Post No.: 0122
The signs of depression are sometimes not easy to detect and sometimes easy to misread – these signs can seem like ‘normal behaviours’ to many observers (and sometimes they are if they’re only transient), and most of all, people overly attribute other people’s attitudes and behaviours to their ‘fixed personalities’ rather than any changeable situational or contextual factors i.e. most people think other people behave in a certain way because it’s in their innately-fixed and immutable personalities rather than something due to their changeable circumstances; as if, for instance, having lived in a famine zone compared to living in a luxurious mansion with butlers and maids won’t make a difference to a person’s day-to-day attitudes or behaviours. It’s like a lot of people in some parts of the world currently think that being obese or at least overweight is a ‘normal body size’, but that’s because body sizes aren’t innately-fixed or immutable either – they can change according to changeable circumstances, such as an environment increasingly full of lots of easily-accessible, calorie-dense foods and sugary drinks and/or constant stressors that result in eating for comfort.
Too many people jump to conclusions about people’s ‘fixed demeanours’ and have therefore a misconstrued or false empathy with others because they fail to consider the environmental or situational factors that may explain someone’s behaviours instead. We can only reliably determine a person’s innate personality after seeing them in numerous different contexts and if all else is equal to all other people (a person who is feeling down and miserable after losing a loved one doesn’t mean they have a personality of sadness, for instance). Personalities can at least temporarily significantly change under exceptional circumstances, such as trauma (e.g. someone who was extrovert or not very neurotic becoming more introvert or neurotic after being incessantly bullied at school). Genetics play a major role in shaping personalities thus genetics matter but they’re only, overall, half the story of a person’s potential fate. There are many people with above-average genetic risk factors for depression but won’t suffer with depression due to having sufficient environmental protective factors in their lives, and vice-versa.
Accounting for the balance of protective genetic and environmental factors is why we can, do and will find individual cases of people who’ve faced traumatic events yet came out fine, and people who’ve faced only relatively minor traumatic events yet suffered. It’s about the probabilities, or alternatively understanding that life is chaotic (as in relatively small differences, especially the earlier they occur, can produce vastly different outcomes down the line). It’s like it’s not probable that blindly smashing a cue ball into an object ball in a game of pool will result in potting that ball, but sometimes it might, yet don’t count on it. And carefully aiming will not guarantee a pot either. But you’d rather aim than not aim – or you’d rather not experience trauma than experience it. And although the laws of nature apply to both for both existing in the same universe, life is far more complicated than a game of pool.
Everyone generally expects leeway for their own irritating behaviours when they are having a bad time, yet seldom give leeway or consideration if someone else is having a bad time. It’s better to first consider ‘maybe they could be just having a bad few months?’ or ‘I wonder if something happened that made them the way they seem to be (whether just recently or for a long time now) that I don’t know of, such as a bereavement or they just lost their job but are too embarrassed to tell me yet, or they were abused or neglected when young?’, rather than jump to a conclusion about why they’ve just spontaneously yet progressively become more irritating, dark or glum. A sufferer of depression might not even admit to themselves that they feel under the weight of a traumatic event(s), never mind admit it to anyone else, because they’re trying to uphold a public image of machismo or independence; but they do feel it in private. This social masking due to the fear or perceived fear of social stigma can make it harder for others to spot the potential signs of depression in a person though, as well as add to the stress in itself because concealing one’s true emotions, especially for a long time, is effortful and stressful.
Some people can notice and say to a person with depression (who they don’t know has depression) or to people they gossip with behind a depressed person’s back – ‘you’ve/they’ve changed’ or ‘you/they used to be ambitious and go-getting but aren’t anymore’ – yet too few people ever suspect or explore why regarding their environment or circumstances (e.g. ‘maybe they have a recent physical health problem and/or a loss they haven’t revealed to us or anyone else yet?’) and therefore they fail to do anything meaningful to help someone who seems down. What’s worse is that they (even sometimes family and friends) might sneer at and psychologically abandon or distance themselves from these people because they think the depressed person’s ‘fixed personality’ has finally been ‘truthfully revealed’, somehow only just now, after all those previous years of being comparatively happy and ambitious – rather than consider that something adverse might’ve happened to them in their life recently that changed them but that they’re not ready to talk about yet, or at least won’t talk about to someone who’s sneering at or ostracising them for suddenly seeming more unmotivated, ‘miserable’, ‘lazy’ and without energy. Indeed, most people who comment on someone ‘lacking energy’ or similar express it as a criticism rather than a compassionate concern.
It’s like judging a person who is hobbling when they walk as ‘having a stupid walk’ or ‘slowing everyone else down’, when the empathic response would be to be concerned that they might have an injury to their legs! It speaks of the naivety and/or lack of proper empathy of those who judge and ostracise people with symptoms or signs of depression or any other internal, non-easily-externally-obvious, mental health problem, even though they might be excused for not knowing that they are potential signs of depression. It’d be great if one day everybody will be educated enough on the signs of depression, and the signs of all other mental health disorders, so as to never naïvely judge other people because everyone will have sufficient knowledge to first think, for instance, ‘maybe the reason this person seems socially peculiar is because he/she’s autistic?’
With a trained or educated, attentive and empathic eye, one can improve one’s chances of detecting the potential signs of depression in another person. Yet in an ideal world, detection won’t matter as much – an ideal world just needs everyone to treat everyone else with enough love and respect as valuable beings at all times, because if we all did that then it would matter less whether we can detect depression or not because no one will likely be depressed! Everyone would feel like they belong and can speak out to share their burdens to nip them in the bud and won’t ever feel stigmatised or ostracised. And so if someone does bravely speak out despite this current, non-ideal world of stigma against mental illnesses (although some places are getting better than others as more and more people learn about mental health) – please don’t ignore them or what they’re saying. Woof!
Don’t judge harshly or dismissively something you’ve never experienced and don’t truly understand too. It’s just like one won’t know what giving birth feels like until or unless one goes through it firsthand (not that all women experience labour in the same way). There will be men claiming that the pain of childbirth is nothing compared to what they’ve done or could do – but, as discussed in more depth in Post No. 0080, how can they ever know for sure? Chronicity (a duration that’s long) matters greatly too – a loud alarm sound that lasts for 5 minutes is more bearable than a far less loud but still distracting alarm sound that lasts for 5 days; and that, for some, is analogous to what it’s like to have depression.
So people can be very bad at judging characters (even though most people think they’re good at it) that they’ll not even notice when someone right in front of them may be suffering from the signs of depression – despite these people often noticing and even remarking on a person’s recent gradual downward spiral or rut. It’s a private thing people with depression can try to keep to themselves so the sufferer of depression is partly at fault, but this still doesn’t warrant other people jumping to negative judgements about people whose lives seem stalled, especially if they were previously consistently a hard-working and ambitious person up until some point in time as an adult. The clues are clear to anyone who genuinely is a good judge of character i.e. a person who understands that contextual factors affect changes in people’s behaviours too (e.g. a recent bereavement, relationship breakdown, loss of employment, direct brain injury such as concussion, debt problems (that frequently are as a result of a change in circumstances)).
So please first assume that someone may be suffering from stress, a tragic life event, a disease, depression, anxiety or some other mental health condition or injury hidden behind the scenes (that no one deserves), rather than first assume the worst in someone’s ‘fixed personality’. Grief, for instance, isn’t a mental illness but is still a mental health issue and could be a precursor to a mental health problem (e.g. grief leading to not being able to work, which leads to money problems, which leads to depression and/or anxiety).
People should respect other people’s decisions too, although on the other hand one has to be careful not to be too accepting of a behaviour in the sense that e.g. if someone chronically doesn’t seem enthused about socialising anymore, one could say that it’s up to them, but their lack of desire could be one of the signs of a deeper or hidden issue, and what they really need is a friend’s help to break them out of or avert them from their downward spiral into self-imposed solitude or self-medication (e.g. the abuse of alcohol or other drugs, or direct self-harm).
Generally, if their choices are made out of (non-manic) happiness then let them be, but if they’re made out of feeling down then they likely need gentle care and support. Whatever the case, no one should be met with hostility, fear, ostracism or aloof sneers because everything and everyone has a causal reason(s) for being the way they are right now that they may not have reasonably chosen, earned or deserved.
Woof. I hope now whenever you come across anyone behaving with signs such as having little or reduced motivation, zest for life or energy, you’ll first consider the possibility of some hidden trauma(s). And the good news is that if people can become depressed after a trauma then people can become happier too with the right support and practices!