Depression Isn't a Choice - Kelsey Foster

Depression Isn’t a Choice

by Kelsey on August 13, 2014

With the sad news of Robin Williams passing, my social media feed has been buzzing with talk about depression and suicide. I’ve seen a few people saying well-meaning things like “smile at someone, it could save their life!” and a few others saying depression is for “weaklings” and suicide is for “cowards”.

So when something strikes a personal chord, I write about it.

What Depression IS and ISN’T

Depression isn’t because of a negative life event. Feeling low, hopeless, heartbroken, or desperate due to life events *can* lead to depression. However, it’s also totally possible for depression to strike out of the blue. It can be a result of low Vitamin D (as in seasonal affective disorder), it can develop from taking certain medications, it can be genetic, and it can be sparked from sleep disturbances or sleep deprivation.

The bottom line: depression doesn’t discriminate. Successful, wealthy, well-loved “happy” people who live wonderful lives are affected by depression.

Depression isn’t something that positive thinking can cure.
Depression is a complex web of chemical imbalances and isn’t a result of thought patterns. It’s not just something someone can “think happy thoughts” to get out of. I will say, though, that positive thinking doesn’t hurt. Anything that makes you feel connected (like humor or inspiration) can give a ray of hope to someone who is depressed. But it is NOT a cure.

Depression IS something many people can keep well hidden.
Someone like Robin Williams who seemed so full of joy and good humor is an example of that. If he’d never talked about battling depression, most of us would never have guessed. Even the people close to him probably wouldn’t have known.

Or Oregon mom Jennifer Huston. How could an attractive woman who appeared to have a beautiful life with a loving husband and adorable children be miserable to the point of suicide? How could she have kept such a terrible secret? I can only imagine the questions her family and close friends are asking themselves.

People keep depression hidden for many reasons. Shame is a biggie. Not wanting to be perceived as weak. Fear of judgment. Not wanting to be a “downer”. Thinking nobody cares. Feeling guilty about it. Many times the person who appears to not need help is the one who needs it the most.

Depression IS close to you, closer than you think.
Statistically one in four people suffer from depression or some type of mental illness at one point or another. Think about that for a second…one in four people. That’s a whole lotta people. If it’s never been you, count yourself fortunate. But know that you do know many people who have dealt with it. And you might not have realized it.

I’ve had bouts of depression since adolescence. Only a handful of people know that about me. Luckily, my depressive episodes are mostly few and far between. But it can show up without warning. BAM! I’m a wreck seemingly out of the blue. Even when life is going great. And then, just like it swoops in, it just evaporates and I’m back to “normal” (whatever THAT is haha). It’s strange and unpredictable.

However, I do feel an inexplicable underlying sadness nearly constantly. It’s pretty much always been there, right below the surface. Even when I feel deep joy, love, and happiness…the sadness is still there. It doesn’t really make sense, because how can someone be both happy AND sad? But that’s the best way to describe my general demeanor. I don’t talk about it much but I’ve started to be less ashamed of it. I’ve accepted it’s just part of who I am. I’ve also found methods of managing it so I can enjoy more happy days than sad ones.

A few years ago I lost a dear friend to suicide. She suffered from bi-polar disorder and had been a rock for me in my struggles. Watching her succumb to her disease was heartbreaking and terrifying. She was a shining light for many and yet her illness was too powerful. I learned a lot about forgiveness and compassion through her fight.

Why is depression so prevalent?

As a society, we haven’t done a good job of addressing mental illness as a medical disorder. Many people still think of it as a choice…or a need for attention…or a sign of weakness…or a mood that will pass. But depression is none of those things. And because of those prevailing cultural attitudes, many people suffer in silence.

When people suffer in silence, they don’t get better.

For those who seek treatment or help, they don’t always have access to the right resources. And sometimes even the best types of treatment aren’t enough. Did you know that the very prescriptions used to treat depression can create sudden suicidal tendencies in some patients without warning? Even if they’ve been taking the same medication for a long time. Scary and true. It’s all pretty depressing. Ha!

So what can we do to start to change things? There is an obvious need for science and medicine to find better treatment options. However, I think the easiest place to start is with ourselves. It’s a matter of having a willingness to try and understand depression and mental illness for what it really is. Developing compassion and empathy rather than knee-jerk judgments. Labeling someone as weak or cowardly for suffering from an illness just isn’t cool. Would you do that to someone who has cancer or heart disease? I’m guessing the answer is no.

For those of us who battle depression, we can open up and share our experiences. We can let go of the shame. And trust that by sharing, we shine more light on the topic bringing about more solutions for ourselves and others. The more of us who are willing to talk, the less of a stigma depression will have. I’m realizing that more and more people I adore and respect deal with similar issues to mine and there is tremendous comfort in that!

If you are depressed or have had thoughts of suicide, please seek help. Here are some resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Sound Mental Health

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