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CONFUSING DEPRESSION WITH SADNESS – A mistake that one cannot afford to make.

Every one of us experiences sadness from time to time. It is a simple rule of life, that to properly appreciate the good times, one needs to deal with the bad ones. It is a normal part of life, but when it becomes the only emotion one feels, laced with hopelessness, despair, and maybe even […]

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Every one of us experiences sadness from time to time. It is a simple rule of life, that to properly appreciate the good times, one needs to deal with the bad ones. It is a normal part of life, but when it becomes the only emotion one feels, laced with hopelessness, despair, and maybe even guilt, their troubles start increasing.

During tough situations and stressful events, every single person is bound to experience sadness along with other physiological changes associated with depression. Sadness is as much a part of life as happiness, laughter, love, hunger, etc. But what people fail to understand is, depression isn’t simply being sad, people fail to understand that feeling sad doesn’t make you depressed.

Many people struggle to understand the demarcation between sadness and being depressed, a major reason for this is because we associate depression with one of its basic symptoms, that is, pervasive sadness. 

Making a separating line between being sad and being depressed.

Sadness is a normal human emotion, triggered by challenging and difficult events or situations. As soon as those triggering events or situations remit or is solved, the feeling of sadness leaves or starts reducing slowly. People usually feel sad because of some difficult experience or event in their life, mere sadness always, and I mean, ALWAYS has a reason.

BUT when someone is depressed, the reason to be sad isn’t needed. They feel sad about everything. This is a very serious mental illness that not only affects our mood, but also our behaviour, perception, thinking, and brings many physiological changes. For a person with depression, feeling sadness doesn’t require a trigger, and more often than not, it occurs in the absence of these triggers.

Depression affects all aspects of one’s life. They make them lose their motivation of doing anything, even things they previously used to enjoy. They stop finding anything interesting, important, or worthwhile. They lose the ability to experience any emotion other than the sadness; Feelings of Joy, excitement, pleasure, anticipation, satisfaction, and even love stop meaning anything to them. Emotional thresholds decreases and people tend to lose their anger, lose patience, and easily get frustrated. And it only takes a minor setback or problem for someone with depression to breakdown completely, and a long time for them to bounce back. They start losing their self-esteem, find themselves worthless, are guilty about any and everything, start criticizing themselves, and in extreme cases, self-loathing. They ruminate about minor things and feels that their life is never going to get better. 

While sadness? It is just sadness, just a normal human emotion, something we all are bound to repeatedly experience in our lives, and something we would recover from, something we can EASILY heal from. People experiencing sadness would not lose their self-esteem. The feeling of worthlessness and self-loathing wouldn’t be experienced and lastly, people would be less reluctant to share their problems and thoughts and receive help.

Symptoms of depression:

Depression influences one’s entire life pattern and understanding what symptoms lead to the diagnosis helps one gain an insight into the possible prognosis and also helps them judge if they need to seek professional help. The severity of the symptoms and even the numbers of symptoms experienced vary from person to person, but for someone to be diagnosed with this mental illness, the person must have at least five of the following symptoms for a minimum of two weeks.

  1. Having a sad or irritable mood.
  2. Significant changes in weight and/or appetite.
  3. Sleeping disturbances. (The person either sleeps a lot or very less.)
  4. Loss of interest and pleasurable emotions.
  5. Lack of energy, easily fatigued.
  6. Feeling of worthlessness and guilt.
  7. Slowed or sluggish movements.
  8. Having difficulty concentrating, paying attention, decision making, creativity, etc.
  9. Thought of dying or suicide.

Apart from these common symptoms, people experience a lot of physiological changes, for instance, an increase in experience of stomach-aches or headaches, pain in muscles, or back pain. They lose interest in all previously pleasurable activities. They stop continuing with their hobbies, routines, and stuff they are passionate about. They show decreased interest in any sexual activity and all social activity. People with depression start isolating themselves and spend a lot of time analysing and criticising themselves. And they feel like there is no light in their path, there is no way out of their suffering, they believe or feel that nothing would get better and these thoughts, mixed with feelings of guilt and worthlessness make them contemplate or even attempt/ commit suicide. 

What causes depression?

Feeling extremely sad about something is just a part of being depressed, and it in no way paints the entire picture of what depression is. The first mistake people make in understanding depression is by thinking that nothing is different between being sad and being depressed. And the second mistake is to think that a person who has everything, from financial stability to great relations, has no reason to experience depression.

“Depression never discriminates.”

–      Dwayne Johnson.

There is a very long list comprising of famous celebrities who have struggled with depression, from the deceased legend Marilyn Monroe and Diana-Princess of Wales to the living pop stars Lady Gaga and Katy Perry; even the famous astronaut, Buzz Aldrin has struggled with this illness. 

It is true that having difficult circumstances, low financial stability, and bad relationships can lead someone towards depression; these are in no way the exhaustive lists causing depression. 

It is most of the time the outcome of a combination of factors.

  • Biochemical factors:

Many types of research support the fact that depression is associated with the imbalance of hormones released in one’s brain. It could be due to less secretion of serotonin and/or dopamine. It could even be due to the presence of disturbing activities in the brain. 

  • Genetic factors: 

Depression is many times associated with the genes that a person has experienced. Many times depression runs in family. Several studies suggest that people having a parent or a sibling with depression are three times more likely to be diagnosed with this illness.

  • Psychosocial factors:

From the surroundings people have lived to the people they have grown up with, all factors influence one’s mental health. Continuous exposure to violence or abuse increases one’s vulnerability to depression. But other situations like bankruptcy, divorce, losing a loved one, unemployment, etc, can all be the cause behind someone moving towards depression.

The list of factors is in no way exhaustive, there are many more factors left unmentioned, like organic factors, and there are many more factors yet to be researched upon. But it is important to understand that being wealthy, successful, and leading a satisfactory life doesn’t save someone from depression.

Showing compassion.

It is a common trend of humans that if something isn’t visible, it doesn’t exist, or isn’t that important. Though many of us believe in the existence of God, at the same time, we disregard the existence of mental illnesses, stating it is just a fragment of one’s imagination. (Also, if anyone looks closely, the symptoms of all mental illnesses could sometimes get so severe that they could be easily observed even by people who haven’t studied psychology.)

Physical health is given utmost importance, but at the same time, mental health is called just a hoax. With time, this is slowly changing, but this change is moving at such a slow pace that we are failing at being there for people who need our help because we don’t give this the amount of importance that it requires.

People with depression who are speaking about it publicly are many times termed attention seekers or people who are emotionally week. Those who don’t understand depression, very frequently term their phases of normal sadness as depression. 

People suffering from depression do not have much control over their thoughts and behaviour and many times others give them pieces of advice that would only make them feel worse. It may be out of good intentions, but there are some phrases that one should refrain from telling someone who battles with depression.

 “Think positive.”

 “Don’t think about it.”

 “Snap out of it.”

 “Count your blessings.”

 “I know how you feel.”

 “It could be worse.”

 “Get over it.” 

These comments feel insensitive and make them hesitate more to seek for help. When we care about someone and want to be there for them, instead of these phrases, one could be a little more mindful and empathetic by asking them to talk about it, being a good listener, by asking them how you could be of any help, trying to increase their self-esteem, telling them they are important and love, asking them to small social activities (remember to never be forceful.)

It is these small gestures that take less than a second but could help someone feel a lot better instantly.

Depression is that one mental illness that can be kept well hidden by even those they stay 24/7 with. A person could completely act jolly and happy and yet feel depressed all the time. Taking the example of Robin Williams, who is still regarded as the best comedian of all time, looked anything but depressed and yet he was and to the level that it made him take his own life. Jim Carrey, one of the most energetic people in the entire Hollywood has also spoken about his struggle with depression in many interviews. And it is hard to digest how can someone who looks as happy as he does could be depressed?

There IS light ahead.

The most prominent feeling for anyone with depression is that of hopelessness. They are filled with the feeling that their life is never going to get better, that they are always going to be surrounded by darkness. They ruminate and dread about a bleak future. But as much as one’s thoughts make them believe that life is not going to get better and change, it can and it will.

One should not hesitate to talk about it with their family and friends; they should never hesitate to seek professional and medical help. There is light ahead, and being depressed is nothing to be ashamed of, it doesn’t make them weak. If anything, people with depression are the ones who know what being strong is. People with depression need to take it in their hands to destigmatize having mental illness and also talking about it. 

And before taking any adverse or impulsive step, one should remember that they are loved, they are cared for, and as much as their thoughts make them feel so, they are not worthless. Before someone takes a major step, they should always remember, there are many who would be more than glad to help them and have them in their life.  

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