Tuesday, October 7, 2014


What exactly is depression? Everyone feels down occasionally or is sad after a major loss, but what differentiates this normal range of feeling low from that of depression the illness? To answer this question, let's take a look at the myths, the symptoms, and the treatments of depression.


  • Depression is always caused by a traumatic life event;
  • Antidepressants are all one needs to feel well;
  • Antidepressants are "happy pills";
  • Depression is a character defect, not an illness;
  • Depression is the same as sadness.
  • Telling a person suffering from depression: "just snap out of it", "you can do anything if you put your mind to it", "think positively", "get a grip", etc.
The fact is, depression is an illness that cannot just be willed away with pep talks and positive thinking; and it is not caused exclusively by loss or traumatic life events. 

Medication for depression is not a cure-all, nor will it make one instantly or constantly happy. Rather it will level the psychological playing field to enable the person to feel a normal range of emotions.

  • Feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, and/or worthlessness;
  • Cognitive difficulties: difficulty concentrating, recalling details, and/or decision-making;
  • Cycling negative thoughts;
  • Decreased energy and fatigue;
  • Sleep disturbances: insomnia, waking unusually early, and/or sleeping excessively;
  • Anger and/or irritability;
  • Restlessness;
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable (e.g., hobbies, sex, socializing);
  • Appetite loss or overeating;
  • Unexplained physical symptoms: aches and pains, cramps, digestive problems, and/or headaches that don't respond to medical treatment;
  • Persistent feelings of anxiety and/or feeling "down", sad, or empty;
  • Thoughts of or attempts at hurting oneself or of suicide.
Depression can be fatal. If you or someone you love is experiencing any of these symptoms, discuss them with your doctor or therapist immediately.

  • Anti-depressant medications
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: examines the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (e.g., the flawed patterns of thinking that lead to self-destructive behavior);
  • Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT): formerly known as "electroshock therapy", treats depression with currents of electricity that induce seizures in the patient. Made infamous by the movie, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, ECT now uses lower voltage doses to successfully treat depression that is resistant to conventional treatments;
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): time-limited psychotherapy focusing on interpersonal issues as the source of mental stress;
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: also known as "insight-oriented therapy", focuses on the unconscious processes manifested in behavior; and
  • Psychotherapy: commonly known as "talk therapy" (e.g., talking to a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and/or psychiatrist).
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 25 million American adults will experience depression in a given year; but only half of them will receive treatment.

Depression is a very serious illness that can be fatal. If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, it must be taken very seriously. Call the suicide hotline immediately: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) -- or the deaf hotline at 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889). 


For more information on depression, check out these resources:

"10 Depression Myths We Need to Stop Believing", by Alena Hall, Huffington Post, 9/3/14


International Society for Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Mayo Clinic


National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

PBS - Depression: Out of the Shadows

Psychodynamic Therapy 101, Psychology Today

Some excellent memoirs on depression:

Darkness Visible: a Memoir of Madness, by William Styron

The Noonday Demon: an Atlas of Depression, by Andrew Solomon

Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, by Kay Redfield Jamison

Shoot the Damn Dog: a Memoir of Depression, by Sally Brampton

An Unquiet Mind: a Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Kay Redfield Jamison


In honor of the NAMI's "Mental Illness Awareness Week", I will be blogging about a different mental disorder each day this week.

No comments: