Is It Your Fault That You're Depressed?

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If you struggle with depression, you may have encountered a friend or family member who insists that you'll feel better if you just got out of your room more often and tried to change your life.

It is very important for you to realize that depression is not your fault. Depression occurs because of an imbalance in important mood-regulating chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters. Just like a person with diabetes can not "try harder" to make their pancreas produce more insulin, a person with depression cannot will their brain to produce more neurotransmitters.

There are many misconceptions surrounding depression, but suggesting that it is a "choice" is particularly damaging. In a 2017 viral Twitter thread, comedian Andy Richter discussed his experiences with depression and criticized the notion that people who have depression can "overcome this if you just try hard enough." His comments struck a chord, with many people commenting that depression, just like other physical illnesses, is not a choice and cannot be cured by 'staying positive.'

When to Seek Help

For someone who does not suffer from clinical depression, a friend or family member's recommendation that you just do x, y, or z may actually be helpful. Those with mild or situational depression may be able to snap themselves out it by simply getting out more or making some easy changes in their lives. 

Research has found that lifestyle modifications such as exercise, diet changes, relaxation, sleep, and increased social interaction can have both a protective and alleviating effect on symptoms of depression. For milder symptoms or situation-related symptoms, making these kinds of lifestyle changes may be enough to help a person feel better.

It is also important to remember that making these lifestyle changes can be difficult for someone who is feeling depressed. It is hard to find the energy to exercise each day, for example, when you feel like you barely have the energy to get out of bed.

However, if you are feeling depressed or you no longer experience pleasure in things you once enjoyed and these feelings have been going on continually for more than two weeks, it is very possible that you will need to seek professional help to get yourself on an even keel again, especially if you have several other symptoms of depression, such as:

  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Problems with sleep
  • Tiredness or lack or energy
  • Feeling of guilt or worthlessness
  • Problems with thinking or concentration
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of depression. Call 911 or reach out the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 anytime to talk to a trained counselor and connect with mental health resources in your area.

What Can Help

One of the ways a mental health professional can help you is by prescribing medications called antidepressants. Antidepressants can alleviate depression by causing more of various neurotransmitters — such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine — to be available in the brain for use. Different antidepressants affect neurotransmitters in different ways, so certain antidepressants may be more effective than others for any given individual.

Another popular treatment option, either on its own or in combination with antidepressant medications, is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can be useful in helping depression because it teaches patients to recognize how their thoughts and behaviors may be contributing to their depression. When combined with medications, this may be the most effective approach to prevent a recurrence of depression.

How to Cope

Depression is not your fault and it is certainly not a choice. Evidence-based treatment options including medications and psychotherapy can be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression. There are also lifestyle modifications that you can make that can help you cope and provide some relief. Doing these things won't cure your depression, but they can complement your other treatments and perhaps make it easier to manage your symptoms.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Research has shown that there may be a connection between some nutritional deficiencies and depression, although it is not clear if one causes the other or vice versa. Try to get the daily recommended amounts of amino acids, minerals, fatty acids, and complex carbohydrates.
  • Try to get enough rest. Depression can lead to sleep disturbances, either sleeping too little or too much. Focus on establishing good sleep habits, such as going to bed at the same time each night, not using electronic devices before bed, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Try to exercise. It is often hard to find the motivation to exercise when you are depressed, but it may not take much to have an impact. Research has shown that regular moderate exercise can not only help prevent depression, it can also be an effective treatment. One study found that as little as one hour of exercise per week could help stave off symptoms of depression.

This does not suggest that if you had just eaten healthy, slept well, or gotten enough exercise that you could have prevented your depression. Depression is a complex condition that involves many variables and risk factors including your family history, unique genetic makeup, and brain chemistry, among other things.

Making lifestyle changes might help, but it isn't a cure-all and there is no single approach that is right for everyone.

What to Say

If you have a friend or loved one who is depressed, there are ways that you can offer support without blaming or shaming the individual for their condition.

  • Acknowledge their pain. Don't be dismissive of the symptoms of depression. Let the individual know that you recognize that what they are going through is very real and very hard, and then let them know that you are there to offer support.
  • Ask what you can do. Depression can make it hard to accomplish even basic daily tasks. Household duties like making dinner or doing the laundry can seem almost impossible. Even small things like bringing them dinner or picking up the dry cleaning can be helpful.
  • Don't offer cures or solutions. It might seem helpful to recommend solutions but in many cases, those "have you tried this" statements come off as non-empathetic at best or judgemental at worst.
  • Let them know that you care. Tell the person directly that they are important to you and that you value them. Depression can make people feel worthless, so finding social support is critical.

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes the guilt and feelings of worthlessness that go along with depression can make it very easy to blame ourselves for how we are feeling — especially if our friends and family are blaming us already — but this doesn't mean that it's your fault for feeling this way. Depression is a real illness just like any other and there are effective treatments that can help you feel better. You don't have to suffer in silence or feel guilty that you aren't trying hard enough to get well. Sometimes just making it through the day is the best that we can do when we are feeling depressed.

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