The Problematic Way a Doctor Responded to My Depression

“Why are you depressed?” a doctor recently asked me after reviewing my med list.

I’ve been asked this question before, mostly by well-intentioned friends and family before offering me unsolicited advice about exercising more and to think positive thoughts. While it may be a standard question amongst medical professionals, there is never an easy answer.

“How much time do you have?” is usually met with sad eyes and a polite chuckle. But it’s my most truthful answer. More and more, I’m finding this question to be triggering.

It’s usually my first meeting with said doctor and as someone not quick to share, there is no way I’m going to spill my guts to a complete stranger during a 20-minute appointment. I’m not sure what they are expecting here.

As the question is still coming out of their mouth, the feelings of guilt and shame are already rising within me. What am I depressed about? Should I have an easy answer? They seem to expect one. How do I articulate my feelings in a succinct way so I don’t waste their time? And on goes the shame spiral….

After being asked this question over and over for years, it no longer catches me off-guard. My short answer is: life and genetics. I said this to the doctor and she said something back to me no medical professional has ever said back, “Well, you’re better off than billions of people in the world, so…” and she trailed off.

Tears immediately pierced my eyes. My mouth literally hung open. I’m rarely at a loss for words, and this was one of those times that words completely escaped me. We continued with the exam but the entire time I couldn’t forget her comment.

On a rational level, of course I understand her comment. But depression and anxiety are often not rational.

I cried silently in the Uber on the way home, tears rolling down behind my sunglasses. I immediately went to bed where I stayed for the rest of the evening and night until I had to go to work the next day. And to be honest, I was so ashamed by her comment that I didn’t even tell anyone about it until a few days later. My therapist asked me, “If you could, what would you say to her now?”

I thought about it for a second and said, “If I could simply choose to be better, I would. If I could choose to not feel pain and exhaustion so heavy that I have to lay in bed all day, I would. If I could stop the irrational social fears and anxieties that rendered me incapable to leave my apartment, I would. But that’s not how it works, and I would expect any person in the medical field to understand and be sensitive to this.”

How naive.

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