Monday, October 01, 2018

What depression and loneliness actually feel like

Like anxiety (which I have also written about recently), depression seems to be ubiquitous these days, especially among younger people and creative types, and it is another aspect of mental health that is widely misunderstood. My graduate daughter's experience has opened my eyes a little, but I still wouldn't claim to completely understand it. A Guardian article from a few years ago comes, at least for me, the closest to explaining what depression really feels like.
Clinical depression is not just sadness, unhappiness or loneliness; neither is it malingering or just bad behaviour. It can cause forgetfulness, confusion, disorientation, fear and panic, symptoms more usually associated with conditions like Alzheimer's. It creates a feeling of connecting only tenuously with reality. Every minute is suffused with feeling of self-pity, guilt, apathy, pessimism, shame, even narcissism - all thoroughly unpleasant, unsympathetic and entirely negative emotions. It can also have a very physical effect: clumsiness, accident-proneness, dog-tiredness, a feeling of walking through syrup. And, perhaps worst of all, the person experiencing a depressive interlude is usually completely aware of what is happening, and completely unable to do anything about it. Those on medications may be too depressed and apathetic to take the very meds that might help them through it.
From the outside, though, the person looks perfectly normal, of course, which makes it so much harder for people to relate to. Depressives may appear to be, and may actually be, for much of the time, well adjusted, open and friendly people, entirely unremarkable in most respects, except that that they carry around this dark secret, like a werewolf, but less predictable. Something like 2.5% (1 in 40) of people are prone to it, and these people are more likely to be young than old, even though in most people's perception it is a complaint of old age. The silver lining is that many, although by no means all, of these people will leave it behind them at some unspecified point.
Another more recent article on the BBC about loneliness, a common trigger of depression, and also most common among younger people in the 16-24 range, also does a good job of explaining to those who are not prone to it what it actually feels like. The article also gives some ideas, some more effective and practical than others, about how people deal with it.
I'm not writing a homily here, and I don't have any silver bullet solutions for anyone. But all I ask is that, if you hear that a friend or a relative is depressed, don't just roll your eyes and mutter something about getting over it. A bit of empathy goes a long way..

No comments: