Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern. Just the slow erosion of the self, as insidious as any cancer. And, like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience. A room in hell with only your name on the door. ~ Unknown~
That is possibly the most appropriate description of depression that I have ever heard. People suffer from depression every day, and yet for many people, it isn’t recognized as a ‘true’ illness. Many people who do not suffer from depression do not understand the struggle that those with depression face. Often times, people with depression are unfairly given labels such as ’emo’ or ‘drama queen’ and are often told to ‘just cheer up already’ or ‘get over it.’ These phrases and terms do not help and often only compound the problem.
Did you know that Major Depressive Disorder (also known as major depression) affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in any given year (http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics). That’s just in the United States, not including anyone who lives in any of the other 195 countries on this planet. It’s also the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages 15 to 44 (http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics). Depression is also considered a worldwide epidemic, with 5 percent of the global population suffering from the condition, according to the World Health Organization (http://www.everydayhealth.com/health-report/major-depression/depression-statistics.aspx).
With statistics like those, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. As I have suffered from clinical depression for many years, I have decided to help those without depression learn a little about the disorder and how it can affect someone. With education comes knowledge, and with knowledge, we can change the world.
In order to begin to understand depression, we must realize that it is not a singular disorder. Just like cancer, it has many different types, and can also often come in combination with many different disorders. Major depression is defined as a severely depressed mood that goes on for two weeks or more, interfering with a person’s daily functions. Other types of depression include:
- Dysthymia. This is a type of minor but chronic depression that lasts two years or longer. Dysthymia affects about 1.5 percent of American adults.
- Postpartum depression. This form of depression affects about 10 to 15 percent of women shortly after childbirth.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This type of depression usually occurs during winter months and is probably caused by lack of natural sunlight. SAD affects 4 to 6 percent of Americans and is more common the farther north you live.
- Bipolar disorder. This condition involves moods that cycle between depression and extreme excitability, called mania. Bipolar disorder affects about 2.6 percent of American adults.
- Psychotic depression. This type of depression is the most severe form and includes breaks with reality, such as hallucinations or delusions. It is less common than other forms of depression; according to one study, psychotic depression occurs in about 5 percent of people who suffer from major depression. (http://www.everydayhealth.com/health-report/major-depression/depression-statistics.aspx)
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) depression can increase the risk for another illness and dealing with an illness may lead to depression. It is a vicious cycle. NIMH also collected some of these terrifying statistics:
- More than 40 percent of those with post-traumatic stress disorder
- 25 percent of those who have cancer
- 27 percent of those with substance abuse problems
- 50 percent of those with Parkinson’s disease
- 50 to 75 percent of those who have an eating disorder
- 33 percent of those who’ve had a heart attack
Depression does not just affect those who have been diagnosed with a curable, incurable or terminal disease. In fact it is not uncommon for someone with depression to also suffer from an anxiety disorder or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder (http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics).
Depression is also involved in more than two-thirds of the 30,000 suicides that occur in the United States every year .
So… does your brain feel full of facts and knowledge yet? Depression affects millions of people all over the globe. It is not something to be swept under the rug. Acceptance of those with depression and anxiety disorders has grown in leaps and bounds in the past fifty years, and it will continue to expand. Taking care of ones mental health is just as important as taking care of ones physical health. But people need to know that they are not alone. The struggle is real. What you are feeling isn’t wrong, and it isn’t just in your head. There are actual clinical reasons for feeling the way that you do. Medications can help ease some of the depression, but it isn’t a cure. Therapy and counseling helps enormously as well, but some people can be scared of it, especially if they have a bad experience with a therapist or counselor.
Please do not give up. You are important. Your talents, gifts, and intelligence are not a waste. Do not let this beat you. Realize that you are stronger for suffering from depression. I know it is hard to understand that some days, but you really are. The bad days with depression help you realize how great the good ones are. Living with and overcoming depression is an uphill battle, but you are not alone. There are so many others in the world who feel the same way, who think the same way, who are going through similar things. This doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. Reach out, ask for help. You are not weak and you definitely are not less of a person by asking. Sometimes, just knowing that there is another human being who gets it, is enough to get you through the day. Even on those days when it seems like the entire world is against you, and all you want to do is give up. I am begging you, hold on. Know that I am here. I have been there. I am there. If ever I can help, all you need to do is ask. And thankfully, I am not the only one.
Depression Hotline (212) 673-3000 (http://samaritansnyc.org/24-hour-crisis-hotline/)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1 (800) 273-8255 (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org)