141. Fear Of Depression
Sadness and low mood are not automatically harbingers of doom.
One of the most common fears in our community is the fear of depression. Note that there is a difference between being in a depressed state, and being afraid that one might wind up in a depressed state. This fear is expressed so often that I wanted to take 700 words or so today to address it and clear a few things up. Knowing is not a cure, nor is it automatically protective, but having some facts in hand can be very helpful when addressing this fear.
First, nobody can ever guarantee you that you won’t experience depression. Life is mostly uncertain. While nobody wants to experience depression, the frantic attempt to guarantee that it won’t happen is pointless and will only have a negative impact on your mental health.
There are certainly good self-care and mental health practices that can help us remain resilient, psychologically flexible and, and more capable of navigating through difficult challenges including depression. But we can never be 100% sure that we can block depression or keep it from ever happening.
Depression is not a death sentence. Not by a long shot. In 2017 the World Health Organization estimated that 300 million adults worldwide experienced a depressive state at least once in the previous year. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance reports that approximately 17 million American adults will experience a depressive state in a given year. Depression is the second most common mental health issue in the US, behind anxiety disorders. Yet, we do not lose 300 million people to depression or suicide (the ultimate fear for many that fear depression) each year so the fact that depression is commonly and regularly treated is on clear display in these statistics. Experiencing depression does not automatically mean being depressed forever or becoming suicidal.
Sadness and low moods are not depression. Sadness is a normal, healthy, transient human emotion that we all experience regularly. Being sad does not indicate that you are on the way to depression. It is common in our community for people to remain on guard against any hint of “negative” emotions or lower mood in an effort to protect themselves against the onset of depression that they fear so much.
It’s OK to be sad. You are far better off to learn how to be sad in a healthy way rather than to find ways to block it, prevent it, or squash it because you are afraid that it might be the harbinger of something worse.
Thinking about depression does not equal depression. Being afraid that you might become depressed is not a signal that you are going to become depressed. Thoughts are not predictors of the future or hidden signs that something is wrong.
I am asked often how to handle the fear of depression. The best advice I can offer - and you should always defer to your medical team and mental health provider - is that if you are afraid that you might be depressed, or afraid that you are depressed now without knowing it, do your best to acknowledge those thoughts and move on with your day. Let reality show you that your thoughts are just thoughts. If reality shows you otherwise, you can deal with it then, but you will not solve this problem or help yourself by sitting passively and ruminating on the topic of depression.
Remember that anxiety can make you feel unmotivated, hopeless from time to time, and irritable. The fear and resulting restrictions that come with an anxiety disorder can disconnect you from old hobbies and interests. This can closely mimic the common signs of depression that you’ll see listed on the Internet, but this does not automatically mean that you are depressed. Again, do your best to remain aware that your fear of depression will magnify and distort things to a great degree. Anxiety disorders and depression are linked. That is true. But your anxious mind will turn that link into certain doom if you indulge it.
Finally, you are absolutely NOT alone in this fear. It’s one of the most common disturbing thoughts and fears among anxious people. Being afraid of depression does not mean you are broken or doomed to get worse or to never get better.
Josh Fletcher just did an episode of The Panic Pod covering the fear of depression, so you might want to check that out. It was a great episode.