Depression is Not Sadness

Because depression is mood-related, able people think that it’s only a mood, but sadness and grief teach you as much about mood disorders as putting your hands into a basin teaches you about drowning. Mourning is a normal response to loss. Everyone must experience it. Getting beyond it doesn’t teach you how to cope with depression any more than lying in a hot tub teaches you how to tread water in the ocean. Grief and sadness are signs of psychological health. Depression is an illness. Short-term struggles are child’s play in comparison.

Difficulties are not depression. Sadness is not depression. A million awful problems that hit you all at once are not depression. They are normal. They pass in time.

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If I had to spend an hour paralysed, knowing full well that it was temporary, I’d lie back and enjoy an episode of Daredevil while resenting the fact that I couldn’t eat chocolate. It would be a hell of a lot easier than living in a wheelchair for a year. Time is corrosive. That’s one of the reasons depression erodes your endurance as much as it does.

Depression is not sadness, but illness. We don’t know all we should about its causes, but we do know a fair deal. The limbic system is often to blame. When the adrenal gland is activated repeatedly, it can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression. Some patients literally have an abnormally small hippocampus. It’s possible that this makes the brain sluggish at producing neurons. Glutamate and four other neurotransmitters are also sent out of whack. Even your genes can make you prone to it. So can a crap childhood, but this has more to do with your physiology than you might think. Suffering from loss early on in life seems to send parts of the brain into overdrive.

Not all depression patients are treatable, and some don’t manage to fight their way to the surface of their illness well enough to even get treatment because it obliterates your ability to care. Antidepressants work for some people but not others because there are billions of different chemicals that affect mood. Unresponsive patients are not at fault, so stop judging them already. Calling foul on such people is like raising a red card to someone who died because they messed up their diabetes treatment.

Depression patients are exactly that: patients. They have an illness. They are not bad or weak or even sad people.

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4 thoughts on “Depression is Not Sadness

  1. Thank you! There is so much judgement going on, rather than trying to understand people who are fighting through this each and every day. This is no different than battling a physical illness – and the sooner society begins to see that the better for everyone!

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  2. Thank you so much for writing this – there are still so many people that don’t understand what depression is like and putting how depression feels into words never seems like it tells the whole story. It’s such an individual, unique and personal issue, that what it truly is so often seems to get lost in translation.

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  3. I think there is a fine line when people throw the word ‘depression’ around. My young daughter was using it at one point casually as a word to express her dissatisfaction in life. I was a little on the alert since there is mental illness in both mine and her father’s families. But since I have suffered from clinical depression I wanted to tell her that she was not depressed and didn’t really know what the word even meant. She is still too young to really grasp the concept when having it explained. It worries me that when mental illness starts looking like a fad “Oh yeah, I’m totally bipolar”. But I guess it looks and feels a bit differently to all of us. And there’s different levels of sick. But I like here how you point out the illness vs difficulties and emotions aspect. Because there is a difference and I feel when people get confused about the severity of the real deal vs your everyday blues it normalizes it for those of us living with the actual illness.

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