Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said that every man has his secret sorrows that the world knows not. We all have things that burden us. Work, family, money and health troubles can feel overwhelming at times. While these feelings of sadness may come and go as you continue with your regular day to day lives, depression is something different. It is a deeper sadness that hangs around like a dark cloud despite our best efforts to sweep it away.
One key difference between sadness and depression is that the latter markedly interferes with our ability to navigate our regular social, occupational or educational responsibilities. We try to keep up, but this overwhelming feeling of sadness mixed with hopelessness and a lack of enjoyment stops us in our tracks. While almost all of us experience sadness off and on throughout our lives, we don't all experience depression and its time we start recognizing the differences.
One common misconception about depression is that everyone can just "snap out of it" with willpower alone. While this would be a nice reality, seeing depression though these rose colored glasses can be a dangerous path. Not only does this viewpoint fail to recognize the severity of the experiences of those suffering from depression, it also sets an unrealistic expectation that individuals with depression can just make it better if they tried hard enough. This can translate to the idea that if they are not feeling better, it's their fault for not having the willpower to work hard enough to dig themselves out. As you would imagine, this sense of failure can easily make depressive symptoms worse and make it harder to find motivation that is commonly lacking as a result of the nature of depression.
So, what can we do to help support a friend or loved one with depression? First of all, let them know you are there for them and that you hear then. This is very different than saying that you understand. Even if you have had similar experiences in the past, we can never truly understand what someone else is going though and claiming that you do has the potential of doing more harm than good.
Next, listen without judgement. Sometimes when people struggle with depression, there is an identifiable cause. Sometimes, there is not. Remember that emotions are abstract and not everything has to be understandable or well defined to be real.
Lastly, offer support in their recovery by suggesting professional help. By suggesting, I mean just that. Suggest, don't pressure. The time comes when consulting with a professional may be needed, but being pushed when you are already feeling depressed can make the situation worse.
As we are thankfully moving into a time where mental health is more and more being seen as a vital part of our health in general, let's all do our best to stay educated and learn how to be more supportive to all those around us. Remember as always #StopTheStigma.