When you’re treating any illness, making mistakes is inevitable. After all, making mistakes is how you learn, grow and get better.
Depression is a difficult illness, which colors how you see and feel about yourself. So, if you find yourself making the “mistakes” below, try not to judge yourself. Rather, view these mistakes as stepping stones, as signposts that lead you in a more helpful direction.
Below are five beliefs or behaviors that are ineffective in managing depression, along with insights into what works.
- Telling yourself to snap out of it. “When you’re depressed, it’s common to think that there’s no good reason that you’re having trouble getting out of bed, struggling to concentrate, or feeling so low,” said Lee Coleman, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.So you might try to motivate yourself by being self-critical or using shame, he said. After all, when you’re depressed, it can feel like you’re swimming in negative, shame-soaked thoughts.
While your intentions may be good — you’re trying to motivate yourself to do your best — “the language of criticism, guilt and shame isn’t helpful and usually makes us feel even worse.”
If these thoughts arise, Coleman stressed the importance of responding to them and reminding yourself of these key facts. “[D]epression is an illness like any other — one that affects not just your mood, but also your sleep, energy, motivation, and even the way you look at yourself.”
Remind yourself that “nobody ever yelled themselves out of feeling depressed.” Instead, take small steps and stay active, he said. Getting better from any illness takes time.
- Not revealing what’s going on. When you have depression it’s also common to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Depression “can feel like a fundamental flaw with who you are,” said Coleman, assistant director and director of training at the California Institute of Technology’s student counseling center.Consequently, you may cover up how you’re feeling, which might lead others to get frustrated with you or simply become confused about what’s going on, he said.
“Remember that others, even the ones who love you the most, aren’t psychic and may still be operating on old information.”
When talking about how you’re feeling, you don’t need to divulge the details or even use the word “depression,” he said. What’s more important is letting them know “what you need while you’re working on feeling better” (some people may automatically ask how they can help). For instance, you might need more time to complete a project, he said.
- Underestimating depression. “While many appear to realize that depression has a medical origin, some underestimate exactly how depression impacts their life,” said Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the books Living with Depression and Depression and Your Child. Some of Serani’s clients don’t realize that depression affects their “personal, social and occupational worlds.” But depression affects all facets of a person’s life.
She shared this example: Personally, you might struggle with significant sadness, self-doubt, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and hopelessness. These symptoms might cause you to withdraw from your relationships or become irritable and impatient with others.
At work or school, fatigue, self-doubt and an inability to concentrate might lead to incomplete assignments, poor performance and difficulty remembering important information.
When you understand your depression and how it affects your entire life, you’re able to address those symptoms and support yourself with effective techniques.
As Serani said, “Having knowledge about an illness that touches your life empowers you.”
- Getting lax with treatment. When clients start to feel better, they may become “too casual with their treatment plan,” Serani said. This may start with missing medication doses or skipping therapy sessions, she said.Serani often hears clients say: “Why do I have to keep coming for therapy if I feel better? What’s the big deal if I miss a dose of my antidepressant?”
However, it is a big deal. Research has shown that if you stick to your treatment plan and view your illness as a priority, you can become symptom-free, Serani said. But if you don’t, it might take you longer to get better, or your symptoms may worsen.
To convey the seriousness of depression, Serani sometimes substitutes the word “depression” with other illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
“Though these are very different illnesses, they all have one thing in common: The need for the patient to respect the seriousness of the illness.”
She further noted: “If you had cancer, would you skip chemotherapy? If you had heart disease, would you cancel your appointment with your cardiologist? As a diabetic, would you ignore your blood sugar levels?”
Make a commitment to your depression treatment for at least a year, which research suggests, Serani said. “For those with moderate or severe depression, treatment will be longer.”
- Not being self-compassionate. Being compassionate to ourselves is important every day, and it’s especially vital when we’re sick or struggling. However, as Coleman said, “Unfortunately, because depression casts a negative light on our thoughts, it’s easy to see compassion as just feeling sorry for yourself, or as giving permission to lie around all day.”On the contrary, genuine self-compassion involves being honest with yourself and responding to your needs. It means acknowledging that you’re currently struggling, accepting that you’ll need time to feel like yourself, and realizing that it’s absolutely OK to lower your expectations of yourself, he said.
“It’s not a judgment about yourself as a person, and it’s not giving yourself a blank check to feel bad forever.”
If you find it hard to be self-compassionate, think of what you’d say to a loved one who was feeling the same way, Coleman said.
“Your tone would probably be caring and supportive, not blaming or attacking. That same tone may not come as naturally when you talk to yourself during depression, but it’s absolutely worth remembering and trying to draw from, even if it takes a little effort.”
Again, depression is a serious and difficult illness. But remember that you’re not alone, Serani said. “Depression can often leave a person feeling hopeless and isolated, but there are many out there who know your struggle and can support you along the way.”
She suggested connecting with a “health professional, a mood disorder organization, support group or a compassionate friend who understands you.”