Depression questions: FAQ about depression

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Some people are only too well aware of all the signs and symptoms of their depression.  However, if you have never been depressed before, you may not recognize the signs.  Someone recently asked, “Can you be depressed and not know it?”  Another person asked, “Is depression an emotion?”  This article will answer these types of questions.


What is depression?

  1.  What is depression?  Depression is a serious mental illness.  There are levels of depression ranging from mild depression to moderate, severe, and extreme depression.  It is confusing because people often say, “I am depressed,” when they mean, “I am sad.”  One of the chief hallmarks of depression is a sense of hopelessness and impending doom.  So, if you or a loved one is depressed and you feel all is lost, that is a symptom of the illness, not necessarily an accurate reflection of reality at all.
  2. Is depression sadness?  While people who are depressed are generally not happy, depression can show up differently in different people.  Some people become irritable (this is particularly true of depression in men).  Some people feel numb and cannot connect with their emotions.  And, of course, some people are horribly, almost unbearably sad.
  3. Why is depression a serious mental illness?  Depression is a serious mental illness because it affects all aspects of a person’s life: family life, romance, friendships, work, play, etc.  The joy is sucked out of everyday experience, and, in its more severe forms, depression can make it difficult or impossible to function properly.  Sometimes, people who are depressed feel so hopeless and they are in so much mental pain that suicide seems like a good option.  That is tragic because there are many treatments for depression, and also, depression always, ALWAYS eventually lifts, even without treatment (although it can be very hard to wait it out).
  4. Why is the person depressed?  This varies from person to person.
    • Some people have a family history of depression, so they are genetically predisposed to becoming depressed.  That does not mean they will become depressed for sure, but they are more likely to become depressed than someone without a family history of depression.
    • Life stress and how it is handled can factor into whether a person becomes depressed.  Also, sudden tragedies can trigger depression.
    • Sometimes, people might seem to get depressed for no reason at all.
    • Some people are judgmental and say things like, “That person has nothing to be depressed about!”
    • However, the reality is that depression is an illness.  You don’t get depressed “about” something necessarily.  You can have a wonderful life or a terrible life and be depressed.
    • I like to use the analogy of strep throat.  People probably would not say, “That person has no reason to have strep throat!  Their lives are perfectly good!”  This is because it is understood that strep throat is an illness while people are only starting to understand that depression is also an illness.
  5. Why can’t depressed people just “snap out of it”?  This question comes from a misunderstanding of what depression is.  It is NOT simply unhappiness.  Why can’t someone snap out of a broken leg?  Why can’t someone just snap out of strep throat?  We do not ask such questions because we see that they are cruel to ask.  We recognize that one cannot snap out of illness or injury.  Well, depression is an illness and people cannot “snap out of it”.  Getting over depression is possible, but it takes treatment, time, and effort.  (And making any sort of effort when you are depressed is actually very challenging.)
  6. Can you be depressed and not know it?  Yes.  You might feel all the symptoms of depression, but not actually know you have the illness.  For example, you might feel tired for no reason.  You might want to sleep all the time or have difficulty sleeping.  There are many possibilities.  However, if you suspect that you are depressed, please see your family physician and discuss this with him or her.  Also, if you are in crisis right now, please read the information in the blue/purple box below.
  7. What are the symptoms of depression?  This is a little hard to answer because they can vary from person to person and they tend to be different for men and women.  For example, in men, depression can show itself as anger and irritability more than seeming sadness.  However, here is a brief list of some of the most common symptoms:
    • Feeling extreme hopelessness and accompanying helplessness
    • Having a sense of guilt or self-loathing
    • Anger or irritability
    • Uncontrollable and sometimes inexplicable weepiness
    • Loss of energy
    • Increase/decrease in appetite
    • Increase/decrease in sleep
  8. Can depression be cured?  That depends what you mean by “cured”.  Some people only go through one depression, get treatment, and then it is gone forever.  Other people have chronic depression, which means it keeps coming back.  Some people have to remain on antidepressant medication or change their lifestyles in other ways so that their depression does not come back.  Mainly, at this point in time, I would say we have a large number of treatments for depression, and that most people with depression can get effective relief, but there is no “cure” per se.  The problem is that since depression makes people feel that everything is hopeless, often people who are depressed give up hope of finding a treatment that works.  It may take a few tries to find something that works.  For some people, it may take trying literally dozens of medications at varying dosages before finding one that works.

If you think of any other questions about depression, please let me know and I might add them to the list.  Depression can be treated effectively and should always be taken seriously.

Are you in crisis right now?

This is something I say in more than one post because it bears repeating: If you are in a serious depression right now, and you think you might be a danger to yourself, please reach out for support and keep reaching out until you get proper help. I would suggest starting by calling your local emergency number if you are actually on the verge of harming yourself. Alternately, you could call a local distress line or hotline in your area.
World wide list of crisis lines
International Association for Suicide Prevention, a division of the World Health Association
An easy to see at a glance list of help lines by country



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