Why is Depression Hard to Understand?

In this article, we will be answering the question “Why is depression hard to understand?”. We will also be discussing depression itself, how it is perceived by others and what are the causes and other factors leading to depression. We will also answer frequently asked questions about the subject. 

Understanding and explaining depression can be hard for others such as trying to learn a certain topic you always hear but never understood despite hearing about it multiple times.

To start with, there are a lot of countries around the world that still stigmatize mental illnesses such as depression. Developing countries have only recently and gradually started to give importance to mental health.

Why is Depression Hard to Understand?

Depression is different from sadness

Sadness is a state and can be an intense short-term emotion while depression is persistent and should last within 2 weeks or even up to years.

Depression is not just fragility but a psychological or medical disorder.

It influences an individual’s biology and brain structure and activity. A person diagnosed with depression has a hyperactivation of the HPA axis and other areas of the brain may cause some parts of the brain to shrink. And as those certain parts shrink, its functions may also significantly degenerate such as focus, drive and motivation.

You cannot just “turn off the switch” for depression

An individual who has a depression may know what they should do to become better, however, their brain chemistry makes this difficult for them to rise from the immensely terrifying and distressing effects of depression.

It is not merely resistance to what could lift the spirit up, but their body helping them not help themselves which could be exhausting for the person themselves.

You don’t always have a ‘reason’ for feeling depressed.

Depression does not always occur for a reason and sometimes it just happens because of the chemistry and activities within the body. Either one may be predisposed and significant stress may trigger it, a stressful environment that triggers its signs and symptoms of or it may be caused by the psychological makeup of the individual.

However, biological, psychological and social aspects should be considered to identify what may have triggered the depression. In abnormal psychology, we call this the biopsychosocial approach. This is a model which helps mental health professionals evaluate and determine contributing factors for psychological disorders.

Coping and resilience may also contribute to onset of depression (this falls under the psychological aspect of the abovementioned model). There is a feeling of helplessness for people diagnosed with depression and it may be hard for them to point out what causes them to be depressed.

You’re not ‘you’ when you’re depressed.

The person you are meant to be does not truly show when you have depression. Your personality may be concealed or buried due to the depression. One’s identity may be shadowed due to the effects or symptoms of depression.

Many people feel like they don’t know who they are.

Everything is hard

Lack of self-esteem, self-doubt, recurrent thoughts of death and suicide, extreme sadness and loss of interest for pleasurable activities are one of the many signs and symptoms of depression that can make it significantly challenging for an individual suffering from the disorder.

No matter how much you think you want to do something, because your body and mind drags you down, things that a person used to do will be less or most likely not done.

Even reaching out to those who are dearest to them will be hard for them and will startle the latter as well.

Depression affects not just others but also the individual. This is considered distress, one of the 4D’s of abnormality.

Also note that depression is an ego-dystonic mental disorder which refers to misalignment and feelings of discomfort of one’s own thoughts, feelings and behavior.

Unlike personality disorders which are ego-syntonic, meaning how they are, even tho deviant, dangerous and dysfunctional for others, their instinct and ideas are acceptable to the self.

It’s difficult to communicate emotions when you have depression

Diminished interest in pleasurable activities also applies to socializing. Either you are considered as an extrovert or introvert, you will always have someone or something that would keep you accompany.

For people with depression, it is most likely for them to prefer keeping the discomfort and the heavy weight to themselves as they may deem it will just be a burden for others if they become aware of these experiences.  

Depression is physical, too.

While its signs and symptoms are considered, depression in some cultures may also be manifested differently such as headaches, chest pains, heart distress and stomachaches. It has similar tendencies or manifestations to anxiety which is not surprising given their close relationship.

Symptoms of depression may also change your brain in many ways. An example is it affects a neurotransmitter called serotonin. This neurotransmitter is responsible for many things from our emotions to motor skills. Low levels may cause someone to have insomnia, lethargy and anxiety.  

Depression can be lonely and isolating.

We humans are not born isolated, but rather, designed to be social beings for us to thrive in the environment we live in. Having depression may limit a person doing so due to lack of interest in seeking pleasurable activities such as socializing.

Not only that but feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and even stigma towards depression may lead someone who has the signs and symptoms isolate themselves from others.

The individual likely knows what to do to become better but their system drags them down, which makes it hard for them to help themselves even while others around them try to help and support them. It is like fighting a battle that one never wanted to sign up.

Consider a public attitude survey conducted by the University of North Texas to determine the community’s view of mental illness. Think about the above list as you read the results below.

A survey determining the community’s view of mental illness was conducted by the University of North Texas. See below:  

  • Major depression is viewed by 50% of people as God’s will and how a person is raised. 
  • 50% view major depression as too much expectation out of life. 
  • 40% believe depression is caused by lack of willpower.
  • “Pulling oneself together” is believed by 60% to be an effective treatment for depression.

What is depression?

Depression is a psychological disorder that negatively affects the way we think, feel and behave and which causes danger, distress, dysfunctionality at home and/or in school or work and may deviate one from most people.

There are many signs and symptoms that one may have before being diagnosed with it. At least 5 of the following symptoms should be present before being diagnosed with depression during the 2-week period and at least either or both symptoms, depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure is present:

– most the day in a depressed mood, nearly everyday as observed by one’s self and/or others. (note: children may show agitation)

– anhedonia or loss of interest in pleasurable activities

– drastic weight loss or weight gain

– unfocused or diminished thinking


– feelings of unworthiness

– psychomotor agitation

– having recurring thoughts of suicide or death

– lack of sleep or excessive sleep

What is stigma on depression?

Stigma involves a negative view, approach or a discriminatory behavior or attitudes toward people who have depression or in general, any mental disorder. For someone who stigmatizes a person with depression, a disapproval may be shown towards the subject of the person who has it and may cause someone affected by depression to be shameful of their condition. This may also affect one’s career and/or career opportunity. 

With this, the person may feel inhibited to seek help or professional intervention due to the negative association of others to their condition.  

How can someone have depression?

A person who is depressed may be predisposed of it. Either or both of their parents, relatives or ancestors have had them. For others, it may be due to the stress from the environment such as stressful family dynamics, loss of a loved one, significant changes in one’s life (e.g., career change, moving or breakup) or because of their psychological resilience.  

What is depression not?

Depression is a psychological disorder and more of an affect rather than a state. The latter is a short-term intense emotion. An easier way to understand this is the misuse of the phrase “I feel so depressed.” after watching a tragic, based on real life movie. Hence, it is better to say “That made me feel so sad.” after watching a movie as such.

What is the difference between depression and grief?

Depression is a psychological disorder while grief is a natural process when someone loses someone significant to them. Grief may take from weeks to years and may be manifested differently by individuals. However, grief may lead to depression.

They have similar signs and symptoms, however, they vary accordingly to how grief diminishes in time. Depression on the other hand tends to be more pervasive and persistent.

Depression may also be associated with bipolar disorder where one experiences a manic episode for a certain period of time and a major depressive episode.

How will I know if someone has depression?

A layperson can only infer if someone has a depression. However, to be diagnosed with depression, one must visit their mental health practitioner, take some therapy, interviews, tests and other assessments.

Diagnosis of depression cannot be done within a day. It will take a substantial amount of time for a mental health professional to come up with the diagnosis since a lot should be considered such as medical history, family background, observation of the client, etc.

Sometimes I feel depressed. Do I have depression?

There are many possible reasons why a person may feel like they are depressed. However, prolonged and persistent feelings of depressed mood, lack of sleep and other signs and symptoms should be consulted with a mental health professional.

If you significantly feel this and it gets in the way of your functioning at home and in school or work, causes distress, danger and pulls you away from the things you usually do and the people you are comfortable being with, seek a mental health professional.

It is also important to recognize and be mindful (if you can) of where the sadness is coming from as this will help you assess if you are already in need of an intervention or therapy.

Are depressed people always alone?

Depressed people are not always alone, but some people with depression want to be alone all the time. There are some who shows they are well. They are neat, smiling on the outside, looks lively and even lovely but feels terrible on the inside.

So, it is good to check your friends and family from time to time and communicate with them as much as possible as you can.

FAQs: Why is Depression Hard to Understand? 

Why is depression hard to understand? 

Depression is hard to understand because it has been stigmatized for a long time even until now. People who are identified by the society who have depression can be seen as weak and are prejudiced. Due to the negative view of this psychological condition, a person may feel ashamed and instead hide it from others rather than address it to prevent its signs and symptoms through therapy or simply opening about it with others. 

Can depression make you confused?

Due to the memory problems linked with depression, depression may cause the person to be unfocused, forgetful and may cause poor decision-making. This also produces high stress hormones called cortisol that may lead to short-term memory.

Can depression make you less intelligent?

Many researchers were conducted that showed a link between depression and intelligence. Depression can change the physical structure of the brain. An example is if the brain undergoes a prolonged heightened level of cortisol, it undergoes shrinking of the hippocampus which is responsible for keeping the hormones in check and which also play an important role in cognitive processes.  

What is the #1 cause of depression?

Many factors are considered to cause depression. It may be genetic influences or vulnerability, environmentally elicited, effects of medications, stressful life events and/or another medical condition. As of today, there is no record of the most that contribute to depression and it is most likely identified with many aspects such as mentioned above.

Are there different types of depression?

Yes, and a couple are the following:

– Major Depressive Disorders

– Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

– Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

– Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

– Cyclothymic Disorder

– Bipolar I Disorder

– Bipolar II Disorder

– Seasonal Affective Disorder

How can I make others understand depression?

Educating others about depression will give a better understanding of it and people who have depression. Our understanding will also transform the way we perceive and treat others as well, especially those who are diagnosed with depression. Empathize and help reduce stigma by giving attention to the negative beliefs about depression and mental health in general.

How can we lessen if not eradicate stigma?

Some people who have depression do know how the ways to make themselves better, however, their body and brain would just not let them take it. Educating one’s self and others is a significant help to lessen misunderstanding and stigma towards depression. We should also acknowledge and practice empathy and compassion towards others even if one is likely or not to have depression.

BetterHelp: A Better Alternative

Those who are seeking therapy online may also be interested in BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers plenty of formats of therapy, ranging from live chats, live audio sessions and live video sessions. In addition, unlimited messaging through texting, audio messages and even video messages are available here.

BetterHelp also offers couples therapy and therapy for teenagers in its platform. Furthermore, group sessions can also be found in this platform, covering more than twenty different topics related to mental health and mental illness. The pricing of BetterHelp is also pretty cost-effective, especially considering the fact that the platform offers financial aid to most users.


In this article, we answered the question “Why is depression hard to understand?”. We also discussed depression itself, how it is perceived by others and what are the causes and other factors leading to depression. We also answered frequently asked questions about the subject.