Is It My Fault That I'm Depressed?

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Q.  My family seems to think it's my fault that I'm depressed.  They think that if only I got out of my room more often and tried to change my life that I'd feel better.  Is it really my fault that I'm depressed?  Sometimes I think they must be right.  Maybe if I just tried harder I could get over my depression?  Other times though it seems like it's all I can do to just get through the day.  I don't think I can try any harder than I am.

A.  It is very important for you to realize that depression is not your fault.  Depression occurs because of an imbalance in important mood-regulating chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters.  Just like a person with diabetes can not "try harder" to make their pancreas produce more insulin, a person with depression cannot will their brain to produce more neurotransmitters.

For someone who does not suffer from clinical depression, your family's recommendations may actually be helpful.  Those with mild or situational depression may be able to snap themselves out it by simply getting out more or making some easy changes in their lives.  However, if you are feeling depressed or you no longer experience pleasure in things you once enjoyed and these feelings have been going on continually for more than two weeks, it is very possible that you will need to seek professional help to get yourself on an even keel again, especially if you have several other symptoms of depression, such as:

  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Problems with sleep
  • Tiredness or lack or energy
  • Feeling of guilt or worthlessness
  • Problems with thinking or concentration
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

One of the ways a mental health professional can help you is by prescribing medications called antidepressants.  Antidepressants can alleviate depression by causing more of various neurotransmitters — such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine — to be available in the brain for use.

  Different antidepressants affect neurotransmitters in different ways, so certain antidepressants may be more effective than others for any given individual.

Another popular treatment option, either on its own or in combination with antidepressant medications, is psychotherapy.  Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can be useful in helping depression because it teaches patients to recognize how their thoughts and behaviors may be contributing to their depression.  When combined with medications, this may be the most effective approach to prevent a recurrence of depression.

Sometimes the guilt and feelings of worthlessness that go along with depression can make it very easy to blame ourselves for how we are feeling — especially if our friends and family are blaming us already — but this doesn't mean that it's your fault for feeling this way.  Depression is a real illness just like any other and there are effective treatments that can help you feel better.  You don't have to suffer in silence or feel guilty that you aren't trying hard enough to get well.

  Sometimes just making it through the day is the best that we can do when we are feeling depressed.

Sources:

Hall-Flavin, David K.  "What Does the Term 'Clinical Depression' Mean?"  Mayo Clinic.  Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.  Published:  April 21, 2011.  Updated:  March 5, 2014.   Accessed:  April 17, 2015.

"Mental Health Medications." National Institute of Mental Health. 2008. National Institutes of Health. Accessed: April 17, 2015.

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