Just snap out of it

Dispelling myths about depression

Experts say depression affects people of all ages, sexes, races and walks of life, although it is more common in females, younger adults and people who are of mixed ethnicities. (Stock photo)

MARQUETTE — “There are other people who have it worse.” “Be more positive.” “It’s just an excuse.” “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” “You’re just too negative, appreciate the good in life.” “Just snap out of it.” “You’re not depressed, you’re just lazy.”

If you or someone you know, has dealt with depression or another mental illness, these phrases might sound familiar. You may have heard them from a friend, family member or co-worker, or even said them to yourself.

However, living with depression is hardly as simple as these phrases make it out to be, says Dr. Kevin McDowell, licensed clinical psychologist at UP Health System-Marquette.

McDowell spoke about the myths surrounding depression, signs and symptoms of depression, as well as treatment options at a “The Doc is In” program held at Peter White Public Library on May 9. It was part of the library’s “Your Mind Matters” series, as May is Mental Health Month.

While some may view depression as a choice or a sign of weakness, it is important to recognize that depression is neither — it’s a common, yet serious condition that is a diagnosable medical illness.

Depression is characterized by depressed mood and/or markedly diminished experiences of pleasure and may be accompanied by changes in weight or appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and/or psychomotor symptoms.

It’s more than just feeling sad, McDowell said.

“For it to be a clinical diagnosis, it has to interfere with your life in a significant way.” he said. “So that means problems with relationships, problems with work, problems with school.”

Diagnosing someone with depression isn’t about labeling them “crazy,” McDowell says, it’s to help the individual and professionals communicate about and understand the condition.

“It’s not to label people or look at them as crazy or sick, it’s to communicate to other providers and researchers exactly what this condition looks like and how to best treat it,” he said.

Depression affects people of all ages, sexes, races and walks of life, although it is more common in females, younger adults and people who are of mixed ethnicities, McDowell said.

In a recent study conducted in the western Upper Peninsula, 13 percent of residents experienced poor mental health on at least 14 days in the previous month and 22 percent reported a current or past diagnosis of depression, McDowell said.

“Twenty-two percent is a pretty big number, that’s two out of 10 … so a lot of people in the Upper Peninsula are struggling with depression,” he said.

In the U.P., many feel that their depression is not a significant problem because others may be dealing with situations that are perceived as worse than their own, McDowell explained.

“This is a very common tendency I notice specific to working with Yoopers. I didn’t hear this quite as much practicing down in Tampa in grad school, but this idea that people have it worse (is common) …. because in the U.P., people know what hardship is,” McDowell said. “People here struggle for food or struggle to stay warm, there’s a bit of survival instinct here. Where, if you’re not happy, well that’s okay, at least you have food on the table. But the reality is, if your neighbor is struggling more than you are, that doesn’t mean your depression or your sadness is any less real.”

This mentality, as well as fear, stigma surrounding mental illness and a lack of accessibility to affordable mental health services, can prevent many from seeking treatment for their depression, especially in rural areas like the Upper Peninsula.

Nationally, 37 percent of individuals diagnosed with depression don’t receive any kind of treatment at all.

McDowell said that many who have depression tend to believe that they can or should “just snap out of it,” making them hesitant to seek treatment — but it’s important to recognize that depression, just like a physical health issue, is not a choice and can be treated.

For those who do seek treatment for depression, there there are a variety of treatment options available for depression, including medication and therapy with a licensed individual.

McDowell outlined the various types of medications and therapeutic approaches for depression, as there are multiple approaches available and professionals can help people identify the appropriate treatment for them.

Some may find that medication or therapy alone may help, but others may feel a combination of medication and therapy is the most helpful approach for them.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and selective serotonin repute inhibitors are some of the most commonly used treatments, McDowell said.

McDowell said while many fear that taking medication for depression will change their personality or make them into a “zombie,” it’s not a likely outcome.

“Very rarely will depression medicine change someone’s personality. Generally what it does is make someone feel a little bit better,” he said.

Beyond medication and therapy, McDowell recommends physical activity, getting back to activities and hobbies that were formerly enjoyed, talking to supportive individuals, engaging in healthy sleeping and eating habits and spending time with pets and loved ones.

For those who know someone struggling with depression or mental illness, McDowell encourages them to mindful of the messages they may be sending to the person — listen to the person and avoid telling them to “just snap out of it.”

“When you have someone you know in your life, friend, family, neighbor, who is struggling, think about how you respond and what types of messages are helpful versus harmful and might push them away,” McDowell said.

For those who are seeking mental health care, McDowell recommends speaking to their physician or calling 211. For those in crisis, call 482-HELP (482-4357) or text 35NEEDS to reach a crisis line.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.