You have likely heard of Major Depressive Disorder, commonly referred to as simply “depression,” and have a generic understanding of what it means to be “depressed,” severe sadness, non-stop crying, lying in the bed all day with the curtains drawn, unable to function, in need of medication, etc. However, what if I told you that depression exists on a spectrum and that not all depressive states look equally dismal or fit the commonly used description?
When it comes to depression one size does not fit all and more than likely at some point in your life, you too have been “depressed.” While clinical depression (Major Depressive Disorder) is defined and diagnosed by specific measurements; functional depression typically goes undiagnosed because the individual appears to be operating as normal. Right now, someone that you know, possibly you, is currently suffering in silence, too afraid or ashamed to admit how they truly feel to their loved ones. On the surface they appear to be living life as usual, successful in their careers, maintaining social interaction and from the outside looking in life looks pretty good. How does one admit that amidst their seemingly perfect life they are sad or struggling with defeating thoughts? Too often they simply don’t.
Various studies suggest that depression affects 1 in 20 people on average; but as a licensed therapist I treat depressed individuals on a daily basis and believe the numbers to be drastically higher than reported. Symptoms are often overlooked or mistaken, even by those experiencing the depressive state of mind themselves. It is because symptoms vary in severity that many are shocked to discover that their loved ones were suffering at all. Too often a discovery of depression only takes place after an emotional break down, suicide attempt or unfortunate completion. Friends and family are left scrambling for missing pieces, wondering what they missed and how long their loved one suffered in silence.
Depression is a silent monster that haunts individuals within and masks the inflicted pain with daily operation and seemingly normal behavior. Just because an individual goes to work daily, attends happy hour with friends and presents regularly to Sunday morning service, does not mean that they are not battling with inner turmoil or self doubt. People with functioning depression are merely doing what needs to be done to put food on the table, meanwhile their hearts are heavy and their burdens go unresolved.
Due to the personal nature of symptoms associated with depression it is common for individuals to hide these symptoms from others and deny them within themselves.
Often overlooked symptoms include:
We typically ask friends and co-workers “How are you?” but rarely ask them how did they rest or if they are eating regularly. It is considered invasive and rude to inquire about certain personal affects; we miss the subtle symptoms because they are typically so personal in nature that a functionally depressed person can easily keep them to themselves. Unless we are asking the right questions or looking for the less blatant signs, functional depression thrives.
People suffer out of shame due to the belief that any form of depression is a sign of weakness or an inability to deal with life. Most individuals would rather suffer alone than to admit that their lives are currently less than favorable, especially when life seems so perfect from the outside looking in. The irony of masking functional depression is that although the individual is actively trying to keep their emotional state hidden, when their sadness is not readily observed by those closest to them they can begin to feel unnoticed, misunderstood or unseen and ultimately their sadness increases as a result of their silence.
Imagine feeling as if you are covered in gray and blanketed in a state of unsurmountable doom-yet those that interact with you daily are clueless. Imagine how it must feel to not be emotionally seen by those that physically see you everyday and then imagine how lonely it must be to go unnoticed in a crowd full of those who are supposed to care. This is the state of emotion that so many people live in; this false state of joy and pretend world of peace that is actually a state of depression.
Therapy Can Help
Seeking professional mental health treatment is often seen as the last resort; the fear of being judged, stereotyped or having to share your personal feelings with a stranger makes the decision to seek therapy an extremely difficult one for many people.
Lets first discuss the various types of professionals that are available to help:
Licensed Therapists / Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC): Individuals that hold a Masters degree in counseling and have completed coursework specific to providing therapeutic services. Therapy is offered on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis depending on your need.
Psychologists: Individuals that hold a Doctorate degree within the field of psychology. They are commonly researchers and professors, though they also provide counseling and testing services.
Psychiatrists: Individuals that hold a Medical degree in psychology. They are trained in psychological medicine and capable of prescribing medications for specific mental health disorders.
Though medication can be useful when battling major depression, it is not always necessary when dealing with functional depression. The key to relieving depression is to first identify the root cause of the problem; a process that is most likely to happen during talk therapy with a professional and not via a magic pill.
If you or someone that you know are experiencing symptoms of depression, help is available! One of the first things to do is acknowledge the change in behavior. Secondly, seek consultation from a mental health professional in your community. There are help lines and support groups nationwide available to assist, familiarize yourself with local resources and share them with those you love.
Therapy is an effective method to deal with inner turmoil and though the process of counseling might be uncomfortable and unfamiliar, it can also be empowering and offer genuine relief. Once one has regained control of their life and rediscovered peace through insight and awareness, they are likely to discover that the journey of therapy was worth every bit of the discomfort.
Alisha Woodall, MA, LPC-S
Finding the Foundation
Alisha Woodall, MA, LPC-S
5050 Quorum #700
Facebook: Finding The Foundation
LinkedIn: Alisha Woodall, LPC
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression please reach out for professional assistance.
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