Despite the National Institute of Mental Health estimating that 17.3 million adults in the United States struggle with depression, some people fail to recognize it as a real illness.
Kassandra Crissman, a junior in pre-veterinary animal science at Louisiana State University, said both herself and her family failed to recognize her depression despite obvious signs for many years.
“I had a pretty much a mental break all day at school, and I cried all day. (My doctor) was like, ‘Are you sure you’re not depressed?’ and at the time I didn’t think I was,” Crissman said. “(My parents) kind of viewed it as me being lazy and not actually having a problem, at least a lot when I was younger.”
Kristina Khalid-Abasi, a junior in general studies, had a similar experience.
“I think my parents thought I was just like, being lazy or like I was just more stressed out from classes until I was finally diagnosed with it,” Khalid-Abasi said. “It even made me think that I was just being lazy.”
University of Louisiana at Lafayette psychology professor Theresa Wozencraft, Ph.D., said this is a common occurrence.
Wozencraft said depression often causes one to stop participating in “goal-directed activities” like going to class or doing homework, which may appear as though the depressed person is lazy.
“So people see people doing less of that sometimes people are thinking, ‘This is a willful choice,’” she said.
Wozencraft said this line of thinking was ridiculous.
“It’s like telling a diabetic, ‘If you just try hard enough you can make your pancreas behave itself and create the right amount of insulin.’ When you say it like that it sounds preposterous, right? But, you know, basically a depressed person is being told, ‘Snap out of it,’” she said.
Thankfully, UL Lafayette Psychology Professor Mike McDermott, Ph.D., said he believes this is changing.
“Things are changing; I think we’re more aware of the role of mental health in our lives and the potential impairment that can come from difficulties with mental health,” McDermott said.
According to McDermott and Wozencraft, one clear sign of depression is loss of interest in things that were once exciting.
There are varying levels of depression, and it’s often difficult to determine what the most effective method of treatment is. McDermott said counseling and medicine are almost equally effective, but those with severe depression may need both.
“They demonstrate around the same effectiveness as behavioral interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy and other types of psychological interventions, but there’s some evidence that combining the two for people who experienced really severe depression can be most effective. So it’s not just pharmacological interventions, not just behavioral, but sort of a combination of both,” McDermott said.
Those who do take medicine should be careful to taper off the drug with help from a doctor if they feel they no longer need it. Failing to do this often causes unpleasant side effects, but Wozencraft said many patients ignore this advice.
“Family physicians have problems with people stopping their antibiotics, once they start to feel better before they’ve taken the full course in psychology, it’s people prematurely stopping their antidepressant,” Wozencraft said.
“When most people stop, they don’t withdraw from the medication in the gradual way that’s recommended,” she continued. “The gradual method reduces unpleasant effects of sudden termination of the medication. And who knows, maybe that has some impact on how the neuroregulation in your brain is going to reassume itself. Maybe suddenly your brain is like, ‘Whoa, what just happened?’”
Wozencraft and McDermott said someone who thinks they might be depressed should go see a counselor.
“I think the first step would be to just contact the counseling center over at Counseling and Testing, and then make an appointment to go speak with somebody,” McDermott said.