Why is depression considered a mental illness?

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    This one’s pretty simple. Let’s have a list:

    • First off, Depression is understood to have biochemical consequences for the brain, insofar as those suffering from it have been found to have lowered neurotransmitter levels in the brain, below baseline ‘normal’. This alone would be sufficient to classify it as a physical illness: it would be characterised as a deficiency in some fashion.
    • However, because Depression has wide-ranging psychological effects, it falls into the category of Mental Health.
    • Something to note: Mental Heath is often treated with medication in the same way as physical ailments are, and thus, Depression cannot be categorised as a physical illness on that basis.
    • Now, when we’re talking about MH, we’re focusing on deviation from normal behaviour – by this, I’m not referring to social normality, but rather psychological baselines. If a person deviates from their standard behavioural norms for a prolonged period of time, we naturally recognise that there is something ‘wrong’.
    • Illnesses are something that invariably require treatment: you’re observing a change in an individual which is understood to have biological, social or psychological causes, and these can be treated via application of medication and/or various other forms of therapy. Because Depression must be treated holistically (by which I mean that we have to consider a wide range of potential factors) rather than physically, we therefore consider it a mental illness.
    • Primary symptoms for Depression focus on low mood, heightened anxiety, loss of appetite, heightened psychological stimulation threshold (less easily provoked into an emotional response), fatigue and acute restlessness. Invariably these are all considered to have a psychological origin, and thus must be treated psychologically. Although we can obviously prescribe medications (SSRI’s for Anxiety, Sleep meds for fatigue etc), Depression is most effectively treated at the psychological level, and the physical consequences can all be linked back to one’s emotional state. Thus, key treatments focus on dealing with the psychological state, therefore, it classifies as a mental illness.

    There’s a difference between just being depressed, and having Depression.

    Just being depressed for a person is…they don’t have depression. They’re just sad that day. Having a downer day. Maybe their dog died, maybe they didn’t get the raise they wanted. That sort of thing.

    But Depression…the big one, is a mental illness that affects a person’s life, their quality of life, their day to day actions.

    A person can feel depressed one day and just get over the next.

    But a person with depression sometimes goes down a dark, deep hole and the can never get out of that hole. And it doesn’t matter what that person does, or who they interact with…there’s no fixing it.

    At least not without professional help.

    You see, your brain is a sack of chemicals. Just to form a thought, or have an emotion, those chemicals have to interact with each other. Sometimes, they interact the wrong way. Sometimes you have too much of one chemical and not enough of another.

    Sometimes it swings up and down.

    And this is what causes the issue of various mental illnesses including depression.

    You can actually be born with depression or have depression put upon you through any kind of traumatic event in your life.

    Much like the chemical thing, we’re also living computers, and we’re learning and growing computers. And those circuitry which require the chemicals in order to make completed circuit, sometimes events causes them to be wired wrong. Your brain makes connections where they shouldn’t be going. And that affects how you think, how you react, and yes, how you deal with the world.

    And the worst part, a lot of times it gets stock like that. And it’s not about trying to rewire it back to the right spot, but having to make new connections, and you do that with therapy and medication.

    I usually suggest people to watch a movie called Melonchalia, which is an apocalyptic art film that actually explains depression beautifully. And how actual true clinical depression is in fact a mental illness that needs to be treated.

    They don’t just feel sad, the depression will make them do things that logically they shouldn’t be doing. But when you’re in a fog of doubt and sinking into a swamp of despair at the same time, and there’s no one there to pull you out…what are you gonna do?

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    I suffer from depression. I do believe that it is a “true” mental illness.

    It is not as simple as “don’t rely on medication” and “just get some exercise”, although exercise can help if I’m not in the bowels of depression (see below).

    Those who don’t have depression find it difficult to understand. I really do feel badly for those in my life who don’t understand what it’s like. I can look outside of my own life and empathize completely. Sometimes I think that I would have had patience with someone else who has depression, but I think that I honestly would not.

    Depression is not your run of the mill sadness.

    Here’s what depression REALLY feels like:

    • A pain inside that feels like someone you love died.
    • For me, my heart hurts so much that I feel as if it will never go away.
    • Also for me, I was scared of everything. The present, the future, life in general. That was also very frightening. I was unable to sleep because every time I dozed off, I would jolt awake. I had no respite. One must have sleep to a) help with depression (at the very least to have a break from the pain) and b) to try to ward off another episode. “Ward off” does not mean that it won’t come back. I pray every day that I won’t get it again. It doesn’t generally work because it is a mental illness.

    It’s hard and it hurts.

    When someone asks “Why are you sad?” or “What happened?”, I have no idea, really, what to tell them because nothing happened to get me down. I have a very nice life: great husband, great kids, financially stable, etc. I only tell you that to illustrate that it’s not situational.

    There are those who experience depression when life keeps giving them lemons. It’s super difficult to get that water and sugar…

    • Inability to do anything. ANYTHING. Bathe, go anywhere, do chores, etc., even eat at times. During one depressive episode I lost 30 pounds. I looked skeletal.

    I once had it so badly that I couldn’t even read. My identity is aligned in part with reading. All I could do was lay in bed and moan from the pain. It was so frightening that I checked myself into the hospital. I had suicidal ideation (you want to commit suicide but you haven’t decided how you’re going to do it). My kids prevent me from going through with it. I cannot do that to them. I’ve been told by a psychiatrist that suicide affects THREE generations. That scares me.

    As an aside, I had been on a benzodiazipine (Klonopin) for almost two years. They did work for anxiety and fear. However, the hospital that I went to didn’t believe in them (I had no idea) so they took me off cold turkey. It was hideous. When I got home I wanted to kill myself even more than before. They couldn’t reach my doctor the entire time that I was in the hospital. When we got home, my husband was furious. I don’t know how he did it, but he reached the jerk. The doc prescribed the benzo and after took it I was much better. I weaned myself off of the drug and swore that I’d never take it again.

    I have bipolar. Bipolar consists of mania and depression. Do you believe that bipolar is a mental illness? If you do, then logic follows that depression is a mental illness.

    Depression comes with a whole host of symptoms which impair daily functioning that fall under the umbrella of “mental illness,” is one of the biggest reasons. But a bigger reason, to my mind, is the experience of depression.

    You feel inauthentic in your own life, for no precipitating reason. You’re not a victim or a survivor or a villain, but the weight of the guilt you carry contemplating and considering even the smallest of maneuvers is too massive to allow you to get up out of your chair. You know you’d feel better if you just played some music, but you feel like you’re not allowed to. You’re just not good enough to feel better.

    It’s like this endless anger turned inward on itself, consuming you, devouring every moment of hope and motivation you experience.

    Normal (healthy) people feel motivation and then go do something. Depressed people feel guilty for even wanting to do the thing. We experience the guilt without ever undertaking the action. We are set up against ourselves all of the time.

    There are a lot, lot, lot of other feelings and experiences that go along with depression, but for me, it’s that rage turned inward that has always been the primary characteristic. My healthy friends don’t think twice about accomplishing or allowing themselves something they want to achieve. I can hate myself for even daring to want. Very hard stuff.

    It isn’t, not unto itself.

    “Mental illnesses” are metaphysical concepts which have whatever in-built criteria we choose. Those criteria commonly change between one time and place and another, and the “psychiatric disorder” concepts we build out of these criteria also change. They shift, get phased in or out, get combined or split up, and so forth. These are cultural perspectives, not physical entities. There are no objective boundaries between “mental illness” and “not mental illness” — it is entirely up to popularity what is or is not considered “mental illness”.

    At present, the diagnostic criteria for “psychiatric disorders” exclude particular causes of experiences, including particular causes of depressions. Any depression that is caused by a medical problem, such as an infection or brain injury or seizure condition, is not eligible to be considered “mental illness”, for example. Additionally, the psychiatric labels which feature depression as part of the diagnostic criteria require more than just the experiencing of depression. Particular levels of severity, duration, and impairment are also required.

    In short, a whole bunch of instances of depression do not qualify for “mental illness” labels. For the ones that do, the reasons for doing so are cultural and are not objective or shared across all situations. As for why people consider something “mental illness” instead of “not mental illness”, the social value judgements involved are of foremost importance. There is no physical backing to the distinction, and current diagnostic guidelines state that there is actually no innate physical difference between “mental illness” and a lack of “mental illness”.

    Why have current industrial concepts prevailed? Utility. Even more than a century ago, professionals evaluating the content and meaning of psychiatric labels said they were just fictional constructs whose role was to be tools for practitioners. In the modern era, the utility of these labels primarily focuses on the economic side of things — drug marketing, insurance schemes, government funding for programs and research, professional academia, and so forth. Labeling things in the way we label them makes the economy run, in short. Accountability to patient outcomes is tertiary, if present at all.

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    Clinical depression, of which there are a number of types, is considered a mental illness. Depression as in ‘being’ or ‘feeling’ depressed for a period, is different, and is really a part of our psychological repertoire.

    We have mental processes we are not fully aware of that give us a boost when we need it (psychological omnipotence, ‘splitting’ type defences), but they can do so at the cost of being slightly unrealistic; coming back to earth subsequently produces a slightly depressed but more realistic integrated state of mind.

    Of course, we can feel mildly depressed for many reasons, some physical, or as an emotional response to disappointments, and feeling guilty for something (often after feeling angry for instance).

    Clinical depression on the other hand is less likely to be just a response or an expectable part of our lives; it is more likely in psychological terms to be a chronic pattern with an unconscious developmental history. It does not necessarily pass just because time passes, although it may. It can often be understood and ameliorated, but like its genesis, takes time and psychic ‘work’ or ‘working through’. Talking therapies are sometimes suitable for this.

    [n.b. Some respondents have taken up the point about ‘illness’, ‘disease’ and ‘disorder’; I believe the problem here is an artefact of the term ‘mental illness’ being originally metaphorical, and then becoming concretized. These phenomena are not illnesses except metaphorically. Unless there is a physical problem at play, campaigners in support of sufferers have confused the issue by insisting that these conditions are literal illnesses. Of course they are very serious – in that sense as serious as physical illnesses – but they remain ‘chronic dysfunctional states of mind’, so ‘disorder’ is perhaps the closest to a literal description.]

    Thanks for the A2A Aric,

    Ah, the dual-edged sword. There is a gradient, a continuum if you will. Anxiety and depression are a very normal part of the very average and “normal” emotional range of every normal and average human being on the face of the planet. To repeat, anxiety and depression are a very normal part of the very average and “normal” emotional range of every normal and average human being on the face of the planet.

    The problem, according to the professionals is the severity and duration of those sentiments/feelings/emotions.

    The difference is as follows, pay attention! The normal variants of anxiety and depression are not debilitating and pass on their own. Repeat, the normal variants of anxiety and depression are not debilitating and pass on their own. OK got that? Good.

    The pathological forms of anxiety and depression ARE debilitating, in fact, depression can be fatal, if suicidal ideas are acted upon. Anxiety disorders like agoraphobia can trap people in their homes or hospitals. So, debilitating!

    How then can one recover from these two pernicious predators of the mind? Great question… are you ready???? Really ready? Good!

    1. Call your personal physician and ask for help.
    2. Make an appointment with your physician and keep it.
    3. if they perform the evaluations and affirm that you have an anxiety disorder or depression, ask for a referral to a registered, licensed therapist with experience dealing with those mental illnesses.
    4. Make an appointment with the therapist. Then keep it.

    Depression is a mental illness because the root cause is triggered by emotions/thoughts that begin in the mind. But then you know that. Who cares why it’s called a mental illness? Why is cancer a systemic illness? Is it nature or nurture? Who cares? The more important questions are what can be done about it?

    Some find religion helps. Some find meds and psychotherapy helps. Some combine the two. Some try to do it on their own and some die trying.

    We live in a time where we are well aware of many mental disorders, yet unfortunately don’t quite yet have an official standard for any biological, neurological, or quantifiable method to test this. What we have instead, is psychiatry and DSM manuals which determine a patients mental health by their subjective experiences which are then classified as best as possible by correlation to the disorders in DSM books.

    We are now expecting, in the future, to have a science based classification system, something that would encompass the possible origins mental illness, as determined by blood, scans, or other test techniques. These would likely consider biomarkers such as CRP or IL-6, but there will be others. These types of tests, when finalized, can help rule out at least one source of mental illness, such as inflammation. PET scans, probably with specially adapted filters, may help determine and identify changes in the brain to a point where classification can also be determined for mental illnesses, or it maybe a combination of diagnostic methods and exclusion.

    Further more, viral illnesses, among other biological illnesses may also be better understood in their impact on the CNS and relationship with the brain and mental illness.

    The brain/gut axis, the enteric nervous system, and their relationship is also worth further study and consideration.

    Some mental illnesses may in fact be undiagnosed neurological diseases or become so over time. There would presumably then be a biological or neurological diagnostic method applicable to determine that.

    New methods could then be used to diagnose and reclassify some of these disorders to something perhaps akin to Parkinson’s disease, where there is physical evidence of changes in the brain, for one example.

    Suitable medications or treatment would then be offered with more accuracy and confidence. The diagnostic method and disease would then be generally accepted and better understood by patient, doctor, and the general public. This would however differ from things like situational depression, which is normally about lifestyle changes and therapy.

    To understand why Depression is a mental illness, I will have to tell you a story.

    Imagine that you live alone in an apartment and you have to go out and get some groceries. Once you reach the market, you realize that you had forgotten to lock the apartment and you have all your valuables inside. Suddenly, you get scared and start to panic.

    Your heart beat increases, your breathing gets faster, your body becomes warm. You leave the groceries and start heading back towards your apartment when it strikes you that you had actually locked the apartment. You were busy on a call while doing that so you forgot locking the door.

    What happens now? Your body automatically starts to calm down, your breathing relaxes, your heartbeat goes down and you don’t feel tensed anymore.

    Why did I tell you this small story? Because it explains how your mind and body co-ordinate with each other. In the above example, the apartment was locked the entire time. The only thing that changed was your THOUGHTS. Just because you changed your thoughts, your body created conditions to support those thoughts.

    Similarly, Depression is a mental disease because you have certain thoughts and certain beliefs that you keep holding on to. These thoughts and beliefs create physical conditions in your body which makes you incapable of doing anything.

    Since THOUGHTS are intangible, the obvious conclusion is that Depression is not a physical condition but a mental one. In the answer Are antidepressants really worth it?, I have explained in detail why Anti-depressions don’t work for Depression.

    I hope that I have answered your question. If you are reading my answers for the first time, I am Vivek Agrawal and I wish you a wonderful day ahead 😀

    Clinical depression (not just sadness) is considered to be a mental illness for one primary reason: It disables people. Many people who are experiencing a depressive episode cannot function – in work, life, and basic tasks – bathing, getting out of bed, washing clothes, etc…

    While the symptoms of depression are fairly clear cut (for example, a depressive episode is defined as lasting two weeks or more, and many other symptoms etc…) – just as any other issues that can physically disable people – we address it.

    In my opinion, having a mental illness is like any other medical illness that should be addressed…like asthma. Why would you go around wheezing if you can live a more active, enjoyable life not wheezing?

    If someone struggles with depression – my best advice is to seek out a therapist who does “cognitive behavioral therapy” (noted to be best for this type of problem)…and take care of it. You’ll be glad you did.

    Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.

    Depression is a serious mental illness, a person

    • Feels sad and are usually in a depressed mood
    • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
    • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
    • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
    • Feeling worthless or guilty
    • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
    • Thoughts of death or suicide

    Based on the above it seems very serious, as it maybe extremely difficult to deal with these symptoms.

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