This guest article from Psych Central was written by Kate Thieda.
You may have noticed that people throw around the word “depressed” a lot. It’s largely become synonymous with “sad” or “feeling crappy for a while,” but for those who truly have depression, what they feel is far worse than just a few bad days strung together.
A client and I were having a discussion about what she felt were cyclical patterns in her mood, and how she knew she was depressed, versus just unhappy with her life. I really liked how she distinguished being “unhappy” versus being “depressed.”
She said, “When you are unhappy, things can make you feel better. When you are depressed, nothing makes you feel better.”
When I asked for more clarification, she said that in her experience, people who are unhappy can get in a better mood by doing enjoyable activities, being around others, and finding joy in little things. They may go back to not feeling well after the moment is over, but it is possible to experience a good mood.
In contrast, when people are depressed, my client said it doesn’t matter what the person does or anyone else tries to do for them–the depressed person’s mood is not going to improve.
I asked my client to tell me what she thought was helpful for people who love those with depression to know, as she had been trying to help a friend who also has depression and whose partner was not really “getting” what she was going through. Here’s what my client shared:
Medication and therapy for the person with depression are a must. In my client’s eyes, those two treatments are essential as a base for helping the person lift the cloud that depression puts over the mind and body. Only after those are in place can other things happen or changes be made to improve the person’s life.
Telling the person with depression to “change their thinking” is not helpful. She believes that a mind that is clouded by depression does not have the energy required to actively change the negative thoughts that come along with depression. As stated in the above point, getting appropriate medication on board first will help rebalance the brain so that work on the depressive thoughts can eventually happen.
Suggesting that making changes to diet and exercise alone will solve the problem is not enough. Yes, those are important as part of a comprehensive treatment approach, but telling your partner something like eliminating sugar or running five miles daily will solve all their problems is misguided and not adequate.