Don't diminish depression

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Last week, the Counseling and Mental Health Center hosted Suicide Prevention Week. In light of their efforts, I can’t help but think of my own inner demons.  It’s never easy, but I have to face it: I have major depressive disorder.

Before I was diagnosed, I had a very negative and incorrect perception of major depressive disorder. When I heard ‘depression,” I assumed somebody was throwing a pity party and just finding an excuse to be grumpy all the time. I thought of the celebrities with lives most people can only dream of, complaining about how depressed they were.  It was outrageous to me; they’re filthy rich, they’re famous, they’re successful. I was sure they were just whining for attention.

Then, when it was described as a mental illness, I drew even worse conclusions. I thought of psychopaths and weirdos and homeless men passed out drunk on the streets. So you can imagine my embarrassment when I was diagnosed with depression myself. Even now I worry that people will treat me differently or think less of me when they find out I suffer from it. So with all the stigma attached to depression, what exactly is it?

Major depressive disorder, commonly known as clinical depression, affects approximately 10 million people, or 3 percent of Americans.  I used to be among those who thought depression was a made-up problem and a scam for the pharmaceutical companies to raise profits.  I figured people were running to therapists because they were too cowardly to face their own problems, but then I learned the hard way that depression is very real.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, clinical depression is caused by an imbalance of two neurochemicals, serotonin and norepinephrine. The symptoms are not simply bad moods or sadness.  Yes, depression does induce sadness and negative moods, but it also slows and deadens your bodily functions and leads to insomnia. Your interest in life declines, and formerly enjoyable activities provide no satisfaction. It becomes difficult to think straight, and concentration is unattainable. Constant fatigue, without reason, without end, wears you down.  Food loses its taste. Anxiety never ceases. You’re wracked by recurring remorse and guilt, and everything feels like it’s your fault. 

But in my own experience, worst of all are the overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness.  Suicidal thoughts take over your mind, leaving you unable to function.
There were days that I was consumed by depression.  I remember one particularly beautiful day when I was not outside.  I was in my bed with the lights off.  Logically, I had absolutely no reason to be unhappy.  But emotionally, there was not a single drop of joy to be tasted. I was crippled, immobilized, unable to do anything at all — yet there was nothing I even wanted to do.  Everything sounded like a bad idea. I wondered if life was even worth living.

Thankfully, I’ve rediscovered how valuable life is.

Depression is a bitch.  There’s no other way to put it.  But I’ve survived days of total despair and desolation, so when a good day rolls around, I appreciate it in ways I never could have before my depression. The smallest things — a smile, a laugh — are more powerful than I could ever have imagined.

According to UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center, suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. Eighteen percent of undergraduates and 15 percent of graduate students have seriously considered suicide; 8 percent of undergrads and 5 percent of graduate students have actually attempted it. So to those of you struggling — you are not alone.  Don’t hesitate to get help.

We all face our own unique challenges. Those challenges can make life more difficult, but they also make us stronger. We all endure hard times, but I can only hope that we will learn from those experiences and see life for the gift that it is.

McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas.