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The Kind of Depression We Don't Talk About

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Most people affected by depression can vouch for the loneliness, isolation and alienation that often comes along with it. As our society slowly becomes more open and accepting towards discussing depression and other mental health conditions, it seems that depression is still viewed through a very narrow lens — a cookie-cutter idea that depression can only come from a direct source, or trigger—that situational depression is the only kind of depression.

Depression in and of itself is isolating — having little or no representation, however, makes it worse and fosters a very rigid idea of how depression can affect a person. It seems that almost all the media representations (or, at least, all the ones I’ve seen) — be they in a movie, book or TV show—occur as a direct result of a traumatic event, such as the loss of a partner or family member, a life-altering car crash or perhaps the loss of a job — which, for many people affected by depression, is the case.

But what about the depression that comes seemingly out of nowhere, for no reason? The kind that isn’t triggered by a traumatic event, and can’t be traced back to a certain source — the kind that wasn’t directly “caused” by anything? Depression that can’t be traced to a specific source is difficult both to deal with and to understand. The pain that comes from this “kind” of depression is unique — not only does one feel the emotions typically associated with the condition, like sadness, hopelessness, loneliness, exhaustion, low self-esteem — the list is endless — but one also must grapple with the ever-present “Why?” that accompanies depression that has no apparent cause.

One way this lack of discussion can be seen is through something as simple (or complex) as telling someone I have depression. Often when I attempt to open up about my struggles to others (who may not understand the condition), I am met with responses along the lines of, “Depression? Why are you depressed? You’re 17 years old, you have nothing to be depressed about.” These kinds of comments in themselves can be damaging to anyone who deals with depression, but the sting (and frequency of this kind of response) can often be particularly painful if you’re a young person, at an age when, according to many adults, I’m supposed to be enjoying the prime of my life. These sorts of responses are also dangerous for another reason: they put these same ideas at the forefront of mind of the person with depression: I am quickly consumed with thoughts like, “Well, why am I depressed? What do I have to be depressed about?” which can be incredibly damaging, and cause me to feel even more alienated. I begin to invalidate my own struggles without even realizing it. And, of course, these kind of responses only support the stigma around depression and other mental health conditions. Although these comments come from a place of ignorance and do not in any way invalidate what I am going through, they are a telling sign of how our society still views depression in a very cookie-cutter fashion.

For me, this type of interaction is incredibly personal. Recently, I was struck by an interaction that took place between my parents and I. My mother has always been incredibly understanding and supportive of my struggles with mental health. My father, on the other hand, has struggled to comprehend the fact that his teenage daughter, who, on the outside appears to be an ambitious, carefree and motivated young woman, could be dealing with depression. He often rejects the notion that I am, in fact, dealing with serious, debilitating depression; however, I know he means this with no malice and that this lack of understanding is a result of ignorance.

The exchange, which took place on a particularly bad mental health day, went a little something like this:

My father, sensing that I was not ‘OK’ asked, “What’s wrong?”

I, very bluntly, replied, “I’m depressed. That’s what’s wrong.”

To which he said, “Depressed? Why are you depressed? You have nothing to be depressed about.”

I struggled for the words to respond to this with, feeling small and defenseless. Sure, there are tons of small factors that contribute to my being depressed, but at the end of the day, I am simply unable to come out with a definite answer to the question, “Why are you depressed?”

My mother then spoke up, “She doesn’t need a ‘why.’ She is depressed.” This exchange has stayed in the forefront of my memory.

There is something so incredibly isolating about this kind of depression — something only those who are in similar scenarios can understand. It often seems as though the moment you accept you are dealing with depression, society begins to question your authority or credibility, and wants to discredit you simply because you’ve never experienced a life-altering trauma, and therefore, you have no reason to be depressed. Newsflash: There is no depression rulebook. It is hard enough for one to accept that they are battling any form of depression, but this process is hindered by stigmatized attitudes on the outside that easily infiltrate our own understanding of how depression affects us as individuals.

What I would most like others to understand is that I’m here. We’re here. It is OK to have depression and not have an exact “why.” It is OK; but it is excruciating to be depressed and have a near constant personal longing to know what has put you in so much pain. At this point, for me, it’s not just about not having the answer when other people are asking — it is far more painful to not have the answer when I am asking myself “why?” There is a feeling of emptiness that comes along with not knowing (and not knowing how to explain to others) what has caused your depression. There are so many people who struggle with the detrimental effects of this condition and didn’t knowingly experience a trigger event, and in no way does our lack of these experiences make our depression any less valid than those who have — that’s not to discredit those who have experienced situational depression — we’re all in this fight together.

It is time that we make ourselves seen and heard. The thought of opening up about depression — or any mental health condition, for that matter — can be daunting. However, it’s the only way we can start a discussion. “Talking about it” and coming forward with our struggles are the only ways we can raise awareness and de-stigmatize depression. Admittedly, it is incredibly frustrating to be open and honest about struggling with depression knowing that society has ingrained in us that we are obliged to have the answer to “Why?” However, it is important to realize we are not obliged to have a “why.” Nobody on the outside is entitled to that answer — especially when I, myself, don’t have that answer yet (and probably never will). Maybe you and I can’t explain “why” we’re depressed — what is so wrong with that?

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Unsplash photo via Sam Burriss

Originally published: January 3, 2018
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