Ashley Hutchinson, Special to Valley News
As a therapist, I hear the following phrase quite often, “I had no idea I was depressed. How did I get to this point?”
The patients I work with find themselves in a state of shock or embarrassment that they did not recognize the severity of their depression by the time they need a more intensive level of mental health care. Many believe that depression is a one size fits all set of symptoms or that depression is a deeply ingrained mopey disposition.
These are profoundly dangerous myths that prevent numerous Americans from seeking professional help. Depression has absolutely nothing to do with one’s character. Depression is a very complex issue that has multiple features that far too often are glanced over or misunderstood due to the stigma that comes along with a mental health diagnosis.
Some of the less commonly recognized signs of depression include slower physical movement, flat or monotone speech, restlessness, difficulties concentrating, physical pain and even an increase in energy in certain cases.
“An increase in energy? Huh, what are you talking about Ashley?” they ask me.
Most people equate depression with a lack of energy and increased sleep, however, some who struggle with severe forms of depression will find themselves more energetic once they have made a decision about potentially harming themselves as a way to end the pain once and for all.
Many may even hide depression by being on the go and “doing all the things” to shove their feelings, push aside the pain and attempt to ignore that the depression’s fog is lingering over their heads. Depression is a nasty liar that deceives the depressed into believing that they do not deserve connection with others, that they are unworthy of being loved and that the depressed person would not be missed if they were gone.
Depression can be caused by a plethora of factors including, but not limited to, genetic predisposition, trauma, biological, social or psychological factors, hormonal imbalances and changes within the brain. Does society shame the cancer patient for receiving chemotherapy treatment? How about the juvenile diabetic patient on an insulin pump? What about the patient with a thyroid disorder?
It is time for society to collectively accept that depression is a public health crisis in the United States. In depression’s most severe forms, suicide is seen as the final answer to ending one’s pain and suffering.
The World Health Organization estimated that around the world, over 264 million people meet the criteria for a depression diagnosis. That statistic merely covers known people grappling with depression, it does not include people who have never been formally screened for a potential depression diagnosis. The statistic would likely be much higher than 264 million people if depression screening was part of routine preventative health care across the globe. For more information, visit https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression.
As the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention said in their public health campaigns, “Let us live in a world without suicide.”
I pray that one day I will no longer have to imagine a world without suicide, but rather, that I would live and exist in a world without suicide. If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, please reach out. You are not alone, and the world would not be better off without you. If this is the only thing that you read today, let it be my following words. I need you to hang on to hope. I may not know you, but your loss would become my loss. Your life has value, worth and meaning. You had better believe it.
This article is not a replacement for mental health care treatment. If you are currently experiencing a mental health care crisis, call 911 or get to your closest emergency room.
Ashley Hutchinson is a Temecula Valley clinical therapist, social worker and an alumna of the Loma Linda University School of Behavioral Health.