Depression is a beast. It’s an illness so insidious that sometimes you don’t realize the scope of its life-threatening power until you’re drowning under its wave. It attacks your mind, body and soul by seizing your neurochemistry, weakening your neural pathways, distorting your thoughts, exhausting your body and leaving you emotionally vulnerable. And as depression rails against you, it challenges everything you know, trust and believe. It deceives and mangles in ways that makes depression one of the most lethal of mental illnesses[i]
I know this beast. I lived with it as a child and as a teenager. Its corrosive effects pitched me into a devastating depression and suicidal state that I barely escaped. I was lucky though. I got treatment, and emerged from my depression with a keen awareness of what damage it can do. What lies it tells.
Here are but a few of the big, stupid, destructive lies depression tells you.
1. “You’re not trying hard enough.” Depression will tell you that you are weak and lazy. It will con you into believing that you’re not medically ill ... and if you’d just only work harder at things, you’d feel better.
Truth: Depression is a very real illness that affects emotional, social, behavioral and physical health[ii]. Like cancer, heart disease or diabetes, you cannot will it away or readily snap out of it.
2. “You’re broken and unfixable.” Depression has a way of making you feel useless, worthless and utterly unlovable. When you’re depressed, you’ll believe that no one wants to hear about your sadness or troubles. You’ll be convinced you‘re undeserving of love, tenderness and attention from others. Depression will decimate your confidence and invalidate your sense of worth.
Truth: Research shows that negative thinking is the linchpin responsible for low self-esteem [iii]. So, learning how to use positive self-talk is vital to combat depression. Psychotherapy is a great way to retrain your mind-set. Treatments will help you ground yourself with realistic truths about who you are, the strengths and talents you possess, as well as owning your flaws and weaknesses. You can learn to love yourself - as well as allowing others to love you - not in spite of your depression, but with acceptance of it.
3. “Nothing matters.” Depression will coax you into believing people and things no longer hold value for you. Dread and apathy reign supreme where happiness and meaningfulness once ruled. You become less and less connected to things in your life. Depression crushes your world until it becomes a space of infinite emptiness. You don’t care anymore. You don’t try anymore. It’s all futile [iv].
Truth: Depression creates this helplessness by overriding your ability to control aspects of your life. Without direction and a sense of purpose, you slowly become powerless. Again, talk therapy offers ways to offset these self-defeating thoughts. It’ll take practice and patience, but when you change your thoughts, you change your world.
4.“Being alone is better.” Depression isolates. It wants you to believe that being alone is safer. That it’s more comfortable to dwell in a solitary place than be connected and supported with others.
Truth: Studies show that depression worsens when we cocoon ourselves from others[v]. You will likely have to really, really push yourself to be with others - or allow others to pull you out of the black hole of depression. But it will be worth it. Social attachment, interpersonal connections, even hugs and affectionate touch raise levels of oxytocin, a natural pain reliever and feel-good hormone. The truth is that being with others who support you and believe in your recovery exponentially reduces depressive symptoms.
5. “There's no hope.” Depression doesn’t want you to feel hope or believe that any real kind of change can take place. It will shrug off any motivating beliefs you have, squash suggestions from others, and debunk treatment as a way to get better.
Truth: Like helplessness, hopelessness is grounded in pessimistic thinking[vi]. The negative thoughts that exaggerate hopelessness often lead depressed individuals toward self-destructive thoughts. This is why seeking psychotherapy or medical attention is so important. And while you may not want to go to therapy (because you’ve lost all hope) you may find others “forcing” you to get help. In the short run, you'll be angry when others intervene, but in the long run, you'll thank them for caring so deeply for you.
6. “You'll never amount to anything.” Depression convinces you that even if you can feel better, you’ll never be or have anything of value. Depression will deform your positive beliefs and strike down your dreams. It'll leave you vacant. And depression decays any optimism for greater things.
Truth: Many who have struggled with depression can live full, productive lives. In fact, many high profile people, including President Abraham Lincoln, Writer J.K. Rowlings, Artist Michelangelo, Actor Harrison Ford, Choreographer Alvin Ailey, Actress Courteney Cox, Entrepreneur Richard Branson, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Rocker Bruce Springsteen and Baseballer Ken Griffey, Jr. have been very successful in their chosen professions[vii].
7. “Suicide is the way out.” Depression, at its worst, corrodes your ability to think and reason. It keeps your focus rigid, narrow and dangerously limited to believing that dying by suicide can relieve you from your emotional and physical pain.
Truth: Getting immediate intervention will diminish depression’s lethal hold on you. With psychotherapy and/or medication, your symptoms of depression will lessen[viii]. As you recover, you will likely be surprised that you ever thought of dying by suicide because possibility, promise and hope have emerged in your life again.
Depression is a serious, but treatable illness. Don’t let the lies depression tells you make you think it isn’t.
There is always help.
There is always hope.
[i] Coppen, A. (1994). Depression as a lethal disease. Prevention strategies. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 55:37-45.
[ii] Palazidou, E. (2012). The neurobiology of depression. British Medical Bulletin, 101(1):127-145.
[iii] Brown, G.W. et. al. (1990). Self esteem and depression. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 22(5):225-234.
[iv] Huesmann, L.R. (1978). Learned Helplessness as a Model of Depression. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
[v] Steger, M. & Kashdan, T. (2009). Depression and everyday social activity, belonging and well-being. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56(2): 289-300.
[vi] Beck, A. et. al. (1993). Hopelessness, depression. suicidal ideation and clinical diagnosis or depression. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 23(3):139-145.
[vii] Serani, D. (2011). Living with Depression. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
[viii] Mann, J. et. al. (2005). Suicide prevention strategies. A systematic review. Journal of the American Medical Association, 294(16):2064-2074
Dr. Deborah Serani is an award-winning author. Her books "Depression and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers" and "Living with Depression" are published by Rowman & Littlefield.