350 million people.
That’s how many people suffer from depression worldwide at any given moment.
That’s 5% of the total population of the entire world.
This is a substantial number, making depression more common than AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined.
Perhaps because of that, depression is considered by some to be much less than what it actually is.
After all, when something is in front of the public eye for long enough it is automatically perceived as something less important.
Time and time again people offer lackluster advice regarding depression, stemming from their ignorance of the problem.
One of the most common complaints regarding depression is how “it’s just in your head”.
According to some people, depression is a state of mind, and the difference between being depressed and not depressed is choice.
They are wrong.
That being said, it isn’t their fault.
With the facts surrounding depression being so obscure, many people are prone to making wrong assumptions.
After all, when there is no information to say otherwise, we are likely to make decisions based on experience.
Because of that, the difference between depression and other negative feelings, such as sadness and grief, has gotten a bit blurry.
After all, everyone is sad at least every once in a while, and from an outsiders’ point of view, depression can be seen as sadness.
If you don’t know what to look for then it is a perfectly reasonable mistake to make.
So, what exactly makes depression into something that isn’t just “in your head”?
Depression is a disorder
As I have said before, people judge things based on experience, and as far as they can see, depression isn’t really too different from sadness.
In fact, depression takes time before it can be diagnosed, at least two weeks.
Because of that, confusing depression with sadness isn’t a mistake that is necessarily born out of ignorance.
Even a professional, one that is following standard procedure, will not make the connection right off the bat.
Even so, there are certain differences between depression and sadness, as well as any other negative feeling.
Unlike any of those, depression is not an emotion, it is a mental disorder.
What is a mental disorderQuestionmark Well, according to the DSM-5, a diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the definition of a mental disorder is:
“A syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning”
Furthermore, it is clarified that mental disorders are also associated with significant distress or disability in occupational and social activities.
As it turns out, depression fits this definition perfectly.
It indicates a dysfunction and it makes social and professional interactions much more difficult.
Still, it can be argued that grief, for example, can also make these interactions difficult.
The fact that grief and depression can coexist is neither here nor there, What exactly makes depression a disorder and not an emotion?
Depression is not an emotion
A lot of people tend to say that they are depressed even when they are not.
In some cases, the word depression is accompanied by the word “feel”, i.e “I have been feeling depressed lately”.
These feelings arise when someone important to them has passed away, or maybe when they suffered a great failure.
None of these feelings can be labeled as a depressive disorder of any kind.
As we have established, a mental disorder indicates a dysfunction, which sadness and grief do not.
It is perfectly reasonable to be feeling down after something bad happens to us.
Depression, on the other hand, is far from normal.
It is a limiting disorder that makes interacting with the world around you much more difficult.
So, what exactly makes depression so different?
Here are a few examples:
- Feelings of sadness do not usually affect one’s self-esteem. Depression, on the other hand, can be accompanied by feelings of worthlessness and self-hate
- Sadness and grief do not make you tired, yet depression is usually accompanied by fatigue
- Depression is typically accompanied by varying physical symptoms such as headaches and digestive problems. In comparison, sadness is not accompanied by persistent physical symptoms
- Depression impairs cognitive function and memory. Sadness and grief, on the other hand, do not
- Sadness an grief don’t last for extended periods of time. A depressive episode, on the other hand, can last for two years or more
That being said, it is true that feelings such as sadness and grief can coexist with depression.
The loss of a loved one can act as a trigger of depression, and when it does it makes grief much worse.
Not only in terms of severity, but also in the sense that depression can make grief last much longer.
Still, it is important to note that the two are not one and the same.
Depression changes the brain
The way that we think and perceive the world is largely by the way that our brain functions.
As we have established, depression affects both the body and the mind in a variety of ways.
When it comes to the effects of depression on our brain, there are 3 main parts to consider:
- The amygdala, the part of the brain which facilitates emotional responses, such as anger and fear
- The hippocampus, the area of the brain which is responsible for storing memories.
- The prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that manages our behavior and cognitive function
In one way or another, depression affects all three of these areas.
The activity in the amygdala is noted to be particularly high among people with clinical depression.
This hyperactivity can result in increased production of stress hormones, sleeping problems, and other complications.
The hippocampus contains high levels of glucocorticoid receptors, making it particularly susceptible to stress.
Because of that, depression can actually make the hippocampus shrink, effectively impairing the memory of the depressed.
Research also suggests that constant exposure to stress limits the production of neurons in that area of the brain.
When it comes to the prefrontal cortex, depression is noted to be a major factor.
According to studies, depression is associated with a decrease in activity within the prefrontal cortex.
As a result, people who suffer from depression experience a decrease in focus, reasoning and other cognitive functions.
When put together, all of these factors indicate that depression turns our own brains against us.
Keep in mind that although it isn’t impossible to change the way that your brain functions through healthy and beneficial habits, it certainly isn’t your choice.
depression can’t always be controlled
Alright, so let’s assume that a person that suffers from depression wants to get rid of it.
They choose to follow conventional wisdom and try and be a little happier with their lives.
So they try to smile more, they are more active around other people and they do their best to act just like everyone else.
After all, everyone gets depressed every once in a while, right?
The only problem is that, in their case, this just doesn’t work.
Many people have certain things that are holding them back, perhaps irrationally so.
These factors and causes can make depression difficult to deal with.
- Genetics: Depression can run in the family, making certain people more prone to depression than others
- Environmental factors: Abuse, trauma, and poverty are all linked to depression.
- Personal problems: Certain individuals suffer from low self-esteem, for example. Others may have trouble coping with stress
- Biochemistry: As I have said before, depression actively alters the way that the brain functions
When put together or separately, all of these can get in the way of lasting treatment as well as make depression much more difficult to deal with.
Not only that, but many of these factors can’t be directly treated.
Sure, you can improve your self-esteem and learn to handle stress better, but you can’t change your genetics, you are stuck with them for life.
Depression is not a choice, but you can get better
Depression changes the way that our body functions, it is not a thought process that can simply be changed.
Can you simply “choose” to not have a stomach ache, or”choose” to not have a cold?
That is nothing more than wishful thinking – but that isn’t to say that depression has no possible treatment.
Quite the opposite actually, depression is considered to be “highly treatable”
There is a very high chance that your depressive symptoms will improve considerably after receiving proper treatment.
Depression may not be your choice, but you can choose to help yourself get better!
I would recommend checking out the Destroy Depression System, it has helped me a lot with my own struggles with depression and it is full of great advice on how to overcome depression.
Before you go, I got a quick question for you – Do you still think that depression is a choice?
Depression may not be a choice, but doing your best to get better is.
I would love to hear your answers, so write them down in the comment section below!
If you got any personal questions then feel free to email me.