Depression is a terrible disease, but few people see that. When people think of diseases, they think of blood, or pain. They see gore, the slow progression of a healthy body into obvious visual sickness.
Like many other mental health disorders, depression is hard to notice. There are no obvious wounds, no blood until it’s gotten very bad, and no foolproof symptoms like a terrible cough or a high fever. It’s insidious and can be fatal, endangering millions of lives through suicidal thoughts, thoughts of worthlessness, and emotional pain and suffering.
As a nation, we know depression is a relatively widespread issue. Yet it’s still surprising and devastating when it reaches us, affecting someone we love, causing them great and irrational pain, pain we cannot understand. If you’re struggling with depression, understanding how it affects your loved ones can help you understand why treatment is important, and why this is not the kind of disease you can face alone. If your loved one is struggling with depression, then understanding what it is they’re facing is important. To help them, you also need to know what to expect, and how the disease might make your efforts feel useless or wasted.
They Feel Useless
Someone with depression may experience thoughts of hopelessness, or even worthlessness. This manifests in many different ways, but one way to interpret it is as a voice that tells you to stop doing everything, because nothing matters. This apathetic line of thinking can come out of nowhere, and despite it irrationality, it’s impossible to resist the sorrowful mood that accompanies that line of thinking. The worse the depression is, the stronger the thoughts, especially if they begin to make a person feel completely superfluous and inspire them towards thoughts of self-harm or worse.
Someone helping another person with their depression might also feel useless as time goes on and the episodes begin to come and go in waves. Depression can hit hard at any time, sometimes out of nowhere, even during or after treatment. It gets easier over time, but in the moment, it can be very hard and frustrating to see your loved one progress so steadily and then suddenly retreat or begin struggling once again with thoughts they were previously able to rationally undermine through therapy. It’s important not to let that frustration bleed through and affect your loved one, though. The pressure of seeing someone you love become emotionally distraught over a disease you cannot control will often only make things worse.
The Worry Eats at Them
Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand, and they complement each other in the worst of ways.
Similarly, those who care for others struggling with depression might worry that their symptoms could flare up, that another episode could strike, or that something particularly devastating might trigger recurring depressive thoughts and lead them back into a dark place.
They Might Not Understand
A significant amount of people still see depression as a personal failing. This is a very important issue. Misunderstanding a major depressive disorder as a case of the blues rather than the disease that it is often leads to more frustration and pain, for everyone involved. Stress and disappointment are normal, and it is a natural part of life to struggle – this is why many people adopt negative reinforcement as a form of emotional support, pushing their friends to get better “or else”. It might work sometimes, for the wrong reasons, but in the case of depression, taking on such an approach actually makes things worse.
But many don’t know or realize that. Understanding depression is an important step in treating it, and that goes not only for the person struggling with depression, but also for the people they care about, the people they live with and interact with on a daily basis, who might not understand what’s going on inside the mind of a depressed person.
There is no guaranteed cure for clinical depression, in a sense. But it’s important to understand that a diagnosis of major depressive disorder does not imply a single cause. Some people develop the symptoms that qualifies them for depression due to a traumatic event, and while things will “never be the same”, they can still get much better, and it’s highly likely that treatment and emotional support will lead to a full recovery and a good life. Other people experience depression without any obvious causes, suggesting certain differences in the brains of individuals, genetic traits that aren’t completely understood. The neurobiology of depression is still something medicine is working on, and while treatment can lead to a life without depressive thoughts, it does not always do so.
But it always helps, under the right circumstances. You might not find your therapist to be very effective, or you might not feel better with your current medication, but there are other methods, other antidepressants, and other treatments that might elicit a much better reaction in you and can help you fight off the irrational darkness that seems to be ever-present.
The hardest thing to do when you’re depressed is hold onto hope. But if you can, you will find that it will lead you to a better future. As hard as that future is at first, it does get easier, day after day, especially with loved ones at your side. No matter how afraid you might be of pushing them away, your loved ones will often stay by you.
There are alternatives, as well. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is an effective and safe treatment for depression, utilizing non-invasive, gentle magnetic fields to stimulate the brain just a few centimeters underneath the scalp, often achieving remission of depressive thoughts in patients who are generally “treatment-resistant”, meaning that they’ve tried therapy and antidepressant drugs to no avail. And with time, we will find other ways to combat depression, and find more ways to help those with mood disorders achieve the right kind of environment for healing and progress.