Building a Better Bloke

Depression: what it isn’t

Posted in Depression by Sam de Brito on October 7, 2009

By David Delaney

I’m talking from personal experience here, and I’m talking about major clinical depression.

You can find definitions and descriptions elsewhere: this is a guide to common mistakes people make when dealing with seriously depressed people.

“A case of the sads”

Everyone has those. Clinical depression is not like that. It’s an illness, and it can be fatal. It can cripple a person just as much as any other serious disease while being invisible to the naked eye. A person can look perfectly normal, and behave in a perfectly normal way most of the time, and still be just as disabled as a person who has a disease you do understand. Take it from me, and take it from doctors and scientists who have spent their lives studying it: it’s real, it’s serious, and it can cripple a person …

“All in the mind”

Well, what isn’t? If your senses tell you something is happening, it is. You have to deal with reality as it is. In a depressive episode, nobody is imagining things, the difference is in the intensity of the reaction. Something that a non-depressed person can laugh off, or not even notice, can torture a depressed person.

“A competition”

I don’t care what you’ve been through and how you got out of it. Unless you’ve been diagnosed with major depression, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Telling your story about how you triumphed over being down in the dumps is not inspirational. All it does is make a depressed person feel worse. More like a failure. More like a waste of everyone’s time and effort. Potentially more suicidal than if you just shut the hell up about how great you are.

“An argument”

You can’t prove to a depressed person that they’re wrong: they’re not wrong. Their reality isn’t different, it’s their reaction to reality. A person’s emotions are not right or wrong, they just are. Arguing about whether someone has a “right” to feel the way they do doesn’t help. They do feel bad, whether you think they ought to or not.

“About you”

It isn’t. You can contribute to it, but it’s an illness, not a reaction. Don’t take it personally. The worst thing you can do is lay a guilt trip on depressed person. Just be kind and supportive. If you can’t do that, be honest and say you can’t. Don’t turn it into an attack on them for doing this to you. Because it isn’t about you.

“An identity”

My name is Dave Delaney, not Depression. I am a lot of things, not just a syndrome. It can be hard, even for me, to know exactly where the illness ends and my personality begins, but there’s plenty of personality that isn’t bad company at all. Most people with depression don’t wallow in misery all of the time, and no one chooses to be depressed. Most of the time, I’m fun – but you have to take the rough with the smooth.

Dave Delaney is a freelance writer based in Melbourne.


15 Responses

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  1. I'm a small guy said, on October 9, 2009 at 2:42 am

    Your point about the altered reality of depressed people is good and not something you hear mentioned often.

  2. e1 said, on October 9, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Good article.

  3. Trueblueoz said, on October 9, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Great article, I too have had some experiences with the black dog. Am currently on medication as everytime I try to go off of it I lose the plot big-time. What a lot of people don’t realise is that it effects every part of your life not only your mind. Before becoming affected by severe depression I would always think just get over it, tomorrow is another day. How very wrong I was, when affected you can’t get over it, it affects every part of your life mentally and physically. Not only do you feel down but you have no energy or motivation to fix it. It is truly scary how hopeless your once somewhat normal life, can now seem so out of control. It truly is the most challenging thing I have had to tackle and still have to deal with everyday. Thank goodness I have medication to help the chemical imbalance in my brain. I truly feel for anyone suffering major depression and hope that people give them the support and understanding to get through what is a most horrific experience.

  4. gkee said, on October 10, 2009 at 4:13 am

    I’m trying to work out my negative reaction to this article, and I think it’s the abdication of any responsibility that gets to me. Saying “It can be hard, even for me, to know exactly where the illness ends and my personality begins”, making out like this is some external monster that has attacked you – this is your personality, at least a part of it. Yes I agree that, as Trueblueoz said above me, it affects every part of your life and when it hits you have no energy or motivation to fix it. Yes it’s important to be able to ask for help, and I don’t think you can just get over it on your own. Medication and psychologists can help you. But at the end of the day, it’s your choice, your problem, you are the only one who can decide to solve it, get the help to do the things you need to do, and start to feel better. Your last paragraph seems to imply that you want people to take you the way you are – but if you’re just accepting it as something inevitable, if you’re not fighting it, if you’re not trying to change anything, then I don’t really want to know you.

    I hope that doesn’t sound harsh – and it probably says more about me, and my severely depressed ex-girlfriend, than about you – but there ya go.

    • crabby said, on October 10, 2009 at 7:59 am

      gkee, this does sound harsh. “if you are not… if you are not…, then I don’t really want to know you.” Newsflash, “Imperfect” people (aka not perfect like you) have things to offer too… not worth fighting over. Perfect people, you go to this side, imperfect people to the other – “never the twain shall meet” and we will all live happily ever after.

    • Rob said, on October 21, 2009 at 12:06 pm

      gkee – you’re assertion that you need to stand up and decide to do something for yourself and to seek help is typical of someone that has not experienced depression and in fact is how I used to think about it, until I experienced a period of depression myself. It’s incredibly difficult to understand just how paralysing the whole thing can be until you go through it yourself. I’m a pretty normal bloke with a good career, great social network and girlfriend, but here I was unable to make a single decision about anything in a day. and I mean sitting on the couch unable to decide wether to have a cup of tea or not. walking around a supermarket for an hour unable to decide what to buy – after half a day in the house trying to figure out if I should go to the supermarket in the first place. Or, on a really bad day, still being in bed at 5 in the afternoon. It’s probably only when we as a community start to acknowledge that depression is something that can hit anyone at anytime and is something that can’t be overcome just by positive thinking or ‘taking responsibility’ alone that it will be easier for someone suffering from depression to seek the help they need.

  5. Delaney said, on October 12, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    gkee – I wasn’t abdicating responsibility for my condition or anything else.

    Any chronic condition, mental or physical, is CHRONIC. Which means it isn’t going to get better. There is no cure. The best anyone can do is to learn to cope with the inevitable return of bad times.

    I’m going to be dealing with episodes of depression for the rest of my life. Knowing that, being prepared for it, and doing as much as I can to prevent that from messing up other people’s lives is a lot more responsible than pretending everything’s fine and being shocked and amazed when the chronic condition flares up again.

    Trust me on this, I spent a hell of a long time in denial about it, and facing it with honesty and without wishful thinking is… well, I feel that I had to grow up a lot to get to the point where I can even start being honest with myself and with others about it.

    Not all problems have solutions. Some problems, the best you can do is get used to reality and work around them. It seems to me that trying to get on with your life is better than wishing for a magical cure.

  6. The Weatherman said, on October 14, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Like Dave, I’m going to have to live with depression for the rest of my life. When i say live, what I mean is manage it, like someone who has a physical condition such as asthma would manage their condition – awarness of symptoms, correct medication. I have a chemical imbalance, pure and simple, but years of coping with what I now know to be depressive episodes has also lead to cognitive (if that’s the right word) issues. For me inparticular, that was developing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Medication combined with cognitave behaviour therapy has pretty much resolved my OCD. However, I never had properly dealt with depression. Coming off a particularly bad episode 2 years ago where I became suicidal, I’m pretty much on the mend. I’m getting the help I need. My depression wasn’t recognised until I was 40, but it’s been happening since I was 15. Of course, at that age, you’re a moody teenager. As you get older, you know something is wrong, but hey, everything’s ok isn’t it, you have nothing to worry about? How could you be depressed? As trueblueoz says, you just say to yourself ‘get over it’ I think this is the denial Dave is referring to -you don’t want to believe this is happening. And all the time you are in a downward spiral.

  7. crabby said, on October 15, 2009 at 4:48 am

    Well said The Weatherman.

    Part of growing up is the self-awareness to manage our conditions. Let’s face it, we all have conditions. It’s the media that tries to convince us that happiness/perfection is not having these conditions. Perfection though is two imperfects making a whole. Acceptance and recognition that we have the freedom to be imperfect… not to accept that imperfection, but to manage it and be the best we can be despite the imperfection(s).

  8. gkee said, on October 15, 2009 at 8:48 pm


    Maybe you could write an article about what you do to manage it, and things you do to mitigate the effect on other people? And anything that we CAN usefully do as friends / partners / passers by? How do you deal with the knowledge that this is chronic, that it’s never going away, and still get out of bed in the morning? Anything that would help us “perfect” people (thanks crabby, but I sure as hell ain’t) to understand, to be helpful, to point our less-sorted-out depressive friends to and say look, this guy has been there and here are some positive steps you can take, not to “heal” you but to help you manage. Because the worst thing as a friend or partner of a depressed person is that feeling of helplessness.

    • Delaney said, on October 18, 2009 at 12:54 pm

      That’s a good suggestion, I’ll take you up on that. I’m doing a few things right at the moment, but I should be able to come up with something before too long.

  9. Kenny said, on October 19, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Dave’s right when he highlights that your emotions are as real as the events that precede them. I think you have to recognise that the reality of the situation is out of whack with the reality of yoru emotions and take responsibility for your emotions (which you can change) and work on them. You can do it with drugs, with a lot of thinking (eg. cognitive therapy), or you can do it with acts and deeds (eg. gym, painting, even housework).

    I think manaing depression is about learning how to overcome/manage the way your emotions may negatively affect your life. It’s a life skill, not about “curing” a condition or illness. That is my only problem with categorising depression as an illness, it tastes of pharmaceutical company propaganda. But I recognise that depression-as-an-illness is important to educate people about its severity and for that reason alone, I think the exercise is worthwhile.

  10. SJ said, on October 25, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Amazing article mate.

    I’ve dated two girls who had depression, and it can be so confusing and taxing on both of you trying to “get to them” or “make them better”. The advice in this article, all of this article, is the best there is : unless you have felt the lows that someone with depression has, you cannot possibly understand what they are feeling.
    I know I don’t/didn’t, but its advice like this that certainly helps.

  11. Andy said, on October 27, 2009 at 12:42 am

    I get the same negative feeling towards this article as gkee, yet I realise we both have one thing in common – being hurt by someone depressed.

    I guess we just wish they could make it go away. Furthermore we think they should be able to, because to those of us on the outside it all seems so simple.

  12. The Weatherman said, on October 27, 2009 at 9:29 am

    One way to look at it from the depressed persons point of view is that their problems are like a piece of tangled string. At first, it looks easy to undo. Then you start, make some progress, then get to a bit that seems like you can’t work out how to undo it. Bit more work, you undo that particular knot, and you move on. Along the way you keep coming up against the knots and even more tangled bits, but you keep working. In time, you untangle the string. The issue though is that for some this process can take months, for others it can be years.

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