Depression is NOT Sadness

What many people cannot seem to be able to fathom is that circumstances and situations do not dictate one’s mental health. No matter how you try to communicate to them that depression is an illness, they will continue to confuse it with sadness and become frustrated with you for not “being more positive” or for “wallowing in your negativity”. It’s this kind of unintentional belittling of the mental illness that creates such a dangerous atmosphere for those struggling. It is the willful neglect of a person who is in grave need of support, who is incapable of plainly seeking that support, that so often leads to suicides. 

Not everyone who suffers from depression handles their illness in the same way. It really is no one’s place to judge a person for how they choose to cope with illness. Some may cry out for help in very blatant ways, which are too often marked as attention-seekers. Others are ashamed of their mental state and choose to suffer in secret. Just as one cancer patient may choose to use their sickness to spread awareness and be very public with their diagnoses, and another may choose to tell only those closest to them, those with depression vary from person to person. They are all individuals with their own coping mechanisms.

Anyone can be sad. Life is hard and sometimes we feel down about certain situations or circumstances. Maybe you did poorly on a test or you got in a fight with a friend; you’re in a bad mood or you just seem to be having a pretty bad day. Anyone can be sad at any given time for any number of reasons, but this is not depression.

Depression is an underlying feeling of sadness that lingers even when everything seems to be going right for you. You had a great day at work and felt confident throughout the day; you did everything right, by the letter, and by all accounts life has been treating you pretty well. You literally have no complaints, yet you crawl into bed at six pm and you cry for three hours for no discernible reason. You have no desire to answer to any of your friends or family, even though you aren’t upset with them and care about them. And even though everything is going right in your life, you still wish that you had never been born because the pain of your sadness is weighing so heavily upon you that it is actively destroying any happiness your life is offering to you at any given moment.

You don’t have to fully comprehend the pain of an illness to support someone who is suffering from it. Show a little compassion to those around you. Some people with depression are terrified of reaching out because they are so afraid that their illness will be annoying to those around them. It’s easy to be around someone who is happy all the time; it isn’t so easy to be around someone who is down. Rather than abandoning a person who is a “downer”, why don’t you consider what it is like to not have an escape from that? Sometimes all someone really needs is someone who will love them in spite of their illness. Stay, listen, accept them as they are.

Depression isn’t cured with words. While your encouragements are certainly welcome, you shouldn’t feel unappreciated when their illness doesn’t magically dissipate because you’ve told them some positive things. You shouldn’t just give up on someone because it seems nothing you say is helping. Nothing you say can help. That doesn’t mean that your presence and support aren’t needed or wanted. The worst thing you could possible say after making an effort at “cheering up” a person with depression is “Oh, well, I give up. You just don’t wanna be happy.” No. They just can’t be happy.

There are no easy answers for people with depression or for people trying to love someone with depression. Some medications work for some, others don’t and other people seem to just be immune to current medications. Depression is a terminal illness and, when untreated, can lead to death. Please, for the love of God and anything precious in this world, stop confusing depression with sadness.

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4 Comments

  1. Lovely piece. I agree depression isn’t sadness. But I disagree that clinical depression can’t be triggered by events. People with long term mood disorders very often find that life events can trigger depressive episodes. Thanks so much for your piece I think it makes an important point. 🙂

    1. You’re completely right. I see how my meaning was skewed in that area but I certainly acknowledge that life events can trigger deeper depression. Thanks for reading!

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