Why you Should Never Argue With a Depressed Person

**Disclaimer: Everything mentioned in this article has been personally experienced by me**

I have a problem with the term ‘depressed’. It is universally misunderstood. People use it regularly to describe low mood, sadness, or feeling down.

Depression is not feeling sad. Depression is the loss of the ability to feel happy.

Depression is not feeling sad. Depression is the loss of the ability to feel happy. Click To Tweet

Ok, so the person stops laughing and smiling?

Nope. Losing the ability to feel happy is not the same as losing your sense of humour. A depressed person might still be able to laugh at things they find momentarily funny. This is not the same as a long-term sense of satisfaction, contentment, or the will to live.

The opposite of depression is not happiness. It’s the ability to feel anything that isn’t pain.

People who are not experiencing long-term depression or other mental illness do not want to die. Even if they are sick, disabled, or experiencing difficulties, they feel a desire to keep trying and are still able to feel joy over the good things in their lives.

Depressed people are physically incapable of feeling that joy. That usually leads to them feeling guilty, because there is always someone worse off who is able to ‘stay positive’. The depressed person can’t feel positive, so they logically conclude that they don’t have enough appreciation for their blessings. They start to believe that they are intrinsically bad and don’t deserve to live.

Depression is also not a solid state. It is usually a series of major depressive episodes. During these episodes, it is impossible to perceive joy, hope, or pleasure. The person may even lose the ability to feel love and therefore conclude that no one loves them, they love no one, and therefore the world would be better off without them.

This kind of pain is impossible to describe. A depressed person who attempts suicide is not doing it because they’ve given up or want to prove a point. The pain has become so intense that the only relief appears to be through death. I’ve seen it compared to someone stuck in a tall burning building. That person is never going to want to jump from a window, but when the heat and flames get too close, it becomes the only escape. The jump becomes the lesser of two evils.

 

 

The point I’m trying to make is, depression (although often caused by a series of life events, experiences, health conditions, and environmental factors) is not due to one’s current circumstances. It is an inability to perceive things the way a healthy person does. You can remind them of happy memories, but all they can remember is the dark side of those times. In fact, those memories may even convince them that things were always bad. They can’t experience the joy that was previously connected with those memories, so they fill in the blanks with emotions they CAN feel: pain or suffering.

Trying to convince the person that those memories were happy, or that their family really does love them is like telling someone who is colour-blind that what they are seeing is red, not grey. They just can’t perceive what you can. So, the depressed person concludes that the happiness they experienced before was just an illusion, the love they felt for their spouse was pretended, not real, and that they have never felt true happiness. Repeated efforts to remind them of how happy they used to be or to encourage them to focus on the positive is like telling someone who was born deaf to think about how it feels to hear. Those physical parts of their anatomy do not work. Those physical parts of the depressed person’s brain do not work, so the feelings and memories are inaccessible.

And that doesn’t even cover the total lack of energy. When nothing you do brings any kind of satisfaction, joy, or sense of completion, there is no internal motivation to continue doing it. Even when you push yourself to get up, shower, eat, go to work, every activity is completely overwhelming, like wading through quicksand that drags you down and suffocates you.

 

 

Despite all this, many depressed people are incredibly resilient, trying repeatedly to get help through various kinds of therapy and drug after drug. And believe me, experimenting with drugs is no fun at all. When you start a new drug, there are usually strong side effects in the beginning as your body adjusts, before you feel any benefit. Then you might feel a little more energetic and hopeful, but that’s when the long-term side effects kick in. If the side effects get to the point where they outweigh the benefits of the drug, or you are not experiencing any benefits, it’s time to try something new. Now you get to enjoy some lovely withdrawal symptoms for a few weeks until the old drug leaves your system and the new drug kicks in.

Then you do it all over again.

Even if the drug is effective, you have to monitor yourself constantly, because body chemistry changes, and therefore the drug could stop working for you. It’s not like a bacterial infection that will be eradicated if you target it with the correct antibiotics and complete your treatment. It’s diabetes. Chronic but treatable. The difference is, science knows how to manage diabetes. It doesn’t know how to manage depression. There is no grading system for depression – type 1, type 2, etc. – that tells you what or how much medication you will need and what therapy will work for you. It’s a lifetime of trial and error. It’s an insidious cancer that responds erratically to the various types of treatment and metastasizes without warning. You never go into remission, where all signs of the cancer disappear. All you can do is keep trying experimental treatments until (hopefully) the cancer stops growing and the symptoms are reduced.

There is no cure for depression. There isn’t even a treatment that is fully understood.

If you look up ‘how antibiotics work’, you’ll find something like the following definition:

“Antibiotics work by affecting things that bacterial cells have but human cells don’t. For example, human cells do not have cell walls, while many types of bacteria do. The antibiotic penicillin works by keeping a bacterium from building a cell wall.”

Source: learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/microbiome/antibiotics/

Simple. Makes sense, right?

 

But what do we find when we look up how antidepressants work?

“Antidepressants work by balancing chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotions.”

Source: https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/antidepressant-effects

 

Seems clear enough. You just have to get the right amount of neurotransmitters. So, sciency people, what is the right amount of neurotransmitters?

Um, no one knows.

Well, what if you just focus on the neurotransmitters that affect mood? Which ones do that?

Um, not sure. Maybe serotonin? Its been linked to mood balance, appetite, and motor, cognitive, and autonomic functions. And we’ve developed SSRIs for that.

Oh great, how do they work?

Eh, not sure, but they seem to primarily affect serotonin.

 

You see, no one knows exactly how antidepressants work. Or why they work on some people and not others. Or why they work at first and then suddenly stop working. Or what the long-term health risks are.

This is why many are opposed to using antidepressants. Just to be clear, I believe antidepressants are an integral part of managing depression, along with a form of cognitive behavioural or similar types of therapy, lifestyle changes (such as nutrition, exercise, sunshine, and self-care activities), and stress management. But it is important to understand that some people are unable to find or do not have access to medication that works for them. Remember that antidepressants are trial and error. Not everyone has success with them.

Another thing to consider about depression is that once it starts, the chances of you getting sick in other ways increases. I’ll explain this using the stress scale.

Back in 1967, Thomas Homes and Richard Rahe researched the link between stress and illness and created a stress scale which they creatively named the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. The scale has been re-tested since and remains valid. Here is a table they made to show the life change unit score assigned to each stressful event. The most stressful event is death of a spouse (100) and the least stressful event is a minor violation of the law (11).

 

Life event

Life change units

Death of a spouse

100

Divorce

73

Marital separation

65

Imprisonment

63

Death of a close family member

63

Personal injury or illness

53

Marriage

50

Dismissal from work

47

Marital reconciliation

45

Retirement

45

Change in health of family member

44

Pregnancy

40

Sexual difficulties

39

Gain a new family member

39

Business readjusment

39

Change in financial state

38

Change in frequency of arguments

35

Major mortgage

32

Foreclosure of mortgage or loan

30

Change in responsibilities at work

29

Child leaving home

29

Trouble with in-laws

29

Outstanding personal achievement

28

Spouse starts or stops work

26

Begin or end school

26

Change in living conditions

25

Revision of personal habits

24

Trouble with boss

23

Change in working hours or conditions

20

Change in residence

20

Change in schools

20

Change in recreation

19

Change in church activities

19

Change in social activities

18

Minor mortgage or loan

17

Change in sleeping habits

16

Change in number of family reunions

15

Change in eating habits

15

Vacation

13

Christmas

12

Minor violation of law

11

 

The scores are added up over the period of a year. A score of 300+ is high risk of illness. 150-299 is a moderate risk and a score of less than 150 is a slight risk of illness.

Let’s consider a year in the life of a newly diagnosed depressed person. Depression is a personal illness so that gives us 53. Both depression and the methods used to treat it affect one’s ability to work, so let’s assume trouble with the boss (23) and a change in working hours or conditions (20). This will likely cause a change in financial state (38) and, as money is at the root of most arguments, a change in the frequency of those (35). Financial problems may cause a change in living conditions (25). Sexual difficulties (39) are almost guaranteed with the use of antidepressants (or even without them as it is a common symptom of depression). Many doctors recommend a change in eating habits (15) and a revision of other personal habits (24) as a way to treat the problem. The loss of energy that comes from depression and regular change in sleeping habits (16), both as a result of the depression itself and the treatment of it, leads to reduced social activities (18). This would likely cause a change in the number of family reunions (15) and therefore, trouble with the in-laws (29).

Where does this leave us? A whopping 350 life change units. Extremely high risk of illness. And guess what? That brings us back to personal illness and another 53 points to start the next round.

 

But so few people understand. (I believe you cannot understand it until you experience it yourself.) The depressed person is isolated, misunderstood, facing pressure from everyone to get well, to go back to the way they were before.

That’s why the best thing you can do for someone battling depression is to show them (not just tell them) that you love them the way they are. That you don’t expect them to change or be that person you remember from before. That you will continue to love them no matter how bad things get, or how many times they experience a serious depressive episode, or how little they are able to do in their day to day life. Just keep showing up and don’t expect to ever see any improvement. It’s like someone who has lost a limb – it’s never coming back. But the person can learn to live their lives around that loss. A person with severe depression may never recover the health, abilities, or energy levels they lost when the illness set in. Telling them to keep trying to re-grow that limb is not constructive. Show them you love them without the limb.

 

 

Spread the Love

One Comment

Tell us what you think