Most people will experience depression, or extreme sadness, at some point in their life. It’s the pain you feel when you lose a loved one. It’s the emptiness that lingers while going through a difficult breakup. It’s the lack of fulfillment during a period of unemployment. Depression is a natural emotional reaction to traumatic events or major changes in a person’s life.
Although, for 16 million adults, depression is not due to any negative occurrence or life change. Rather, it’s a chronic and/or cyclical state they experience regularly. In other words, it is a clinical and medical condition. And it is more severe than situational depression and can include intense symptoms such as suicidal ideation.
While Depression, the condition, and depression, the feeling, (capitalization used for distinction) can appear quite similar, there is one very important difference: Those with Depression often don’t have a “reason” for why they’re depressed—they just are.
While it is possible that a person with Depression can be triggered into a depressive episode by an external stressor, their symptoms won’t go away once the stressor is removed. For a person with depression, they will likely only have symptoms until they cope with whatever triggered the symptoms.
Those with Depression are frequently stigmatized and misunderstood due to this distinction. People will show endless compassion to a person experiencing depression due to the passing of a loved one, but not to a person who just can’t help but feel sad all the time.
This misunderstanding occurs because people often don’t know how to respond to someone if they don’t know the reason for their pain. For a person with depression, you can reassure them that the pain will fade and time will heal. But saying that to a person with Depression would be both inaccurate and unhelpful.
If you’ve ever experienced depression, think back to that time and recall how difficult it was. Now, imagine what living like that every day must feel like. Imagine what it must feel like to not have the motivation to leave your bed for months at time or for it to be an accomplishment to move from your bed to your couch. Imagine what it’s like to feel as if you’re drowning in darkness.
Keep this in mind when you’re interacting with a person experiencing Depression: Don’t judge or stigmatize them for not knowing the root of their symptoms. Telling someone they “don’t have a reason to be depressed” is the same as telling a person with asthma: “The air seems fine to me.”
You may not fully understand what is causing someone to miss days of work, skip showers or cancel plans. But when it comes to Depression, “Why do you feel this way?” is not the important question. The important question is: “What can I do to support you?”
Laura Greenstein is communications manager at NAMI.