Is Depression Real? What Kind of Question is That?

is depression realIs depression real?

I’m going to do my best to avoid a tirade about this. Instead, I’d like to focus on facts as I bring to light a topic I came across in a Twitter thread. Yes, the individual was indeed claiming that depression is not a real condition. But first, I think it’s important to consider the source. The person in question openly defines himself as “Toxically Masculine.” He even adds “That I’m even more amazing than I previously thought. I knew I was the f****** man. But it seems I’m more super perfect than ever known.” His opinion of himself is a bit over-the-top, even to comedic levels. I questioned whether he was joking, but as I read through his Tweets, I discovered his self-description is probably spot-on.

That brings us to the real Tweet in question. It began this way: “Depression isn’t real. You feel sad, you move on. You will always be depressed if your life is depressing. Change it…this is not a clinical disease…Most “depressed” people are unhappy with their lives, too lazy to change it. That simple…” You may be wondering if this guy is in any field of psychiatry or medicine. Nope. Actually, he’s a “Light-Heavyweight Kickboxing World Champion.” I have no problem with that profession. But you know how everyone on the internet is suddenly an expert? Well, he’s no exception. He doesn’t appear to have any formal education in neuroscience, psychiatry, or any related field of medicine from the East or West.

That Unforgettable Cruise Interview

This grandiose and omniscient thought pattern reminds me a lot of that time Tom Cruise was interviewed by Matt Lauer when he railed against psychiatry, psychiatric medications, and Brooke Shields for using them. Recall that Shields had suffered from severe postpartum depression. I’m not going to lie here. I’m deeply skeptical of psychiatry as well. I minored in Psychology and Anthropology, neither of which makes me an expert in anything what-so-ever. But it’s impossible to study other cultures without quickly understanding that what we label as a “disorder” or “abnormal” in the West is completely ordered and normal in other places. In fact, other ways of perceiving the world besides those most common to us are often venerated in other parts of the globe. This, however, does not negate some legitimacy in the field of so-called “mental health.”

Where my skepticism enters the picture is when capitalism drives medicine. What do I mean by that? Well, when drug companies give handouts and bonuses to healthcare practitioners for prescribing their medications, I believe we have serious problems. And many of those drugs are not only highly addictive, but can have serious adverse reactions, including suicide. This is a lot of what Cruise was so angered about during his interview with Lauer. That is not to say that all prescription drugs for mental health or otherwise are dangerous or deadly. My personal experience with them landed me in the emergency room with seizure-like symptoms. While, on the other hand, medications combined with therapy seemed to have saved Shield’s life.

Is Depression Real? The Reality of Depression

The reality is that there is some truth to the claims here. That is to say that, yes, there is reason to be skeptical of a multi-trillion dollar business that benefits from our poor health, mental or otherwise. Additionally, there are some people for whom exercise, as well as diet and lifestyle changes can alter their chemical make-up enough to bring them out of depression. I dare say that most of us could alter our moods positively with these changes. However, most of those situations are not likely related to clinical depression. The Mayo Clinic explains, “Depression ranges in seriousness from mild, temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent depression. Clinical depression is the more-severe form of depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It isn’t the same as depression caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder.”

They didn’t even mention depression that stems from a chronic pain condition. There are just so many variables. But the point is that there are plenty of people who genuinely benefit from anti-depressant medications, above and beyond placebo effects. They benefit because the medication helps to change the chemistry in the brain, especially as it pertains to serotonin, one of the chemicals notoriously missing from or in short supply in a depressed brain. The positive change in brain and body chemistry is a clear indicator that depression is indeed a legitimate health issue. To deny this is on par with denying the existence of heart disease or cancer. We don’t accuse those patients as being “too lazy to change it.”

Has this happened to you? As someone who went through severe postpartum depression, I can tell you that well-meaning friends will hit you with everything from “it’s just something you’re going to have to get over” to “you must have a spiritual problem.” Has anyone told you that your depression wasn’t real? How did you handle it?