October is National Depression Education and Awareness Month. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 20 million people in the United States have depression. Dr. Delaney Smith, System Chief Clinical Officer at the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County (ADAMH), sheds light on the disorder’s prevalence by discussing the stigma surrounding depression, common identifiers of the disorder and what individuals can do to address it.
How prevalent is depression in today's society?
Depression is very common, and it’s something everyone experiences differently. People can have very severe depression where they might need hospital-level treatment. Other people might be dealing with a very sad mood, and it might not rise to the level of clinical depression, but it's still something that they're struggling with.
What type of stigma surrounds depression?
I think with depression it's hard because people want to say, ‘Oh well, why don't you just feel better?’, ‘Why don't you just appreciate everything that you have?’, and not understanding the fact that this is a biological disorder of neurotransmitters and not something that can just be fixed quickly.
I do feel like the destigmatization of depression is slowly improving, particularly with the younger generations. I think they do a much better job of identifying, self-monitoring and being supportive of loved ones who may be struggling with depression, but there is still that stigma where it's treated differently than other diseases.
What are some common signs and symptoms of an adult who has depression?
You’re looking for someone who is withdrawing more from things they used to enjoy. The sadness is a big piece of it, but sometimes people are good at hiding that.
People’s sleep patterns and appetites change. For some people, lack of appetite and for other people, increased appetite. If you see someone who just seems like they're more distractible or appearing to have less energy, those can be symptoms as well. Feelings of guilt and worthlessness can be a part of depression, which unfortunately runs that spectrum into thoughts of self-harm.
If you have a loved one dealing with depression, what can you do to address it?
Some of it starts before you have concerns about the person. Make sure that the people in your life know that they can be open about their feelings and know you don't think depression is a negative reflection on those who have it, that this is a medical condition. Mental health is medical, just like anything else.
If you see someone who does seem to be struggling in some way, just open up the conversation with open-ended questions like, ‘How have you been doing recently?’ not just, ‘Are you OK?’.
The big thing is, often people are worried to ask about thoughts of self-harm or suicidal thoughts because they worry that they'll put that in the person’s head. But the evidence shows that that is not the case, so it is important to ask. I think if nothing else, it can start a conversation and open the door to being aware.
Why is Depression Education and Awareness Month important to observe?
Anything that brings attention to depression and mental health in general both helps people identify it in themselves and their loved ones. This is something that's worthy of the community’s concern and attention and not something we should be embarrassed to talk about or hide in the dark. I think it's good that observances like this bring depression out into the light for that awareness.