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Depression: The Misunderstood Mental Illness

Updated: May 26, 2020

I once heard depression described as a multilayered beast because of how it interlaces with an individual's personality, vulnerabilities, upbringing, and an imbalance of brain chemicals. A multilayered beast! How can this multilayered beast also be one of the most misunderstood mental health illnesses?

What Depression Is

Depression, also known as Major Depressive Disorder, is a serious, persistent, and disabling mental illness that affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. People suffering with depression experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. Some physical symptoms include chronic pain, sleep problems, digestive issues, weight loss or gain, and fatigue. In order for one to be diagnosed with depression the symptoms must last at least two weeks and the symptoms must cause the person significant distress in their social, occupational, or other areas of functioning.

The Misunderstood Depression

Depression is more than feeling blue or down. Depression isn't simply experiencing sadness. Depression does not make a person look a certain way. It also not a sign of weakness or something a person can simply "snap out of." Sadness is a normal emotion that everyone will experience at some point in their lives. Given that sadness is one of the symptoms experienced when a person is depressed, it is understandable that people might think that if they are sad then they must be depressed. However, the distinction lies in the duration of the sadness as well as the presence of other symptoms and how these symptoms affect the person's daily life. Having an "off day," "feeling blue," or "feeling down" are also normal emotions that by themselves do not indicate the person is depressed.

Below I will briefly address some risk factors, prevention, and treatment for depression. This is not an all inclusive list and I encourage you reach out to a professional if you believe you are experiencing depression or have further questions.

Risk Factors for Depression

Depression can affect anyone—even a person who appears to live in relatively ideal circumstances.

Several factors can play a role in depression:

  • Biochemistry: Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.

  • Genetics: Depression can run in families.

  • Personality: People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more likely to experience depression.

  • Environmental factors: Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.


There's no sure way to prevent depression. However, these strategies may help.

  • Take steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and boost your self-esteem.

  • Reach out to family and friends, especially in times of crisis, to help you weather rough spells.

  • Get treatment at the earliest sign of a problem to help prevent depression from worsening.

  • Consider getting long-term maintenance treatment to help prevent a relapse of symptoms.


  • Therapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that focuses on changing negative thoughts, behaviors, and emotional responses associated with distress. Behavior Therapy is a therapy that focuses on modifying harmful behaviors associated with distress. Psychotherapy is the treatment of mental or behavioral disorders through talk therapy.

  • Medication: There are many types of antidepressants available. You would need to speak with your primary care physician and/or psychiatrist to determine which would be the best option for you.

  • Combination: It is often recommended that people experiencing depression receive a combination of therapy and medication.

If you think you or someone you care about may be suffering from depression, I encourage you to seek help from a mental health professional. Asking for help is a courageous first step towards wellness. Even though it is hard to see it now, there is hope and you can get better. If you are ready to take that first step toward wellness by starting therapy, please visit my website for more information on how to set up a first time consultation with me.

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