“I feel so depressed!” It’s a claim we’ve all made at some point in our lives. But what does “feeling depressed” actually mean?
We often confuse feeling sad with feeling depressed. Sadness is a temporary, normal reaction to unexpected and unpleasant events. Examples of events that typically make almost anybody sad include the death of a loved one, the loss of a pet, or not getting that job you wanted.
Unlike depression, sadness diminishes in time. The birth of a child, rescuing a pet from a shelter, and finding another job you like replaces sadness with joy. You can forget about feeling sad. But you can’t forget about feeling depressed.
Describing why you are sad is much easier than describing why you are depressed. Sadness typically involves one, specific event that caused you to feel “down in the dumps.” Alternately, people who are clinically depressed find it difficult and painful to explain why they are depressed. You may have nothing to be depressed about in your life but, for some inexplicable reason, you wake up every day feeling hopeless, despondent, and exhausted.
Depression Denial is Real
Unfortunately, the stigma of having a mental illness remains just as pervasive in society as it did decades ago. Mental illnesses like clinical depression or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are diseases, not choices. The CDC published a report several years ago showing that only 57 percent of respondents thought that individuals with mental health problems were treated sympathetically. When asked if they thought others would treat them compassionately upon disclosure of their mental illness, only 25 percent of the respondents thought they would.
Depression denial emerges from the fear of societal stigma and the fear of “self-stigma,” or the terrifying realization that your depression is not going away without professional help. Social stigma against people who are mentally ill is well-documented in both research and anecdotal reports. It’s been proven that employers hesitate to hire someone with a history of mental health problems or substance abuse. Landlords hesitate to rent to individuals with an irregular employment history due to mental illness. Establishing friendships with people who do not have histories of mental illness is almost impossible if you struggle with depression or other mental health issues.
Anticipating being ostracized by society is one of the primary reasons many people deny depression symptoms. (Men face a unique set of societal pressures that often keep them from reaching out for help.) Another reason is that denial of depression involves your sense of self-worth. When you are depressed, you don’t think you are worthy of getting help. Your self-esteem is so low you don’t think you matter to anyone. You’re afraid of the skeptical, cold reaction you’ll receive if you tell family and friends you are getting psychological help for depression.
Are All Depression Disorders the Same?
Historically, depression has been defined by psychologists as “anger that has been re-directed to the self.” Although a bit of an oversimplification, it helps to describe a basic cause of depression. That said, like other mental illnesses, depression is a multi-faced brain disease involving biopsychosocial factors, neurotransmitters, and genetics.
Consider the example of Annie, who started feeling depressed after her best friend from high school moved away. Her depressed mood continued for weeks after her friend left to take a job in another state. One day, she got a phone call from an old high school boyfriend who was planning on attending their 10th-anniversary party. He asked if she wanted to go with him and she said “Yes.” Annie’s mood brightened considerably after the phone call. She felt the dark cloud of depression disappear as she looked forward to the party.
Within days after the party, Annie’s depression returned. She could barely get out of bed, cried for no reason, self-isolated from friends, and couldn’t concentrate on anything but her despondency.
Annie was later diagnosed with atypical depression. Although not as common as major depressive disorder, atypical depression symptoms can prevent someone from getting the help they need because they don’t think they are depressed. With atypical depression, the person feels considerably less depressed after a positive event.
However, if Annie had a major depressive disorder, she would not have felt better after the phone call from a high school boyfriend. Her symptoms would only have worsened if she didn’t reach out for professional help. In other words, not all depression and depressive disorders are the same.
Characteristics of All Depression Disorders
Whether you are struggling with major depression, atypical depression, seasonal affective disorder, or another type of depression, certain symptoms remain constant among all depression categories. These include:
- Concentrating on “bad” things while being unable to recognize anything positive that happens to you. Psychologists call this “minimization and magnification.” People experiencing major depression often exaggerate negative events but deliberately downplay positive events.
- Personalizing everything that anyone says to you or anything that happens to you. For example, a friend mentions that there is a tiny hole in the back of your shirt. But you immediately take this as criticism of the way you dress. Depression causes you to jump to conclusions and assume the worst.
- Constantly ruminating on the “should haves” and “could haves” in your life. For depressed individuals, feeling guilty over past decisions that may or may not have profoundly affected their lives or other people’s lives intensifies the sense of worthlessness they feel about themselves.
- Experiencing physical symptoms with no underlying medical reason commonly affects depressed individuals. Weight gain caused by binge eating, headaches/migraines, constantly feeling exhausted, muscle and joint pain and heart palpitations are just a few physical manifestations of depression.
Call FHE to Learn About Our Outpatient and Residential Mental Health Treatment Options
Denying depression can be harmful to an individual’s physical and mental health. Unless addressed by experienced and compassionate counselors and therapists, depression symptoms can devolve into suicidal ideation and worsening health issues.
At FHE, we treat all types of depression with a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapies, medications, and support. Outpatient and residential depression treatment programs help you understand why you feel depressed and how negative thinking patterns contribute to unwarranted self-criticism. When you are in the grip of depression, your perception of how things actually are remains distorted and hyper-subjective.
When atypical, major, or bipolar depression symptoms start interfering with your ability to take care of your physical health, remain employed, or complete simple, everyday tasks, don’t go another day without the chance to feel better. Call our specialists today to get the help you need to successfully manage depression.