I have Major Depressive Disorder comorbid with PTSD and a few other lovely little disorders that make my life a happy, happy place. I’ve always had depression. Or at least, as long as I can remember, I’ve had depression.
I have a surprising number of risk factors for developing depression. I had infant meningitis. I had a traumatic brain injury. I’ve been a substance abuser. I got PTSD from child sexual abuse, etc. Even thought it was undiagnosed, mainly because depression was known as “shake it off, sissy,” I’m convinced a number of my old-timey relatives had Major Depressive Disorder, too.
The following is a list of ever so helpful suggestions to cure depression that people have actually said to me.
1. “Give it time. You’ll get over it.”
The first thing people usually ask when you say you’re depressed is, “Why?” as if we could possibly answer that. A lot of people really don’t understand that depression is not the same as grief or sadness. If your dog dies, you will experience grief and sadness, but little by little, you come out of it. Depression isn’t like that.
Depression, at least the chronic kind, is not necessarily tied to any particular life circumstances. There isn’t anything to “get over.” We’re not sad because our dog died; we’re sad because there’s something in our brains that is not right. Time isn’t really going to help. Actually, I’ve found that the older I get, the worse my depression becomes and the harder it is to come out of it.
2. “You should get out more.”
I have a friend who is convinced that the best treatment for depression is to go out on the town. For me, that’s absolutely the worst thing you could do to me when I’m depressed. When I am depressed, I don’t want to leave my house. I don’t want to see anyone or do anything or even get out of bed. Forcing me to interact with people will have the opposite of the desired effect. I will just wall myself up even more. Yet, this friend insists that going out and having a good time will make me less depressed, as if having a good time is even possible when you’re really depressed.
3. “Get more sleep.”
I’ve had depressive spells where I could do nothing but sleep. I didn’t even get out of bed. Sleep is not the answer.
4. “Get more exercise.”
There was a time when I worked out at least five times a week. I spent a minimum of five hours a week exercising my body. While I was tone as hell, I was not any less depressed. Nowadays, with bad back, knees and wrists, I can’t do anything high or even medium impact anymore. I walk several miles a day though and I still have depression.
5. “Get more sun.”
I will admit that when I lived back east and had to live with nine months of gray winter everything, this one did have an impact. I had Seasonal Affective Disorder on top of all of my other disorders. I would start getting depressed in fall, because winter was around the corner. I wouldn’t come out of it really until spring.
However, for the last fifteen years, I’ve lived in southern California, partly because I wanted to live somewhere with sun. Los Angeles typically has over 200 days of sunshine a year. The Seasonal Affective Disorder did go away, but the Major Depressive Disorder did not. It actually got worse.
6. “Take vitamins.”
Yes, because vitamins cure everything. Cancer? Take vitamins. Can’t get it up? Vitamins. Unsightly unicorn horn? Vitamins. Vitamins for everyone all the time forever.
For the record, I take a women’s multivitamin, glucosamine and chondroitin (for my crappy joints), and iron supplements (for anemia) every day. Still depressed.
7. “Eat more [insert some food item with supposed antidepressant qualities here].”
People seem to think that depression is tied to diet or sleep or exercise or the orbit of Mars. If it were as simple as changing what I eat, I would. I would eat nothing but chocolate since it’s supposed to make you feel better, right? Right. Yeah, except not. If there was something I was doing or not doing that caused depression, don’t you think I would have started or stopped doing that by now? It’s not like I want to be depressed.
8. “Weren’t you depressed a few months ago?”
Yes, I used a two for one coupon. I was depressed a few months ago and I’m depressed now. That’s how it works. It never goes away; It just gets slightly better sometimes. Depression is not like a broken arm where you put a cast on, wait a while, take the cast off and it’s all better. It never entirely goes away. It just hibernates like a bear. I might be terribly depressed tomorrow or I might have a good day. Sometimes, even in the middle of a months-long depressive spell, I have good days where I’m happy. It’s a crap shoot.
9. “But, you’re on antidepressants!”
I’ve been medicated for a few years now and the little pills probably did save my life because I was severely suicidal. That said, antidepressants are not a cure. Far from it. All they do, provided you actually get the right pill and dosage, is help you cope a little better. If you don’t get the right pill and dosage, they can actually make it worse. My sister was on the wrong pill and it actually increased her suicidal thoughts. Antidepressants are not a solution. They are not permanent. They help, but they don’t fix it.
10. “Just be happy.”
Oh, yes. That’s the exact advice that I was missing. How silly of me to be depressed when I could just be happy!
I get it. If you don’t have it, depression is impossible to understand. People who say things on this list generally say them out of genuine concern and an attempt to be helpful.
However, reducing depression down to diet or exercise just increases the stigma. It makes it that much harder to talk about it when the causes are boiled down to something we’re doing or not doing. Depression is not something we can control. Telling us to exercise more, even if you don’t mean it that way, makes it seem like it’s our fault. If we just ate better, worked out more, decided to be happy…. The thing is, it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple and it is not our fault.
If you have no experience with depression and a friend tells you they’re going through it, don’t offer any advice unless you are a mental health professional, and even then, only offer advice when it’s solicited. We don’t want advice from people who’ve never been through it.
Would you take my advice on heart surgery? You shouldn’t, because I’m not a surgeon and I have no experience with heart surgery. So, why do people think it’s okay to give advice on depression with no training or experience?
If we talk about it, which is a really hard thing to do, what we want is a nonjudgmental ear. We want someone who will hear us without making assumptions or interrupting with ridiculous suggestions. Thanks for listening.