43 answers

I Don't Understand Depression!

Many women in my church, young and old, have told me they suffer or have suffered from depression. Some of them have been treated (? I'm not sure if this means they were admitted to a hospital or not) and I think all of them have been on some sort of medication like anxiety medication or full blown depression like Prozac.

I don't suffer from it but I am asking if anyone here can tell me exactly what it is without medical terminology. I don't have a history of it in my family and I can't recall any of my friends having it so I don't know.

I am just trying to understand some of the women I know - not WHY they are depressed but simply what depression is. To me they just seem to feel sorry for themselves and can't seem to think about other people. It seems like a very self centered problem. Alot of them have shared they just stay in bed some days and can't do anything. Does depression block something in your blood? brain? I don't want to judge them so that's why I'm here asking about it.

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5/3 Regarding one of the last few people to respond, I know I can go to Webmd.com or any other website but I wanted to hear from people who actually had depression. And for one of the earlier people who said I am already judgemental and no wonder no one likes me, I'm sorry you feel my pursuit of understanding something makes me such a terrible person.
5/2 Words can't express how truly grateful I am for your responses. You've been so gracious and I need to ask for forgiveness for being so insensitive in my request. Please believe me when I say my intentions were pure yet I think because I didn't know the intensity of this illness I didn't ask with a lot of sensitivity. I am so very,very sorry. All your stories touched my heart and I found myself crying while reading through some of them. Thank you to those who have entrusted my request to share your personal story. I was not aware of the pain and struggle so many of you are suffering and I wish with all my heart my words now will convey the humility and respect I have for those who responded with so much grace and so much acceptance. My intentions were not to hurt, I hope all who read my request to know that. If you have read my other requests you will understand my struggle in finding my place in my church and in this world. You all have blessed, blessed,blessed me and I pray God will bless all of you for helping me understand. Thank you for helping me to see how I can be a compassionate, loving, Christian friend in a world and yes, even in a church that seems dark and hopeless. I want so much to be a loving Christian friend, for my children's sake but also for God's glory. I will remember you in my prayers this week. Pray for me that I be an understanding and compassionate friend. I am humbled.

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http://www.depression.com/ explains that depression is a medical condition that a person cannot just "snap out of". It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

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Well I know that I suffered from depression. And you are correct that it does appear the a depressed person is self centered. But actually is quite the opposite. They want to be with people and help others but they just cannot bring themselves to do it. Sometimes its because the lack of confidence that comes with depression. So you just do not even try. I know that I just felt as though nothing I did was right or good enough. I was always sad and felt as though I should just disappear. But I soon was on medication and taking with my family and I was straightened out. Some do think it is a chemical inbalance. Sometimes a hormonal inbalance. And some say it is hereditary. My M. and dad both had it. But try to understand that these people are fighting such a battle within themselves that there is no energy left for daily items. Much less try and do things for other people. A lot of positive reinforcement helps. I know you may feel like the gerbil in the wheel but keep supporting them and listening. You do not know what that means to them and it is helping.

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Wow. Thank you for posting this!! All the responses have given me lots of food for thought.
I seem to suffer with "mild" depression and have for years. My sisters don't understand-you have a nice home with a good husband, good kids, etc., etc.
I tried medication for one year but didn't like the other side effects (sexually) which made me feel more cut off from my spouse so stopped. I talk with him constantly and amazingly, he still loves me despite my feelings.
One thing I tell my children-when people are hard to be around it just means they don't get enough hugs!!
So depression is a physical and mental thing. When one of those ladies seems to be really nagging about something-just give them a hug!!
If any of you other people who posted know of a place to "chat" with other sufferers, I would love to have a link to it. When I google depression, it just takes me to clinical info.

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This is not a short answer....
It is good that you are asking and trying to understand.
I used to be the same as you and think depression was for weak, self centered, lazy people.. Just an excuse.

Depression is a physical illness. It is caused by the brain misfiring. The medical community are not always sure what or why it happens but many times it is a chemical imbalance. It is a real illness and many, many people suffer from it, but have no idea what is happening to them.
It is being diagnosed more, because the symptoms are now considered when drastic behaviors occur. We are also better educated.

It can occur in males or females and at any age and at any time.

Since women have huge changes in their hormones every month,again while pregnant and right after giving birth, many women seem to be diagnosed.. Also women are more likely to go to a doctor.

Have you ever met someone who has a certain personality and then they just seem to change in their behaviors?

For example a very enthusiastic happy person who then becomes aggressive and angry or frustrated for no reason over a few months? You could make a comment about their hair, for example, and they all of a sudden they become defensive for no real reason and assume you do not like their hair? You notice this is just not like them.

Or a person who you were always in contact with and all of a sudden they do not respond to your calls, emails, do not attend functions or participate the way they used too? You could always count on them and all of a sudden, they are just not available, ever, you may have trouble even getting hold of them.

Maybe a friend, that just seems over stressed and all of a sudden cannot make any decisions and becomes weepy?

These are all changes that need to be noticed and addressed. I also like to describe it as PMS on steroids and it never ends.

This is a feeling they CANNOT control. They will be embarrassed by their actions, but not be able to apologize, because, they just do not have the energy.. and I do not just mean physically, I mean their mind is exhausted.

Different people will handle all of this differently, so it is sometimes difficult to know unless you are extremely close to friend or relative or actually live with them.

Some people just shut down. Untreated they will get worse and worse and terrible things can happen, because they do not know what on earth is happening to them. They are in denial, because they have always been "the strong person" everyone has always depended on. In extreme cases, it is not unusual to consider suicide, because they are thinking that they are harming their families with all of their anger. Or that they can no longer contribute.The guilt can be the worst.

Also many people just tell you to "snap out of it", "quit being so self centered", "stop thinking only about yourself". People will bring up all of the things you are not doing any more. All of this just leads to more stress, more anger and more embarrassment to people with depression.

The way it is first treated is with counseling and mild anti anxiety medication. This is to help your brains chemicals get back in order. Some people will take special homeopathic treatments to help with mild cases. In some people they will go back to their original personalities and others will just need to continue with the medication. The important thing is to not self diagnose. If people feel like their old selves and quit their treatment, they can really end up hurting themselves. If this does not help, some people may need to go to a facility so that they can be monitored at all times. It is not forever and they are not "insane" or anything. Their brain is ill.

I have a friend that suffered for many, many years and finally in January committed suicide. This is the neighbor and friend to soooo, many people. At her memorial service, there were over 250 people in attendance... So many people stood up to speak about her and after 2 hours we began to realize almost every person had considered this woman their "best friend". She would help everyone with their problems, she helped them in all ways and be everywhere at once, she was the life of the party,but she was in terrible pain, not feeling like she was doing enough. She loved her family so much, she was the perfect M.. It seemed to all of us, she loved her family more than any of us could ever love...She was also very accomplished with many degrees and an expert in many things. But at some point fer families home life became chaotic with her mood swings. And this last year, she would argue about EVERYTHING, with EVERYBODY. If we asked her if she was ok, she would either weep or would blow up. I actually was so upset by some of my conversations with her, I could not sleep some nights.

I hope that this answered some of your questions.

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Well it is better to understand a problem rather than Judge. I have suffered from depression. Its not something you can talk yourself out of. Some days its like being in a cave and you can't find your way out. Some days its like trying to run through jello, you know there are things that need to be done but you can't seem to move to do any thing about it. I suppose it could seem a little self centered, but the thing is you don't really focus on your self either. My father also was severely depressed, and it was frustrating because he just couldn't find the energy to better his life at all. And then when all of the inevitable consequences came(divorce, financial ruin) it just furthered his depression. He never could get up and do anything about it. I think it may be hereditary. His father actually killed himself.
Hope this helps, try not to be too harsh on your friends at Church. they are not meaning to be self centered, but its hard to see other people through this fog.

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My doctor compared it to diabetes, where the body doesn't make approptriate use of insulin, only with depression the body (brain) doesn't access the seratonin.

When people say "treatment" for depression, usually is is short term or possibly long term course of meds like Prozac, and what might be called "talk therapy"... dealing with whatever got them to the depressed place and finding a way to live through it.

Sometimes it is so mild you wouldn't see it from the outside, but it can be downright disabling.

Sorry this was so simplistic.

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Hi M. S,

Depression is a term that we use very casually these days.

I am a clinical social worker and work with children and their families so I see this a lot.

Clinical depression can be debilitating. A person has trouble eating, sleeping, and just functioning in general. Their relationships suffer and merely living becomes painful and difficult. Many times a bout of depression can follow a significant loss - a death, divorce, job loss, etc. After a significant period of grieving the person cannot seem to feel better.

The treatment for depression varies from person to person. For some people talk therapy is very helpful. For others medication helps. Additionally, exercise and good nutrition can help. The love and caring from family and friends is invaluable.

Our brains (and hearts) are fascinating organs which are affected by many external and internal factors. Living with a person suffering from depression is quite difficult also.

We live in an increasingly complex society which places great strains on most of us. Many of us are separated from a sense of community which can provide support and protection from depression. For example, your church probably provides connection and community for you and the other members. Some people don't have that.

Know that depression is a common affliction, particularly with women (that is a whole separate subject). Be glad that you don't suffer from this. Hormones can certainly be a culprit.

Thanks for letting me write about this subject. I tried to be brief and non-clinical. You're right about depression being extreme self absorption. But not any more so than cancer or another disease. Many people are helped by focusing on others - volunteer work, etc. However when someone is feeling really overwhelmed this is not possible.

Hope this helps!


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I have struggled with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder for about 15 years now (since I was 11). Basically, your brain naturally produces endorphins (also called the "feel-good" chemical). Endorphins are responsible for the feeling of happiness, but also a lot of other things. Here is some info for you to read and the link to where I got it from so you can read the rest of the article yourself:
"...when feelings of intense sadness -- including feeling helpless, hopeless, and worthless -- last for days to weeks and keep you from functioning normally, your depression may be something more than sadness. It may very well be clinical depression -- a treatable medical condition."
"...depression occurs when you have at least five of the following nine symptoms at the same time:

* a depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
* fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
* feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
* impaired concentration, indecisiveness
* insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
* markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day
* recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)
* a sense of restlessness -- known as psychomotor agitation -- or being slowed down -- retardation
* significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)"
"Here are common symptoms people with depression experience:

* difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
* fatigue and decreased energy
* feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
* feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
* insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
* irritability, restlessness
* loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
* no pleasure left in life any more
* overeating or appetite loss
* persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
* persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
* thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts"
"There are a number of different types of depression including:

* major depression
* chronic depression (dysthymia)
* bipolar depression
* seasonal depression (SAD or seasonal affective disorder)
* psychotic depression
* postpartum depression"
"Because certain brain chemicals or neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin and norepinephrine, influence both mood and pain, it's not uncommon for depressed individuals to have physical symptoms. These symptoms may include joint pain, back pain, gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbances, and appetite changes. The symptoms may also be accompanied by slowed speech and physical retardation. Many patients go from doctor to doctor seeking treatment for their physical symptoms when, in fact, they are clinically depressed."

If you want more information, here is a great place to start:

I understand that people who haven't experienced it tend to believe a depressed person can just "snap out of it", but it's a whole lot more complicated than that! I commend you for wanting to educate yourself on the issue, because I think people need to stop thinking of it as just being selfish or lazy and start thinking of it as a true disease.

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There was a time when I shared your point of view. I can remember telling a girlfrind that she needed the bible not meds. It took turning 30 and spending some time in reflection to open up and explore other options. I was suicidal in my teens. My brothers were diagnosed with ADD and my mother is hyperactive. I could never complete tasks would put off paying bills until the day of! I was always tired and blamed it on being anemic. I finally shared with a gynocologist that I had no energy and had been through many losses in my life. He explained that tragedy alters the chemicals in your brain. Anti-depressants fix the low levels of this natural chemical. Within 2 days my life was dramatically different. I compare it to looking out a car window. Prior to anti-depressents I always felt like I was behind the glass and watching the rest of the world. I am no longer trapped behind the glass and get to enjoy every day that God blesses me with. I am a better mother, wife and Christian because of it. My 60 year old parents are amazed and are excited for me! They even mentioned that they should have taken me to a doctor in my teens when the depression started. I still feel that people jump on the depression bandwagon. LOL They need to jump off and face their own selfish desires. Scripture makes it clear that there is no excuse for that! Hope this helps. Have a blessed day.

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You've gotten some very excellent answers here. And I agree you are VERY lucky to have not suffered from it.

I've been dealing with the chemical imbalance that causes depression since the age of 11.

When puberty started the part of my brain that receives the chemicals that make you feel good started to malfunction. This lead to two suicide attempts because I just could. not. feel. good. I felt either overwhelmed by despair or totally numb.

Trust me, anyone who is severely depressed doesn't WANT to be depressed. They don't want to feel like there is no meaning to life and the world would be better off without them. They are not walking around feeling sorry for themselves. Most of the time they'll pull inward and not talk to anyone or want to be around people. It's not about attention.

I have yet to meet anyone with depression severe enough to keep you from getting out of bed who enjoyed it. Feeling like just getting up and dressed it too much isn't a pleasant way to live.

And consider the women at your church who are older and maybe widowed. Perhaps they've lost people they love and their children live far away. They feel abandoned and old and forgotten. Wouldn't that make you a little sad? Wouldn't that make you cry? Wouldn't you be willing to take a pill and feel better?

Thank you for wanting to understand. I had several people tell me when I was younger "You think life is bad now? You don't know anything. Wait until you're an adult and have ADULT problems to deal with! You just need to stop it."

Which is really not a supportive attitude.

Give them hugs and remember they're just people like the rest of us. :)

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Morning!! I have to admit right off that when I read your post, I felt like you were already being judgmental. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this was not the case. You simply do not understand depression and what it can do to a person. I have never been diagnosed with depression, but I have been on anti-depressents before. My M. also seems to think I suffered a serious depression in my early 20s. Let me explain a little....

My first marriage was to a man I had known since junior high. We had our daughter 3 weeks BEFORE our first anniversary. Six months after she was born, he cheated on me the first time. He wouldn't keep a job for longer than two weeks. We were on welfare for the kids' sakes. (I also have a son, who was 20 mths old when our daughter was born.) I spent 5 and a half years with this man, before he walked out of my life for the last time. He left many times prior to that, but always eventually came back. When I reconnected with him, prior to our marriage, I had great self-esteem, my confidence was high. By the time he left, I was a shell of that woman. He had completely cut me off from everyone. My friends and family hated watching what he was doing to me, choosing to leave rather than continue watching. One of my sisters was the ONLY person still actively involved in my life when he left. Because of all the emotional trauma he put me through, I spent most of the years we were together sleeping, eating, just plain lazy. I never had the energy to go anywhere!! I barely had the energy to take care of my kids. Because of this, my M. swears I was depressed.

In 2003, I met my current husband. A couple weeks after we met, he joined the National Guard. In June of 2004 we married, approximately 3 weeks after he graduated 18 wks of basic training. (Wedding planning is what kept me sane during those long weeks!!!) Two months after our wedding, I put my new hubby on a bus headed for Fort Hood, Texas. He spent 4 months in intense training. In January 2005 he boarded a plane for Iraq. I had no experience dealing with being a military wife, much less dealing with deployments. Luckly, his active duty status entitled me to medical coverage, which I took advantage of. My doctor was a general practitioner, but made it VERY clear to me that he was responsible for looking out for my OVERALL health!!! When my hubby had been in Iraq for about 2 months, my doc found out about my insomnia. It didn't really bother me, I chalked it up to just being a night owl. He immediately put me on Lexapro (an anti-depressent) and Sonota (a sleeping pill). He monitored me during the whole deployment. By the time my hubby came home, 2 wks before Christmas 2005, I was completely off both medications!!!! I haven't needed either since then.

I know this has been a long read, but I just wanted you to know that sometimes help is needed to get through some of the things life throws at you. (BTW, I'm STILL 8 years later, trying to get my self-esteem & confidence back up.) These women in your church are NOT feeling sorry for themselves. I'm not going to try to explain depression to you, I don't understand it fully myself. My advice to you is just being a good friend. You don't have to understand or agree with something in order to be compassionate. Which is what these women probaby need the most. There are enough people out there telling them to "get over it." They don't need it from someone close to them.

Hope this helps!!!

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