Compassion is the best medication

Maria Rovito
Managing Editor

It’s no secret that there is a stigma surrounding mental illnesses. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 25 percent of people with psychological issues feel that other people are understanding and sympathetic towards them. This is a disturbing statistic, considering that about one in four people have dealt with some sort of mental illness in his or her lifetime.

Especially concerning these wintry days in which we can only get about eight hours of sunlight (but cannot even stay outside that long because of the sub-zero temperatures), depression is rearing its ugly head for many individuals lately. It is important for everyone, whether suffering from depression or not, to understand the misconceptions surrounding the illness that many believe to be true.

For the 350 million people worldwide who suffer from this mental illness, depression can cause mental and emotional pain along with physical suffering. It can cause individuals to function poorly at work and school, a withdrawal from social relationships and ultimately a complete “shutting down” of the body.

Although this illness causes difficulties in communication, loved ones must understand that a depressed person simply cannot “snap out of it” or “get over it.”

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“When loved ones don’t understand what’s happening, their responses are ‘suck it up’ and ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself,'” Dr. John F. Greden, the executive director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center, tells The Huffington Post. “It’s not understood that these are underlying illnesses and chemical abnormalities, so what they’ll do is use these phrases. These comments are probably one of the worst irritations.”

Another misconception that harms people with depression is when others confuse sadness with depression. It’s okay to feel sad at times; if a loved one passes away, if a relationship just ended, if someone just lost a job—all these instances naturally arouse temporary sadness for individuals. People who experience this temporary sadness, however, must not call it depression because it belittles those who are actually trying to live with this illness everyday.

“People throw around the word ‘depressed’ a lot,” David Kaplan, Ph.D., chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association, stresses. “Depression is a clinical term—and a lot of times when people say they’re depressed, they really mean sad. The words that we use are very powerful and it’s important to make that distinction.”

What people need to understand is that depression is just as much of a physical illness compared to diabetes and the flu. For those suffering with it, it is extremely difficult to open up and talk about what he or she is experiencing. Society and loved ones need to be more educated on the signs and symptoms of depression, what causes it and what we can do as a society to help.