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Writing Mental Health: Depression

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Fri Apr 19, 2019 12:46 pm
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Magebird says...

One of the protagonists in my novel has depression. I want to make sure I realistically portray it while also avoiding any stereotypes associated with people who have depression, so I thought I'd ask about it here.

If you have depression, know someone who has depression or have done research on writing characters who have depression, please tell me all about it here. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated!

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Fri Apr 19, 2019 4:28 pm
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ShadowVyper says...

So, same as with my anxiety answer, I know that depression has a vast spectrum of manifestations, and my depression is an extremely mild form. I'm not currently on medication for it -- though in the recent months it's been getting worse and starting to affect my quality of life, so I am thinking of talking to my doctor about it soon. But just a disclaimer because I don't know what severe clinical depression is like.

My most common manifestations of depression is just extreme discouragement that spirals out of control. Like it's normal to be disappointed after a test that goes badly. But my depression takes it a step further. It's not just a failed test -- it's a reflection of me as a person. So I used to be like oh no, I'll study even harder for the next test to bring my grade up. Now I'll be like meh, I guess that's only to be expected since I'm a stupid, worthless, idiot. I don't know why I bother trying in the first place. Clearly my best isn't good enough so I may as well not even try at all.

This past week actually, I got a bit lower on a test than I'd been hoping for. I spent 13 hours on the take home test and used the textbook as a reference (I was allowed to lol) and my professor marked me off for something I got from the book he assigned so I went to talk to him. And he's known to be a jerk, and rationally I know that I shouldn't let what he says bother me, but Tuesday I went to talk to him about it and instead of him hearing me out he informed me that he wouldn't "reward me for copying from the book" that I "lacked all critical thought" and was "acting like an undergraduate with no ability to think on the graduate level" and... it was a rude, untrue thing for him to say. It was completely inappropriate to be sure. But it launched me off the cliff of despair.

I have so much work to do it's not even funny -- but when I went home and tried to work I just started crying. So I curled up on my bed and watched Netflix for a while. And then I tried sleeping and started crying again because my mind just kept going "you clearly don't belong in grad school" "you're stupid" "you lack all critical thought" etc. and every single time I tried to do something that entire day my mind would just beat me down and I couldn't accomplish anything at all. Like there was one task I /know/ how to do, and I can do it well, but every single move I made on the task my brain kept telling me I wasn't able to do it on a grad level and so therefore shouldn't touch it at all because I was going to screw it up.

The next day I had to teach lab and it was fairly hellish because every time a student would ask me a /simple/ question that I /knew/ the answer to I started second-guessing myself, because clearly if I'm not performing at a graduate level then I have absolutely no business teaching college biology. I also couldn't bring myself to work on my big project because my mind kept being like "what's the point? You're not going to do well no matter how much work you put into it, so why even try? You're clearly not capable of giving a graduate level presentation anyway."

I keep getting woken up in the middle of the night dwelling on my own stupidity. And I also keep having nightmares about the professor/situation especially but also just grad school in general and how I'm not qualified to be here. Yesterday morning I woke up at 6:30 (on my day off) to a bird crowing outside my window and then it stopped but I couldn't fall back asleep because I started worrying about the situation with my professor, and then I couldn't force myself to get out of bed for 8 hours. Like I went to the bathroom a couple of times but every time I stood up it felt like it took an incredible amount of energy, and I just don't have that energy anymore, and so I'd crawl back into my blankets.

Thankfully I have incredible friends and I was texting one and she said kind things about me and it encouraged me enough that I was able to get up and function and actually get a bit of work done in the afternoon and evening. But I am SO perpetually exhausted but I can't sleep anymore, and yet I also feel unable to get out of my bed some days because my body just feels /heavy/ and I can't think of anything motivating enough to get out of bed. Why should I get up? So I can fail some more? So I can show everyone how stupid I am? Nah, pass, I'll just snuggle under my blankets and watch TV.

So I guess the anxiety might play into a bit too. But I just feel worthless and stupid and beyond exhausted. I can't sleep, I can't work properly, and I feel like every speck of the joy that I used to find in science has been stripped from me. Everything is just drudgery and I'm frustrated and discouraged.

And the kicker is that MOST people don't know about it. I'm still going to class (usually, and when I don't I just say "I'm sick" not "I feel like I've been beat by a bat and then tied to my bed because I'm a whiny jerk"). I'm still teaching. I'm still turning in assignments. I'm still answering texts and emails. By all casual appearances I'm fine. I don't announce that I'm depressed -- but it makes my every day life substantially harder than it used to, or need to, be.
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Fri Apr 19, 2019 7:59 pm
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queenofscience says...

I have depresson. Ask me anything.
I am the science and science fiction guru.

The mind is beautiful, yet brilliant. You can think, create, and imagine so many things.

Eugenics= scientific racism.

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Sat Apr 20, 2019 10:37 am
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AvantCoffee says...

(Edit: I've edited my posts so many times since first posting because it's such a sensitive topic as well as a personal one, and previous edits have always been when I was too sleepy to think clearly on this, so here's hoping this will be much clearer)

Props to Shady for taking the time to give such helpful answers to all three threads!

I debated getting involved in this, for reasons I'll go into (because I think those reasons are helpful). Major depression (MDD) is what I'd think is generally thought of when most people picture depression, and it's what I've had. This wouldn't be a full list, but here is a summary of each main type of depression (in case you're looking for something else) c:

The official diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder from the DSM-5 is summed up as...
[You have MDD] if you have trouble functioning in your daily life and you've had at least five of these symptoms for more than two weeks (however you must have both depressed mood and loss of interest or pleasure):
- depressed mood most of the day
- markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities
- appetite disturbance (eating a lot or not eating much)
- hypersomnia or insomnia (sleeping a lot or not sleeping much)
- psychomotor agitation or retardation (moving a lot or not moving much)
- fatigue or loss of energy nearly everyday
- feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness
- recurrent thoughts of death

So that's a good place to begin when considering what a depressed character would be going through (or at least a character with MDD).

I'll be trying to only speak from my own experiences in the spoiler below to help with realism and avoiding stereotypes for your character ~ (though probably take it as personal experience and not necessarily a universal experience of depression)

Spoiler! :
So denial is a thing, which is a reason I was hesitant about contributing to this topic. Something that can go underlooked when considering depression, or any mental illness, is the doubt that happens when someone begins to experience symptoms (and continuing). Depending on the type of person (in this case character), a person could dismiss/belittle signs of depression, and therefore resist getting help or telling others about it—which has been the case for me. Since first posting this I've gone to therapy, and I fully wish I'd had the wherewithal to do so back in secondary school because wow would that have helped.

The impressions I got in secondary school of depression were not the best. Some other kids seemed to romanticise depression as if it made people deeper and more mysterious, while others seemed to view those who claimed to be depressed as attention-seeking or that they were using the label falsely as an excuse to wallow in negative feelings and self-pity. These influences contributed to me not acknowledging my own depression symptoms or seeking any help (or even opening up to anyone about them) because I didn't want to disrespect people with 'genuine' depression, and quite frankly didn't want to be associated with it because of the stigma (there seems to be gradually less stigma around mental health as time goes on, though it's still hanging around).

I've experienced all the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder at various times (rarely all at once), so I might go through those a describe what I've felt/experienced with them.

"trouble functioning in your daily life"

"depressed mood most of the day"

"markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities"

"appetite disturbance (eating a lot or not eating much)"

"hypersomnia or insomnia (sleeping a lot or not sleeping much)"

"psychomotor agitation or retardation (moving a lot or not moving much)"

"fatigue or loss of energy nearly everyday"

"feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt"

"diminished ability to think or concentrate or indecisiveness"

"recurrent thoughts of death"

[will edit these in soon in a further edit]
Last edited by AvantCoffee on Sun May 17, 2020 6:44 pm, edited 9 times in total.

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Sat Apr 20, 2019 11:31 am
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Fantascifi66 says...

For me, it's constantly feeling selfish. I feel like I'm selfish for eating, because there are so many other people that need food. I don't really care about myself that much. I try to do as much for people as possible, but often the thought "Why bother, what's the point?" comes into my head. I constantly find myself wanting people to not care about me and just have fun, but at the same time I want to have fun too, and therefore think I'm selfish. Then, there's self-harm. I know a lot of people cut them self, and I've been too scared to try it myself (although I've thought about it before), but I have kinda my own method of selfharm. It's something I do, both unintentionally and intentionally, if that makes sense. Now, this may sound a bit gross and messed up, and I've tried to stop, but I rip my nails off (this is a bit of a sensitive topic for me, so I'd appreciate if you don't talk about it). I'm pretty self-conscious, especially of my fingers, stomach and toes. As I said earlier, I don't really care about how I look, so this may sound confusing. I don't care about how I look, no, but I don't want people to care about how I look either. I'm not really eating that much, so my ribs are showing, and I just don't like my feet.
Also, social interaction. Now, for me, I try to smile as often as possible, even if I'm sad, and I even leave notes for me to find where it says "Don't be selfish, smile you idiot!" and stuff like that, so I always seem happy. I don't bring much to conversations, and spend most of the time by myself, often reading books. The fact that I'm alone, is often used as a weapon by my own mind. Stuff like "Why would they enjoy being with a weirdo like you? It's not something to be proud of (people often called me weird, so as a defense I kinda adopted the word, and often try taking pride out of being so)!" And "You're such a loser and an insufferable know-it-all! You should go kill yourself! No one would cry if you did!"
I have actually thought about killing myself a few times, but I know I couldn't dare to ever do it.
Hope this helped at least a little bit!
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Sat Apr 20, 2019 1:23 pm
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Magebird says...

Thank you for the help, everyone. <3 I don't think I have any specific questions to ask right now, but I'll make sure to tag you when I do come up with some.

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Mon Apr 22, 2019 7:34 am
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AvantCoffee says...

I forgot to mention one other thing, and that is the optimistic side of depression. Perhaps another stereotype of depression is that everything about it is doom and gloom (and when bad it does feel that way), but in contrast it's allowed me to appreciate happiness and the goodness of others more consciously when they appear. Coming out of depression—or at least experiencing moments of beauty and joy—feel like miracles after going through depression throes; I'm able to notice and be grateful for a lot more.

Depression has enabled me to empathise more with others going through heavy experiences and losses, and not be so uncomfortable with them. I find I'm more intuitive in knowing what emotional support is helpful and unhelpful for someone struggling with mental health or similar stigmatised realities like trauma, significant loss or death etc. because of my own experiences. When not severely depressed, the experience has encouraged me to actively bring care to people and acknowledge the good qualities I notice in them to them, because I'm more acutely aware of how these can help within the scheme of things. When someone appears notably down on themself I'm really compelled to help them feel valued and less alone, because I know what they might be going through or how it could potentially worsen, and I don't want others to go through that.

I guess I also don't really sweat the small stuff (although anxiety tries its best), because depression has a way of breaking down the daily matters of things to focus on what really matters at the core of life (how valuable am I, how valuable is life, what is worth living for). When badly depressed and/or suicidal, it's only up from there, which is its own kind of optimism. That continual mindfulness of what might truly matter is peaceful among the hardness of being depressed, and allows appreciation—or at least acknowledgement—of small things present in daily life that would usually go completely missed. There's a different, sharper perspective on the value of things overall, that I can't say I was able to see before being depressed, and I find that to be positive.
Last edited by AvantCoffee on Sun May 17, 2020 4:47 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Tue Apr 30, 2019 8:46 pm
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Toboldlygo says...

I think it's important to remember that while many people have both depression and anxiety, they are two different disorders and you do not need to have one to have the other. This matters because many people try to write about depression and often end up writing about anxiety, instead.

Depression can be serious enough to be disabling, but it can also be mild. People with depression work and go to school, although some need reasonable accommodations (ie, extra excused absences from class). It's a spectrum. Often, depression causes extreme fatigue. Imagine sleeping soundly all night and then being exhausted all day the next day, no matter how many naps you take or how much you rest.

It often involves staying up at night full of self-doubts and fears. You believe you won't be accepted to college or grad school, or get a job, or find love. You believe you will never amount to anything.

You know with all certainty that people would prefer not to know you. You distinguish between someone being friends with you and you being friends with them. You mentally apologize to everyone you meet for coming into their lives, no matter how briefly. You kick yourself for referring to someone as a friend. You feel guilty for being in someone's line of sight.

People who are often by themselves, or "weird," or unpopular often have depression. It's easier for non-depressed people to have dance-a-thons or wear tshirts supporting people with depression than it is to actually talk to someone with it. Often the people who smile brightest are the ones who have it. The emo, crying kid who makes cryptic statements is a harmful stereotype.

Please feel free to ask me for any more thoughts or ask any questions!

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Thu Jan 23, 2020 10:22 pm
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Fishr says...

I’ve been diagnosed with Clinical (General Depression Disorder). I am an open book. Nothing asked about me in this part of my life is unnerving. Ask me anything. I’m an open book.

Edit: I want to make it clear that Clinical is a very severe form of depression. Depression and Clinical Depression are two different animals. Everyone feels depression from time to time, this is normal. Clinical does not go away, it manifests and grows stronger each passing day, week, second, until it all becomes a terminal illness. It’s important to know while depression and anxiety almost always run together, they are also different from each other.

This is the stuff nightmares are kade out of, and without treatment, it will kill you, as blunt that is, it’s absolutely true.

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Sun May 17, 2020 3:06 am
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madisonperkins59 says...

Depression is a serious mental health problem. Don't make the other characters make fun or judge the person. I have major depressive disorder and depression varies in different people. There is nothing wrong with getting help from other people.

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