Recently, I hosted an Ask Me Anything session on AMAfeed to promote my blog. All the questions I got asked were crazy interesting and insightful, but there was one that really stuck with me. Someone asked why getting diagnosed with depression and being on depression medication is so common nowadays, and she wanted to know what causes this.
Photo: Unsplash via Sydney Sims
Well, for one thing, I think there’s a fundamental misinterpretation of the word “depression,” and what it means to get diagnosed with it. You can be depressed even if you don’t have the actual mental illness of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). You can seek therapy for symptoms of depression and still not really have MDD. You can even be on medication for depression and not have MDD. (I would also say that you could be diagnosed with MDD and not have it, because insurance forces clinicians to diagnose… but that’s a story for another day!)
Let me tell you what makes MDD different from the depression that many people are experiencing right now. Major Depressive Disorder is when you have the symptoms of depression that we are all familiar with, such as fatigue, increased tearfulness, and lack of motivation. However, the kicker is that these symptoms have no identifiable cause. This means that breakups or bereavement do not permit a diagnosis of MDD. Of course, these things do cause real pain that you can and should seek help for if you need it, but it’s not a mental disorder, and it should not be treated with medication. Those who benefit from medication are the people who have brains that are producing hormones for feelings that they have no logical reason to have. Since this is all happening internally, and there’s nothing in the environment that can be changed to cure the sadness, the hormones have to be balanced internally, in the form of medication. When the problem is outside of the person, it should be dealt with outside the person.
Photo: Unsplash via Eric Ward
So, does this mean that the person who asked me about this depression epidemic was wrong? Are we just over diagnosing depression, and people aren’t more sad after all?
I don’t believe that there’s a depression epidemic, but I do believe that our society is suffering from a sadness epidemic. The people on the news who are saying that depression is becoming more common are not wrong. They’re just not citing the reasons for the depression, which have to do with our society. Think of all the political unrest in America. Think of all the negativity surrounding us all the time. As my colleague would say, treating that problem with medication would be like treating strep throat with a cough drop. You’re covering up the big problem of the negativity in our society by just treating the symptoms. Plus, there is nothing inherently wrong with you for feeling sad over sad things. You shouldn’t have to change yourself because of that.
So, let’s empower ourselves. Let’s try to do the hard thing and focus on changing our society instead of changing ourselves to fit into a society that’s making us unhappy.
Nicole Locorriere is a 23-year-old graduate student in marriage and family therapy at Seton Hall University. She got her B.A. in psychology from West Chester University, and can't wait to move back there after graduation! Nicole also runs a blog called Uninspired, which focuses on mental health and other aspects of helping twenty-somethings transition smoothly into this whole "adulting" thing. When she's not helping couples and families work out their differences or conquering the blogosphere, you can find her substitute teaching.