so much more than mere sadness. The condition has different aspects but for the layman’s benefit, it’s termed as ‘the blues.’ There are tons of people I know who have gone through a lot in life, but don’t suffer from any mental health issues. And then there are tons of people who’ve had it relatively easy and yet they are mentally ill. It’s a mutually independent event.
For instance, If you get wet in the rain, you might have a fever, but not always. And sometimes you have a fever for no reason at all. Depression is just like that.
The most common response I’ve got from people when I’ve told them that I suffer from bipolar disorder (which is a form of depression), is exactly this, from every single person, “WHY?” WHY? I don’t know why! I don’t know why I have bipolar depression. I really don’t. So then they go on to lecture me on “being positive” and the one phrase that irks the heck out of me, “CHEER UP.” You think, if I could ‘cheer up,’ I wouldn’t? You think I like feeling the way I do, bitter, suicidal, sad, negative?
This is not to say that the people who say these things are ‘bad’ people. No, their intentions are perfectly good, they ARE your well-wishers. It’s just that they are misinformed. Ignorant. Unaware.
So, as a mentally ill person, let me tell you, what you can say to us that will actually make us feel better and not worse. Let me make you aware. When a person can’t describe WHY he or she is feeling like a mess when everything in their life is supposedly going well, don’t ask them questions like “Why don’t you know?” or “What have you got to complain about,” or “Strange, depression without any reason?” Mental illness is a wide spectrum that psychologists still struggle to understand. We are not out here whining unnecessarily. No one likes feeling like shit when they are supposed to be happy. It’s beyond our control. That’s what depression is about, it takes the joy out of happy events too. So, the next time someone tells you they don’t know why they are sad, just tell them that it’s okay not to be okay, that it’s okay not to know why they cry themselves to sleep every night, and that you are there for them, to listen, to share their pain in any way you can, and that they will overcome this.
Trust me, if someone had told me these things when I was diagnosed at the age of 15 (or even tells me this now when I have my depressive episodes), I would not have been “cured” of my disease (that’s for another blog post), I wouldn’t have magically shaken off my blues, but I would have felt understood. Validated. I would have felt, “So, okay. This is NOT all in my head. Someone understands me and ACKNOWLEDGES my feelings instead of trying to CORRECT them.”
As one of my favourite human beings in the whole world, mental illness activist, Hannah Blum says, “Listen, don’t lecture.” And that’s exactly it. That’s all you have to do to help a loved one who might be struggling with depression or anxiety or bipolar or OCD or any other mental illness. Listen, not judge, not lecture, not try to send them on a path of rectification and positivity. LISTEN.