I don’t know about you but I have noticed over the past few years that many people are feeling depressed, or are actually depressed, that is in real life and social media too. I have mixed feelings when it comes to this topic but I guess it is high time I addressed it.
By mixed feelings I don’t mean about the existence or severity of depression itself but how people associate with the mental illness itself.
Depression is a fairly common mental health problem that involves a low mood and a loss of interest in activities. Up until this century, the society had been very shy to actually talk about it, with the emerges of psychology and psychoanalysis methods in the past 120 years, the social scientists were able to table down the topic which led to the wild acceptance of depression as a real mental disorder than just a weak person’s mentality as some had once thought.
However, with the severity of depression being widely known, some of us have had a hard time trying to differentiate sadness from depression, life is so complex and what we go through on a daily basis is enough to plunge any one of us into a pit hole of depression and major sadness.
According to WHO (World Health Organization), Globally, the total number of people with depression was estimated to exceed 300 million in 2015, that is 4.4 % of the world’s population. Nearly that number again suffers from a range of anxiety disorders.
The consequences of these disorders in terms of lost health are huge. Depression is ranked by WHO as the single largest contributor to global disability (7.5% of all years lived with disability in 2015); anxiety disorders are ranked 6th (3.4%). Depression is also the major contributor to suicide
deaths, which number close to 800 000 per year.
The truth is, statistically speaking, the number of persons with common mental disorders globally is going up, particularly in lower-income countries, because the population is growing and more people are living in the age when depression and anxiety most commonly occurs.
Therefore, with the increased rate and growth of depression, it is important for you to understand whether you are, or are at risk of suffering from depression and other mental related disorders such as anxiety disorders.
The diagnosis of depression is one of the areas in which many people have been led to believe that they are depressed when in fact, the doctor just tried his/her best to force a few puzzles to fit into each other to form a shape that isn’t meant to be there.
Let me explain why.
Over the past years, the leading cause of high level depression has been considered to be childhood traumas, traumas in general and unshakable life events. People who continue to experience extreme symptoms of stress long after a traumatic event may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can also lead to depression — a continued feeling of intense sadness that interferes with a person’s ability to function normally.
But this has also raised a few extra questions, how is it that people who have gone through the same stressful situations end up coming out of it differently? If the leading cause of depression is traumatic events, why is it that not all people who have gone through these end up being depressed?
So we first begin by trying to figure out what depression really is, and being able to differentiate it from sadness, stress and anxiety.
This Article Contains
- 1 What depression really is
- 2 The root causes of depression
- 3 Why so many people “feel depressed” these days
- 4 Bottom line
What depression really is
“Depression is a major depressive disorder, a quite common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”
As you can see depression is very wide spread and common, especially among people from developing countries. However, the fact that it is common is the very reason why it is so hard to differentiate from other normal feelings and emotions such as sadness.
A major part of emotional intelligence is being able to understand yourself – self awareness, in my previous article on Self awareness:where happiness begins, I explained why your level of self knowledge and understanding of your emotions, motives and impulses is very vital to your own mental health and emotional health.
In this chapter, I’m going to try and shade a light on why most of us are feeling depressed and whether if we are actually depressed or are just emotionally immature. To start with, I’m going to dive into the root causes of depression and why we sometimes use the ends to justify the means, or vice versa, I don’t really know how that euphemism works, lol.
The root causes of depression
Chemical imbalance in the brain and genetics
On the surface, we may say that the root causes of depression are intense and prolonged stress and negative emotions that if left untreated may result into the mental disorders and anxiety, however, in the in depth of everything, depression is generally caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Research suggests that depression doesn’t spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather, there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.
It also comes down to genetics. Your genetic makeup influences how sensitive you are to stressful life events. When genetics, biology, and stressful life situations come together, depression can result.
Prolonged stress and trauma
Stress has its own physiological consequences. It triggers a chain of chemical reactions and responses in the body. If the stress is short-lived, the body usually returns to normal. But when stress is chronic or the system gets stuck in overdrive, changes in the body and brain can be long-lasting.
Some life experiences and events can have lasting physical, as well as emotional and mental effects. Studies have found that early losses and emotional trauma may leave individuals more vulnerable to depression later in life.
Profound early losses, such as the death of a parent/guardian or the withdrawal of a loved one’s affection, may resonate throughout life, eventually expressing themselves as depression. When an individual is unaware of the cause of his or her illness, he or she can’t easily move past the depression. On top of which, unless the person gains an in depth understanding of the source of the condition, later losses or disappointments may trigger its return. This is where the art of self awareness is key.
Trauma may also be a major factor. A small study Journal of the American Medical Association showed that women who were abused physically or sexually as children had more extreme stress responses than women who had not been abused. The women had higher levels of the stress hormones ACTH and cortisol, and their hearts beat faster when they performed stressful tasks, such as working out mathematical equations or speaking in front of an audience.
Many researchers believe that early trauma causes subtle changes in brain function that account for symptoms of depression and anxiety.
You may have heard people throwing this term around, but the sad truth is some people use it in the wrong context. Cognitive dissonance has become the spotlight of recent studies into the causes and treatment options to depression.1
It was first investigated by Leon Festinger, who was an American social psychologist. It rose from a participant observation study of a cult which believed that the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood, and what happened to its members — particularly the really committed ones who had given up their homes and jobs to work for the cult — when the flood did not happen.
While fringe members were more inclined to recognize that they had made fools of themselves and to “put it down to experience,” committed members were more likely to re-interpret the evidence to show that they were right all along (the earth was not destroyed because of the faithfulness of the cult members).
So what is cognitive dissonance?
Cognitive dissonance basically refers to a state of the mind in which there exists conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This in turn produces a feeling of mental discomfort resulting in an alteration in one of the beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance.
It is believed that the more one continues to experience these internal conflicts over a long period of time without being able to resolve it, it may result into mental illnesses and disorders such as depression.
For a more in depth elaboration watch this video;
Biologist Bruce Lipton, through many books and especially “The Biology of Belief”, has gone so far as to propose that our beliefs not only determine our thoughts, emotions, chemistry and physiology but can even alter our DNA.
This goes so far to show that our internal conflicts on what is right or wrong, what should be done and what shouldn’t, what is moral and what isn’t, can result in collective cognitive dissonance of extreme proportions resulting in anxiety and depression if not resolved.
Cognitive dissonance is evident in the anxiety that comes from social media, pop culture and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). This is why social media and the likes of it have been recently ruled out as not being causes of depression since cognitive dissonance is what is at play at the base of it all and it has been there even before the age of the internet.
Social media and pop culture triggers this arguments in our heads over what we want vs what we need, what we are doing vs what others are doing, what we have vs what others have, what is cool to us vs what is cool to others – all these are recipes for cognitive dissonance thereby breeding anxiety and depression, no wonder most of us are feeling depressed these days.
Self awareness and social awareness dictate that we should be able to understand and be aware of the fact that these internal conflicts are caused by us and nothing else. We, ourselves, dictate what is right and good for us and not the society, because no matter what we choose, how it affects us and how at peace we are with the decision we make is the difference between us being truly depressed because of it and being emotionally mature to make the right call.
Cognitive dissonance also plays a part in overthinking, which is in fact one of the leading causes of depression. This goes so far to say that life isn’t as serious as we always make it out to be, just make any decision you want, don’t look for the right one because the reality is that none of us truly knows the right way to live, go with your gut and avoid the internal conflicts on what should be done over what you actually want to do.
To realize why some of us jump into conclusions of being depressed, we will need to first see why psychology and the society is quick to jump to that conclusion:
Why so many people “feel depressed” these days
The belief that trauma = depression
Psychology has for so long been all over trauma, calling it one of the biggest causes of depression, as a matter of fact if you are exhibiting any signs of depression, psychologists always opt for looking at any previous traumatic experiences that you might have gone through in the hopes of linking your depression to trauma.
The sad part about this is that we end up trying so hard to fit puzzles that aren’t meant to be mated with each other, hence giving meaning to something that may be otherwise a terrible but normal occurrence.
Trauma is in fact a leading cause of depression, but since as a society we are now aware of that, we will try to link our so called “feelings of depression” to a long tome ago traumatic event that didn’t affect as that much.
Because of this, it is important we truly understand what trauma really is.
Trauma has a way of foreshortening the future. It can affect your beliefs about your future by making you lose hope, have limited expectations about life, fear that life will end abruptly or early, or anticipate that normal life events won’t occur (that includes; access to education, ability to have a significant and committed relationship, good opportunities for work and so on).
First responses to trauma may include exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, physical arousal, and blunted affect. However, it is important to note that most of these responses are normal in that they affect most survivors and are socially acceptable, psychologically effective, and self-limited.
But, indicators of more severe responses may include continuous distress without periods of relative calm or rest, severe dissociation symptoms, and intense intrusive recollections that continue despite a return to safety. Delayed responses to trauma can include persistent fatigue, sleep disorders, nightmares, fear of recurrence, anxiety focused on flashbacks, depression, and avoidance of emotions, sensations, or activities that are associated with the trauma, even remotely.
Only when your trauma exerts such heavy responses should you be concerned about depression, it is okay to be concerned either way I’m not saying its wrong, but the effects of jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst has not proven to be effective for the human race so far.
So many people are “feeling depressed” these days because they tend to forcefully link their worst experiences to depression, they fail to understand that most cases of trauma do not in fact lead to depression. Most people who undergo traumatic events always spring back to their authentic selves after some time and a lot of healing involved.
I’m saying this is an important issue to avoid because it has led most of us into this zone of feeling VICTIMIZED. We end up looking at ourselves as victims, we sink deep into this victim mentality that gives us an excuse and safety net preventing us from dealing with all the wrong things happening in our lives. And this in itself is a sign of emotional immaturity.
Confusion between sadness and depression
This may come out harsh and offensive but we all know it to be true. We tend to confuse sadness with depression so many times that we end up taking the victim mentality road because it gives us an excuse for not being our best, and I’m saying that is the case when in actuality we are not truly depressed.
Sadness on one hand is viewed as a normal everyday experience that is part of the normal life, it reminds us that we are not yet where we want to be and that we should check ourselves before we break ourselves, whereas, depression on the other hand is viewed as a sickness that can befall anyone and that occurs because of a wrong doing done unto you, a chemical imbalance or genetics, hence nothing of your own making, thereby cancelling out any of our shortcomings. Hence the victim mentality which leads us into negligence and avoidance.
In simple terms; sadness should be defined as ‘feeling down or unhappy in response to grief, discouragement, regret or disappointment;however, if it is ongoing, consistent, persistent and overly obvious for a considerably long period of time, then it may be used to indicate depression.
And if someone suspects depression to be in play, jumping into conclusions and judgement should be the last thing to do, the very first thing is to consult a therapist, psychiatrist or any licensed professional in the field, only they should be allowed to pass along a diagnosis. And that, my friend, is the way to act on depression with emotional maturity .
Hope you are still with me.
Depression has been romanticized
Any emotion can be romanticized, not just depression, but to be emotionally intelligent is to know that romanticizing of any emotion only leads to more damage to your emotional health and mental well being as whole.
To romanticize an emotion is to basically think about and describe a certain emotion as being better, interesting or more attractive than it actually is with the aim of making it sound more romantic and appealing.
Through all forms of art, be it movies, films, music, paintings; depression has been painted as a descriptive ‘personality trait’ that is deemed conversation worthy and is put on a pedestal above any other descriptive traits.
In my opinion, I believe that people who romanticize depression often haven’t experienced it themselves or studied it. In reality there is nothing glamorous about depression, it feels like drowning and trying to keep ashore with support. Despite this, mainstream media, celebrities and popular columns have made depression as the new ‘cool’ form of identity with relations to artists and famous people.
The idea of a damsel in distress has been viewed as the start of the most romantic experiences since time immemorial. The idea that one can save or be saved by the three magic words has made us oblivious to the fact that in reality things are not as they seem.
Moreover, the society sometimes seems to view depressed individuals as deep, artistic, philosophical – all qualities that can have a romantic element to them. Of course there is the argument that there is also so much stigma surrounding depression, that some people stigmatize depression instead of romanticizing it, However, I believe that romanticizing depression isn’t helpful at all because by doing so it can invalidate those suffering from the illness, and perhaps even slow down their treatment and recovery.
Instead of addressing the severity and reality of depression, romanticizing depression only helps in breeding individuals who would choose to wear depression as a badge of honor and ‘achievement’ rather than a serious illness that needs to be given attention.
I embarked on writing this article because I am always so pissed off when I hear of people who don’t know what depression really is saying that they have depression. I am not saying that they don’t have a right to say they are depressed, what I’m saying is that depression is a serious matter that needs to be treated in the same way.
Sadness is part of the human condition, but sometimes we mistake it for depression which in turn affects us more than the illness itself would, to be emotionally intelligent is to be able to identify which emotions you are going through, which of them are real and which ones are of your own imagination and making.
To realize that a bad day is sometimes just bad day is a sign of emotional maturity, not every bad experience is rooted in “hidden” signs of depression.
To say that you are depressed shouldn’t be used as a mere statement by anyone who wants to, it should be used to show that you are going through a mental challenge and have talked to a medical professional about it who in turn diagnosed you with depression.
Depression isn’t something you can just claim to have, depression is a serious medical illness that is diagnosed by professionals and should be left unto them to determine whether it exists or not, otherwise, it will continue to be used in the wrong way to either romanticize the idea or stigmatize those who suffer from it.