Here’s What People Get Wrong About Depression
By Mariah Matarazzo
National Depression Awareness Month was in October, but it is critical that we all talk openly about it all year. It’s an issue that touches so many lives: more than 17 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. I know because I am one of them.
I’m lucky to be in recovery from my depression, thanks to a non-drug treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy. But I know firsthand how completely alone this illness can make people feel. My experience is the reason I want to help others like me.
I have learned a great deal on my journey, and my hope is that providing my perspective on depression will inspire conversations on the topic. There are a lot of myths surrounding depression, and through conversation, we can dispel them, and improve the lives of those who face this illness.
Myth: “People with depression aren’t ‘normal’”
Depression is way more common than people realize. Every day, people around us are struggling with depression, often silently. Many people believe that someone who is depressed is “crazy” or “not normal.” Society likes to throw around these types of labels, but I’d like to challenge us to define what “normal” is.
Having depression, or any mental illness, does not make you abnormal or any less of a person. The disease does not discriminate, and it affects people in different ways. Talking openly about mental health and de-stigmatizing the topic is the first step to bringing hope to those who are struggling and making them realize that mental illness is way more “normal” and common than they might think. That’s why I take the opportunity to share my story very seriously.
Speaking up takes courage, but it also gives others the opportunity to be there for us and support us. It took time for me to wrap my head around what I was going through when I was first experiencing my depression symptoms. But my journey really took a turn for the better once I decided to open up to my parents about how I was feeling.
They soon became my biggest supporters. They were there for me, sharing their love and encouraging me through every twist and turn, reminding me that they believed in me and my treatment plan. Making the decision to talk with them about how “not normal” I was feeling marked a major milestone for me.
Myth: “Depression is only triggered after a sad or traumatic event”
Depression is not always caused by one particular event or one trigger. I showed symptoms of depression at a very young age. I thought that feeling (or lack of feeling) was just a part of life I had to learn to live with. I didn’t really know anything else. While specific experiences I encountered certainly contributed to my symptoms and made my depression worse, the underlying illness was always there.
Depression is not a situational disorder; it’s a clinical and chronic illness. It impacts the brain and affects how you think, feel and act. It is not something you can wish away with positive thoughts, affirmations or with a little bit of sunshine. Trust me, I tried. It doesn’t just show up alongside a particularly awful time in your life and then leave when that event is over either.
Depression is much more than just a mood or a feeling. It is a disorder that medically affects your brain’s ability to work properly, in a similar way to how Alzheimer’s affects memory. Once I fully understood this, I spent a lot of time educating my parents and loved ones. Once we all understood my illness, addressing it head-on as a team became much more possible.
Myth: “Antidepressants and counseling work for everyone”
When I first started treatments with antidepressants and counseling, I thought they would work for me. They didn’t. There is a misunderstanding that antidepressants and talk therapy work for everyone with depression, but treatment is not one size fits all.
I was determined to find something that would work for me. My parents and I explored other treatment options, which is how I came across TMS therapy. After my doctor suggested it as a possible treatment path, I educated myself and my family on what it was, how it works and how it differs from other methods. I quickly learned it has been FDA-cleared for more than a decade as a non-drug, non-invasive treatment that uses magnetic pulses to target areas of the brain that are underactive in depression.
I was skeptical about it, but I knew I had to try. And I’m so glad I did. I credit TMS for giving me my life back. Since receiving the treatment, I am now in recovery from depression. I am excitedly and passionately pursuing a career in mental health in the hopes that I can help people like me. I have a unique perspective now being on the other side of this illness. My hope is that my experience will allow me to connect with people on a deeper level and serve as a light for them when they feel like they are alone and surrounded by darkness.
In honor of National Depression Awareness Month, I encourage you to have a conversation with your loved ones about depression. Do your best to be a support system for those who need it, and let them know you’re there and want to hear about them and their feelings — “normal” or not. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression yourself, know you are not alone. Be an advocate for yourself and speak up, talk with your doctor, lean on your support system and keep an open mind when it comes to your treatment.
If we all have the courage to speak out, we can break the stigma and spread love, hope and positivity to those who need it most.
Mariah Matarazzo is a graduate school student who fought depression for several years with talk therapy and multiple antidepressant medications to no avail. She opened up to her family about her journey with depression, and with their support, found TMS therapy. After receiving TMS therapy treatment, Mariah is in remission from depression and pursuing a career in the mental health field to help others who are in similar situations.
This post was originally published on October 28, 2019 here.