If you’ve dealt for a long time with clinical depression (otherwise known as major depressive disorder), you may have heard comments like, “Snap out of it,” or “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.” Depressives are sometimes characterized as lazy, whiny, or self-obsessed. Even in the medical community, depression has at times been viewed as a “disease of affluence,” affecting mainly those in wealthy societies. (This view has lately been challenged by mental health workers in developing countries.)
Depression itself doesn’t show up in a blood test. It doesn’t cause a rash. You can’t see it under a microscope. It’s thought to have a complex of causes: biological, chemical, environmental, situational. For these reasons, it can feel hard to pin down precisely.
If you sometimes struggle to validate your own or a loved one’s depression, here are a few points that can make the discussion more productive:
We Know Exactly What Depression Looks and Feels Like
The criteria for diagnosing major depressive disorder are clear and well established. Among the symptoms to look for are sleep disruption, significant weight loss or gain, observable extremes of energy (very sluggish or very restless), trouble concentrating or making decisions, and thoughts of suicide, accompanied by either consistently depressed mood or a marked loss of pleasure in daily activities.
It’s Been Around for a Long Time
Our understanding of depression and its symptoms has evolved over the centuries, but the condition itself has clearly been with us through the ages. The earliest descriptions of depression date to around 2000 B.C., when depression was understood as a spiritual problem, perhaps caused by demonic possession. But as early as the Middle Ages, scholars were taking a more enlightened look at depression. Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, published in 1620, understood depression as having social and physical causes, and prescribed changes of habit like diet, travel, and exercise to help manage it.
A Lot of Well-Known People Have Struggled with Depression
People like Abraham Lincoln. And Martin Luther King. And Princess Diana. Not to mention Kristin Bell, Lady Gaga, and The Rock, among contemporary celebrities. Note that people with depression, though they deal with many challenges, accomplish great things. Especially if they reach out for help with their depression. “Therapy … gives you another perspective when you are so lost in your own spiral … it helps,” said Jon Hamm (Mad Men’s Don Draper). Hamm has also found relief with antidepressant medication, which has helped him combat some sleep issues: “I want to get up in the morning; I don’t want to sleep till four in the afternoon.”
And a Lot of Not-So-Well-Known People, Too
Depression affects 16.1 million Americans or 6.7% of adults. On its own, the online mental-health resource The Mighty reports it has nearly half a million followers of its depression-related content and resources.
If you think you may be depressed, but you’re not sure, don’t downplay your symptoms or let others tell you you’re just “whining.” Reach out to find the help and resources you need to address your depression. And if you think a loved one may be suffering, or if they’ve reached out to you for help or advice, find out how you can best help them get the support they need.