We’re taught and incentivized to deal with our own issues and problems, and an important part of learning to become an adult is taking personal responsibility for one’s actions and emotions, learning to control our impulses, think things through before making crucial decisions, and dealing with the repercussions that occur when mistakes are made. Responsibility is important, because it’s only when we hold ourselves accountable that we have the stakes necessary to grow and flourish as individuals, whether it’s in a particular profession, in a relationship, or in life itself.
But the rules change when the parameters are skewed in a bad way. No one is blessed with the exact same set of circumstances, and many people possess advantages in life others don’t. Many of these obstacles can be overcome, but many cannot. One thing we shouldn’t try and tell people to overcome and take responsibility for is the debilitating nature of mental illness. Just as we put the pressure on individuals to learn from their mistakes, humans have banded together as communities to protect the unfortunate and benefit the group. Learning to help one another is something we all need to do, and this pertains especially to illnesses like depression. Because to understand why an individual should not (and often cannot) treat their own depression, we need to understand that there are things in life that require the help and compassion of those around us, whether indirectly, or through direct intervention.
Depression is a mental illness defined by at least two weeks of consistent and unbroken low mood, often not triggered by any specific event or form of long-term grief. Depressive symptoms are complex and numerous, and the onset and nature of the depression does not always reveal its true cause. Some cases of depression can be traced to problems in the brain’s neurotransmission, while other cases are potentially hormonal and tied to the endocrine system, and others are rooted in a different psychological issue. Genes, cultural differences, childhood experiences, physical pain, and even diet have been shown to influence the potential development of depression.
More than an advanced form of sadness or grief, depression is often characterized by the fact that it springs out of nowhere, and fills an individual with negativity, irritability, and apathy without a prior trigger. It can cause individuals to lose all feeling of joy, no longer care for the things that they used to be passionate about, and struggle to find the motivation for even the simplest things, including daily chores and routines. Above everything else, depression is a disease. It is not a choice, it is not always the temporary result of a rough patch in life, and it is never something that can be overcome solely with the right attitude. And to complicate matters, depression can be chronic.
Depression Doesn’t Always Go Away
Chronic illnesses are recurring illnesses that last for a considerable amount of time, anywhere from a few months to a lifetime. Some research indicates that about 12 percent of individuals with major depressive disorder won’t experience relief within 5 years. Persistent depressive disorder also characterizes a milder form of depression that is chronic in nature.
Regardless of whether a depression lasts for a lifetime or just a few years, waiting for it to “go away” is never a good option. Without treatment, depression is more than just feeling blue. Often coinciding with feelings of hopelessness and shame, depression often also coincides with struggles at work and/or school, increased prevalence of physical pain and chronic pain, and massively decreased quality of life from lack of proper sleep hygiene, poor self-care, and more.
Suicidal ideation is not as common as you might think, but it is still a dangerous issue for many depressed individuals. The estimated lifetime risk for suicide in individuals with untreated depression is 20 percent, with suicides being more common among men, and ages 45 to 64. Without the proper help and necessary treatment, depression can turn any life into a tragedy. But it does not have to be this way. Depression is treatable.
Treatment Is Not A Crutch
Lifetime cases of depression do require a certain level of consistent and life-long care, but it is important not to mistake this for a “crutch”. The will to get better plays a definite role in treatment, but that motivation must have a source of hope, and come from some possibility of a better life. Depression treatment is meant to help individuals adapt to the symptoms of their disorder and find the best way to mitigate them to the point of living a happier life. Without treatment, depression becomes progressively more powerful and more difficult to live with. But even with treatment, it’s possible to have some bad days.
Some people fear that they might have to rely on treatment for the rest of their life, yet the alternative may be a lifetime of overwhelming depression. Treatment for depression is diverse and involves more than just pharmacology. From non-invasive neuromodulation through techniques like transcranial magnetic stimulation to long-term cognitive behavioral therapy, specialized training to help individuals with depression retain employment despite their symptoms, and a variety of different therapies to help manage stress and reduce depressive thoughts, treatment for depression changes on a case-by-case basis, built to accommodate the unique struggles of each person.
Getting Help Is Not Weakness
With the appropriate long-term care, depressive thinking can be reduced tremendously, and in some cases, a depression can even be sent into lasting remission. But without care, it often metastasizes and transforms over time. More than just a phase, a depression is a serious illness with debilitating consequences, and it requires a committed approach to treatment. Seeking treatment for depression does not make you weak. In fact, it often takes a lot of courage to admit that you need help for your condition, especially given the stigma and lack of understanding surrounding depression.