Most of us have seen the TV commercials that show depressed people sitting alone in dark rooms while their friends, family, spouses, children and pets try to interest them in joining an activity. Failing, they wander away, looking sad and disappointed.
The message seems clear: when people are depressed they isolate themselves from the people and activities that previously gave them pleasure. And at the end of the commercial the depressed person has presumably taken the advertised medication and is out and about, doing activities with other people, smiling and having a good time.
It’s a compelling picture, but it’s only a part of the picture.
In addition to isolating a sufferer, depression also results in people having difficulty concentrating, completing tasks and making decisions, so work, chores, and listening may be adversely affected. Some people become frustrated easily and are irritable, leading to others avoiding them.
Sleep is often affected as is appetite, too much or too little. When a person doesn’t sleep, they are tired and irritable. When they sleep too much they miss out on activities – and when they wake up they don’t feel refreshed. Eating too much leads to weight gain, leads to feeling unattractive, leads to isolating….you get the picture. Inadequate nutrition triggers fatigue. All of these can can make a person more susceptible to illness.
It is understandable that a person may feel and act depressed due to situational stressors; divorce, death of a loved one, job loss, dealing with chronic illness or pain, financial problems, legal problems, a big move or other huge adjustment, etc. These stressors tend to be adjusted to over time, and the depression lifts. But when depression is long term and chronic, what are the effects on that person’s life? Depression can begin so early in life and go on for so long that the sufferer has no memory of ever feeling different and just accepts that this is their natural state of being. They may not realize that it is a mood disorder that can be treated.
One of the most profound results of long term depression may be the effect on the children of a depressed parent. From the experience of an infant who is being primarily cared for by a parent with post-partum depression to the ways in which a child is unable to engage with a caretaker who is sad and isolated, or irritable and distracted, the effects are far reaching. A child can internalize that experience as “there’s something unlovable about me”, not having any way to know or realize that the caretaker/parent is suffering from a disorder.
In intimate partner relationships, depression left untreated can set up long term dysfunctional dynamics that are more likely to be successfully changed if dealt with professionally, sooner rather than later. Spouses or partners feel unwanted, frustrated, alone. They grieve the loss of their loved one’s companionship and attention. Sex gets lost.
And of course, worst of all may be despair and thoughts of suicide.
If someone you care about seems to be suffering from depression, you can kindly encourage them to get help. Help can include medication but doesn’t have to. That choice is always up to the person being treated.
Read more about depression on this website, and feel free to contact me with questions. It’s an important issue!