In the past few years, there has been an uptick in people being more open about mental health issues, and for that, I will forever be grateful. For too long, people felt ashamed to admit when they were battling anxiety or depression, even though they are two of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., alone. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still a few irritatingly persistent stereotypes and misconceptions about depression around. Here are a few things that your coworker with depression wants you to stop believing.
Misconception #1: They are lazy.
Personally, I have to work even harder when I am depressed because when I’m going through a rough patch, I procrastinate because nothing outside of the fog in my mind feels like it holds any sway over my life. It’s all I can do to get out of bed and get dressed.
For a long time, the procrastination would just add to my feelings of low self-worth, but I’ve learned that procrastination isn’t a result of laziness. It’s about fear – fear of failure, fear of disappointment, fear that even if you do the work, it won’t really affect anything.
But that didn’t mean that I could completely check out of things because, alas, I have bills. At my lowest emotional points, I actually had to work harder to stay on top of things. I made daily to-do lists to make sure I didn’t forget anything at work and had to start important projects far in advance just to make sure I got them done. I had to account for the fact that I knew I was going to struggle to get it done, and it was hard work.
Misconception #2: They can just “get over it.”
This might actually frustrate me even more than #1. Some people who have never really experienced depression think that it just means that you’re “sad” or “down” and can occasionally be very callous about it. Write this down: offering unsolicited advice is never the kind thing to do. Chances are, you are not the first person to suggest that prayer, exercise, and/or “positive thinking” will be the cure. Ask people if they want your advice before you offer it, and make sure that you’re actually offering help and not just saying something ridiculous, like “It could always be worse.”
Unless you are a mental health professional, the only real help you can provide is support and empathy. If you truly care about your coworker, make it clear that they can open up to you if they so choose. When you notice that they’ve done a great job on something, let them know. Being encouraging and supportive does far more than suggesting that they go for a run every once in awhile.
Misconception #3: They always know exactly why they feel that way.
It takes me a little while to realize that I’m depressed. At first, I just think I’m sick or need to get more rest. Then, I look up and my entire room is a mess, I’ve missed/or come dangerously close to missing multiple deadlines, and my hair looks like a bird’s nest. Once I realize that this is deeper than being in a “rut,” it takes a lot of hard introspection (and sometimes a chat with a professional) to really figure out what’s wrong. That’s not the case for everyone, but it’s certainly how it works for me. Whenever I have told someone that I was dealing with depression and they simply asked “why,” and expected some succinct, concrete answer, it just made me want to never speak to them again.