A man kills his family and himself and he is called “depressed”.
A person loses their spouse to cancer, and people say they are “depressed”.
A woman goes to the doctor because she can’t get rid of a feeling of morbidity every time she thinks about being abused as a child. The doctor labels her as “depressed.”
Would you be surprised to find out that Depression is a symptom like a headache? It is not a full diagnosis in and of itself. What makes it even more confusing, there are many different conditions that are called “depression” that really have little correlation to each other. Let me give a half dozen examples.
Sadness. Sadness is often called depression because we naturally assume that this is what depressed people are feeling. This is one of the most misleading mixups. Sadness is the necessary journey to say goodbye to someone or something that has been meaningful and is now gone. One may be sad over a lost opportunity, a passed loved one or a broken relationship. This does not necessarily mean that the person is depressed just because they feel sad.
Anger and Hopelessness: Dr. William Glasser, the founder of Reality Therapy, estimates that half of what we call “depression” is a choice. (Note that I did not say most or all depression is a choice. I think Dr. Glasser is accurate in this assessment. About half my counseling clients have choice-based depression). In fact, Dr. Glasser refuses to use a noun for depression. He uses the verb “to depress” to describe the person who chooses this. Why would someone choose to depress themselves? When we have been hurt, betrayed, cheated, lied to etc. we get angry. An injustice has been done. But many times it is hard to act out that anger in a healthy expression. Often we have to subvert our anger and sit on it for a long time. After awhile, it seems we will never be able to resolve the issue we are angry over. This causes anger to be joined to a sense of hopelessness. This combination of anger/hopelessness is what many people call “depression”. It is the decision which says “I will not feel better about what happened and I will not let go of its pain.” This type of depression many times leads to suicide, drug abuse and physical problems.
Hormonal Changes: The body likes to remain in homeostasis. Our bodies don’t like to change and therefore produce chemicals to keep the body in a regulated state. That is how our temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate can remain relatively constant. We have many glands in our bodies which produce chemicals to promote homeostasis. But stress, disease and environmental factors can all cause our glands to produce more or less of certain hormones than our body needs. Medicine used to believe that much post-partum depression and PMS was caused by too little estrogen. But now we know that it is actually a flush of estrogen that causes these symptoms. Other hormones like LH, progesterone, testosterone and others can cause our homeostasis to be out of whack.
Poor Sleep Habits: We know that a person cannot survive longer than 72 hours without sleep. Why? There are transformative changes the brain processes while we sleep. If it stays awake, plaque builds up and blocks the regular functions of the brain. This leads to a sense of dis-ease and morbidity. Often this lack of good sleep is called “depression”.
Stress Itself: Stress simply means that too much is being asked of a body. When we overwork, over-think, over-emote, certain chemicals have to be produced in order to cause our brain and body to rest. Adrenaline, Serotonin, nor-Adrenaline, Dopamine, GABA, peptides, Phenethylamine and others keep our brain from deteriorating when we are stressed. If you are too stressed by life, you will find these chemicals become depleted and you cannot feel better. Often this is called “depression.” Today’s “anti-depressants” are often just chemicals that prevent these natural chemicals from becoming depleted. The most common of these–Selective Serotonin Reuptake inhibitors–prevent your body from breaking down the Serotonin when you are under stress. Zoloft, Prozac and Welbutrin are examples of SSRIs
Brain Damage: There are many disorders that cause depression which are the result of brain damage from birth or from drugs. Two of them are much more common than the rest. Bipolar Disorder is a condition where a person feels periodic stints of euphoria and drive followed by lengthy periods of depression. Schizophrenia is a condition where a person loses touch with what is real and experiences the sense that they do not have a grip on their lives. Both of these conditions at various times are called depression.
As you can see, there is much that is called Depression that is totally different than other things called Depression. That is why I advise people not to make judgments about another person’s condition simply based on the word “depression.” That one word can describe situations vastly different than one another.
There is also a condition I call “spiritual depression” and I want to address that in the next article.