When you're living with depression, it's very, very common to also feel shame. And, if you can relate, then in this in-depth blog post, we'd like to share with you:
- The biggest causes of "depression shame" - as told to us by members of The Depression Project's community;
- Several strategies, suggestions and reminders to help you cope with - and ultimately overcome - "depression shame".
With that being said, let's now get started!
The Biggest Causes Of "Depression Shame", Part 1: The "Consequences Of Depression"
As you no doubt know, depression comes with a wide variety of intense, debilitating symptoms, including:
- Negative thoughts1;
- Painful emotions2 - such as misery, worthlessness, hopelessness, numbness, overwhelm and irritability (just to name a few);
- Physical symptoms - such as complete and utter exhaustion2;
- Behavioural changes - such as social withdrawal3, and a significantly decreased ability to function2.
And, unfortunately, there are a lot of consequences that can arise from these intense, debilitating symptoms of depression which can cause you to feel shame.
For example, according to members of The Depression Project's community, some common consequences of depression that can cause "depression shame" are that:
- Depression can diminish your ability to function and get things done due to “depression tiredness” - since like we mentioned above, depression can make you feel completely and utterly exhausted.
- Depression can prevent you from being the person you want to be in your relationships - such as someone who can, for example, have a pleasant conversation with your friends and family members, someone who can be funny and make them laugh, someone who can be happy and celebrate their wins with them, and/or someone who can support them and help them through their own struggles in life.
- Depression can lead you to engage in self-sabotaging behaviours - such as binge eating and self-harm, for example.
- Depression can lead to decreased performance at school or at work.
- Depression can lead to noticeable weight gain or weight loss.
- Depression can lead you to forget things that are special or important.
- Depression can lead you to be "hypersensitive" and/or break down over "something small”.
How To Cope With And Overcome "Depression Shame" That's Caused By The "Consequences Of Depression"
If one or more of depression's common consequences cause you to feel shame, then the good news is that there are steps you can take to cope with and in time overcome this shame. And, with this objective in mind, we'd now like to share a handful of suggestions with you.
A) Remind Yourself That Depression's Consequences Are Not A Negative Reflection Of Who You Are As A Person
Because depression can have such a debilitating effect on you, all of the consequences of depression that we listed above are just that - consequences of depression - as opposed to being a negative reflection of who you are as a person. And, it can really, really help to continuously remind yourself of this, because the more you're able to keep this in mind, then the less likely you are to feel "depression shame".
B) Don't Hold Yourself To "Unfair Standards"
If you're feeling shame over the consequences of depression, then holding yourself to "unfair standards" is often a major reason why. In particular, these "unfair standards" most commonly include:
- Holding yourself to the same standards when you're being weighed down by depression's symptoms as you would when you're not being weighed down by depression's symptoms.
- Holding yourself to the same standards as someone who does not have depression.
However, when you're being weighed down by depression's symptoms, it's inevitable that you will not be able to operate as well as you usually would, nor as well as someone who isn't struggling with the same debilitating symptoms of depression as you are. For this reason, we really encourage you to:
- Firstly, adjust your expectations of yourself, and instead hold yourself to standards that take into account depression's impact on you.
- Secondly, we really encourage you to try to be kind, understanding and compassionate with yourself (for example, by congratulating yourself any time you do the "little things").
C) Try Not To Internalise Ignorant Comments From People Who Don’t Understand Your Depression Properly
As you no doubt know, many people who've never experienced depression themselves don't understand the illness properly. In particular, a common misconception is that depression isn't much different to just being "sad" or "having a bad day" - and, if this is what some or all of the people around you think, then:
- It's highly, highly unlikely that they will understand and be mindful of all of depression's common consequences.
- As a result of not understanding and being mindful of depression's consequences, they're much more likely that they otherwise would be to make critical, judgmental comments - such as, for example, "you're so lazy"; "I can't believe you haven't showed all week - that's disgusting!"; "everybody else can do [insert task] - why can't you?"; and/or "your room is a mess - when was the last time you cleaned?"
Believing comments like these to be true can unfortunately be a major source of "depression shame", and for this reason, rather than internalising these comments as truths and feeling bad about yourself as a result, we really encourage you to instead:
- Remind yourself that just because somebody says something, it doesn't mean that it's true.
- Ask yourself: If someone had an accurate understanding of depression and all of the ways that it can impact you, then would they be making the same judgmental, critical comments that they're making now?
- Since the answer to Question 2 is going to be "no", it highlights that as opposed to being grounded in reality, the judgmental, critical comments that you're being told are grounded in misconceptions of depression. And, for this reason, instead of internalising these comments as being true, you can instead give yourself permission to not buy into them.
D) Cognitively Reframe Your Negative, Shame-Fuelling Thoughts
Negative thoughts like "I'm lazy for spending all day in bed", "I'm worthless for not showering for days, or "I'm useless for not being able to work as fast as my co-workers can" are going to contribute to you feeling "depression shame". However, just because you have one or more negative thoughts such as these, it doesn't mean that those negative thoughts are true - and in fact, when you're viewing everything through depression's critical, distorted "lens" that's causing you to think much more negatively than usual, many (and often all) of your negative thoughts are indeed going to be false.
For this reason, rather than automatically accepting your negative thoughts as truths, we encourage you to instead ask yourself:
Is there a more positive, self-compassionate, accurate way that I could be looking at things?
Asking yourself this question is an example of implementing a common cognitive behavioural therapy technique known as “cognitive reframing” or “cognitive restructuring”4, and the reason why it can be so helpful is because there usually is indeed a more positive, self-compassionate, accurate way of viewing things!
- “I’m so lazy and useless for not being able to _______” could be reframed as "I'm struggling to _______ right now because I'm feeling extremely 'depression tired' – NOT because I'm lazy or useless.”
- “I’m such a loser for not being able to do something as simple as _______” could be reframed as "struggling to _______ is forgivable when I'm in 'survival mode', and isn't a reflection of my worth as a person."
- “I’m so worthless for not being able to be there for my friends as much as I’d like” could be reframed as “it’s important to be there for myself too and to prioritise my own needs when I’m struggling”.
- “They will leave me if I’m not able to be the funny one like I normally am” could be reframed as “there is so much more to who I am than just being the ‘funny one’, and as a result, my friendships are stronger than I realise”.
- “I’m such a burden for being in a low mood and needing support” could be reframed as “it is OK to not be OK, and in the same way I wouldn’t judge a friend who needs support, I shouldn’t judge myself either. Friends are there to uplift each other.”
- “I’m such a terrible person for snapping at my partner” could be reframed as “while I wish I didn’t snap at someone I love, the reason I did so is because my depressive symptoms are really intense right now and I’m going through a LOT. So, even though I acknowledge that I’d like to do better next time and not snap at my partner, I also need to cut myself some slack and not be overly critical of myself.”
- “I am such a failure for slipping back into bad habits” could be reframed as “when someone’s in a really dark spot, it’s natural to seek immediate comfort and relief – even if doing so comes at the expense of their long-term wellbeing”.
- “Now that I've relapsed back into my self-sabotaging habits, I’m back to square one” could be reframed as “I’ve come so far, and healing isn’t linear – it’s complex – and having a setback doesn’t eradicate all of the progress I’ve made”.
- “I hate myself for binge eating” could be reframed as “I forgive myself for what I did when I was in ‘survival mode’”.
- “I did my best and it clearly isn’t enough … nor will it ever be” could be reframed as “I did my best while battling many debilitating symptoms of depression, life stressors, stigma, my self-doubt, and so much more. Given this, I actually did pretty well, and with time and healing, 'my best' will get better and better. I am enough.”
- “I hate myself for doing such a bad job at work” could be reframed as “I will be kind and patient with myself as I continue to navigate depression and all of its consequences – including decreased work performance."
- “I can’t believe I let myself get this out of shape – I hate myself for it” could be reframed as “I forgive myself for comfort eating while battling the intense negative symptoms of depression. Just surviving was an act of courage and strength, and this is something I should be really proud of.”
- “I can’t do anything right … I can’t even get my diet under control” could be reframed as “I am capable of managing a healthy diet, but it takes time to achieve this while battling so many other challenges in life”.
- “I’m such a bad friend for forgetting their birthday” could be reframed as “sometimes it requires all of my energy and focus just to survive depression … and during these times, it’s natural to lose touch with other things”.
- “I couldn’t even remember the due date for this assignment / work project – I’m so hopeless!” could be reframed as “depression can be so disorientating that it can make you lose touch with what’s going on in your day-to-day life – and for this reason, it’s not fair to discount this impact of depression and shame myself for forgetting something”.
- “I’m such an idiot for forgetting to take my medication!” could be reframed as “I’m not an idiot – forgetting things is a symptom of depression. I need to be much kinder-, compassionate- and forgiving of myself.”
- “I can’t remember what my loved one told me … I’m such a terrible person” could be reframed as “my current memory difficulties are a result of my depression, and they do not define me. I’m going through so much right now, and the last thing I need is to be unfair to myself by overmagnifying this."
- “I’m so weak for breaking down over such a small issue” could be reframed as “I’m actually really strong for carrying the weight of depression’s challenges for so long, and it’s OK to have moments where they're too heavy for me."
- “I’m such a bad partner for overreacting to what they said / did” could be reframed as “while it’s not ideal to overreact in the way I did, it does not define my worth as a partner. After all, there are many instances where this hasn’t happened, and it’s not fair to discount those occasions and overmagnify this one.”
- “I’m such an embarrassment, I can’t believe I got so sensitive over such a silly joke” could be reframed as “it’s natural to be sensitive when I feel very vulnerable due to my depression. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.”
- “I hate myself for being so emotional” could be reframed as “I may be more emotional than usual right now, but this is a reflection of all I’m going through. I have a big heart, and there are so many positives to this as well.”
E) Empower Yourself By Taking Steps To Address / Overcome The Consequences Of Depression That Are Causing You To Feel Shame - Which As Opposed To Shame, Can Result In You Feeling Proud And Good About Yourself
To help you do this, we recommend the following resources in particular:
- If struggling to get out of bed contributes to you feeling "depression shame", then we encourage you to read our blog post How To Get Out Of Bed When You Have Depression.
- If self-harm contributes to you feeling "depression shame", then we encourage you to read our blog posts 40 Alternatives To Self-Harm and 3 Strategies To Help You Resist The Urge To Self-Harm.
If struggling to function because of your depression is contributing to you feeling "depression shame", then you'll likely find one or more of the following cognitive behavioural therapy-based journals helpful:
- You Are Not Weak
- You Are Not Useless
- You Are Not A Burden
- The "Depression Lack-Of-Motivation" Journal
- The "Depression Overwhelm" Journal
- How To Do Your Chores When You're "Depression Tired"
- How To Look After Your Personal Hygiene When You're "Depression Tired"
- If engaging in self-sabotaging habits contributes to you feeling "depression shame", then we recommend taking our Self-Sabotaging Habits Bootcamp.
- If "breaking down over something small" contributes to you feeling "depression shame", then we recommend you take our Distress Tolerance Bootcamp.
- If struggling to concentrate / forgetting things contributes to you feeling "depression shame", then we recommend taking our Foundations Of Mindfulness Bootcamp (since practicing mindfulness can help you to concentrate5 and remember things6).
- If struggling to function because of your depression is contributing to you feeling "depression shame", then we recommend taking our "Depression Lack-Of-Motivation" Bootcamp and our "Depression Overwhelm" Bootcamp.
The Biggest Causes Of "Depression Shame", Part 2: Having A "Good Life", And Therefore Believing That You Have "No Reason To Be Depressed" - Since There Are "So Many People In The World Who Are Worse Off Than You"
According to members of The Depression Project's community, this is another extremely common cause of "depression shame".
However, while feeling as if you have "no right" to suffer from depression because you live in a nice house, have a caring family and have a good job, for example, is indeed understandable on the one hand, what it ignores is that your “life circumstances” / your "environment" is only one of five main contributing factors of depression.
In order to understand this point properly, we'd like to share with you a free, abbreviated excerpt from our cognitive behavioural therapy-based journal You Can Have A "Good Life" And Still Have Depression.
The first step to dismantling the judgmental thought “I shouldn’t be depressed because I’ve got a good life” is to understand the five different aspects of depression – as based on the cognitive behavioural therapy model7.
A) Your Thoughts
“Cognitive distortions” are distorted thinking patterns that are grounded in some form of bias, and which commonly result in you viewing yourself, a situation you’re in and/or the world much more critically, judgementally and negatively than you otherwise would (and consequently, to you experiencing depression). Some common types of cognitive distortions include8.
- Filter Thinking – which is where you filter out all of the “good” or the “positive” in a situation and only focus on the “bad” or the “negative”. For example, filtering out all of the times you were kind, patient and loving with your child, and instead focusing on the one time you snapped at them and thinking that you're a "terrible parent" as a result.
- Overgeneralisation: This is where you make broad, big-picture conclusions about something based on very little information or evidence. For example, thinking / concluding “I can't do anything right” after making one mistake.
- Personalisation: This is where you take personal responsibility for things that aren’t in your control, and/or that have nothing to do with you. Personalisation often results in you blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault, and can take the form of, for example, blaming yourself and thinking that it’s your fault that your partner is upset – even when what’s troubling them is actually completely unrelated to you (such as in the case of them having a problem with their boss at work, for instance).
- Catastrophisation: This is where you conclude that something is much more drastic, dire or hopeless than it actually is. For example, catastrophising the reality “I haven’t overcome depression yet” into the definitive, all-conclusive prophecy “I will NEVER overcome depression!”
- All-Or-Nothing Thinking: This is where you view something as either one extreme or the other, instead of having a more balanced, accurate perspective. For example, thinking “I made one silly comment in my job interview today, so the whole thing was a complete disaster”.
- Emotional Reasoning: This is where you reason that because you feel something, that it must be true. However, just because you feel something, it doesn’t mean that it’s true at all (particularly when you’re struggling with depression, which can of course significantly distort the way you think and feel).
- Mind-Reading: This is where you jump to conclusions about what someone else is thinking. For example, thinking “I shouldn’t have said that – they’ll think I’m an idiot now”; “they saw me cry so they must think I’m weak”; or “everyone thinks I’m a burden because I’m not as happy as I used to be”.
- Disqualifying The Positives: This is where, if something positive happens, you reject it or discount it instead of accepting and embracing it. An example of this would be receiving a compliment, but instead of believing it, disregarding it by thinking, “they didn’t mean it – they were just trying to be nice”.
- Should Statements: These are damaging expectations or beliefs you have about yourself, other people or the world about how things should be done or about the way things should be. For example, thinking “I should have achieved more in my life by now … I’m such a failure”.
B) Your Emotions
In addition to your thoughts, your emotions can also of course significantly contribute to your depression as well. In particular, some difficult, painful emotions which commonly do this include:
- Sadness, grief or loss over something bad or tragic happening –whether to you, somebody else, or in the world in general.
- Regret that something didn’t / hasn't happened.
- Hopelessness about something that’s out of your control.
- Trauma from a painful experience that happened in the past.
- Feelings of worthlessness.
- Feeling misunderstood by the people around you, and therefore lonely as a result.
- Feeling unfulfilled.
- Feeling as if your life lacks purpose, direction and/or meaning.
C) Your Behaviours
For many people who struggle with depression, their “behaviours”, so to speak, are also a contributing factor. In particular, some behaviours which commonly contribute to depression include:
- People Pleasing: This behavioural trait can make you feel stressed, overwhelmed and burned out; can lead to you being used, mistreated and taken advantage of; and can result in your needs and wants never being met.
- Constantly Comparing Yourself To Others: This can lead to negative thoughts, dissatisfaction, jealousy and misery.
- Avoidance Behavioural Patterns: This is where you avoid behaviours which can lead to positive, healthy, desirable outcomes; and instead resort to behaviours that lead to sup-optimal / negative outcomes, and/or that don’t lead to you getting your needs met. For example, hiding your authentic true self in your interpersonal relationships due to a fear of rejection (which can lead to you feeling misunderstood and lonely).
- Overworking Yourself: This can result in you feeling burned out, exhausted and miserable – particularly if you’re working really hard in a job you don't like.
- Relationship Sabotage: This can include, for example, pushing people away whenever you feel yourself becoming too vulnerable / getting too close; or constantly searching for (and often inventing) problems in a relationship that you feel is “too good to be true” – which can result in you destroying what was actually a wonderful relationship.
- Comfort Eating / Binge Drinking: This can occur for many reasons, including as a way of trying to cope with stress.
D) Your Physiology
Additionally, there are a variety of “physical” factors which can contribute to depression as well. These can include, for example:
- Chemical imbalances in your brain9;
- Sleep difficulties10;
- Low thyroid levels11.
E) Situational Factors
For many people who struggle with depression, “situational factors” are also a contributing factor – or put another way, there’s a distressing situation, circumstance or event that’s taking place in their life or in the world around them that they’re finding extremely challenging to deal with. Some common examples of situational factors which can contribute to a person’s depression include:
- Being in a toxic relationship, or being surrounded by people who ridicule, mistreat, bully, invalidate or abuse you.
- Working in a job you don’t like, or one that causes you a high degree of stress.
- Financial difficulties.
- Unsettling changes that have taken place in your life – such as moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone and therefore feel lonely and miserable.
- Serious illness or injury – either to you, or to someone you love.
- Loss – such as that of a spouse through a divorce, or even more tragically, through the death of a loved one.
- Traumatic events – such as abuse, for example.
- Events or circumstances that are affecting the world as a whole (or at least a part of it) – such as coronavirus, war, climate change or an election.
Why ANYBODY Can Have Depression – Even People Who Have A “Good Life”
If you think “I shouldn’t be depressed because I’ve got a good life”, then what it usually means is that:
- There is unlikely any obvious, easily-identifiable catalyst of depression in your life – such as, for example, the death of a loved one.
- Or, to put it another way, it usually means that at least some (or perhaps all) of the “situational factors” identified above are not a contributing factor to your depression. For example, you may not have any financial difficulties, you may live in a comfortable home, you may be in good health, and you may be surrounded by loving, supportive family and friends.
However, as we hope you’re starting to see, depression can have many, many, many contributing factors. And, since only a subset of these contributing factors are situational in nature, it means that absolutely ANYBODY can have depression – even people who have a “good life” with respect to a variety of situational factors.
- Just because you have a “good life” with respect to a variety of situational factors (such as your finances, your health, etcetera), it doesn't mean that there aren’t any other situational factors which are contributing to your depression – such as being surrounded by people who don’t understand you and who invalidate your emotions, or feeling lonely because you're no longer living in close proximity to your loved ones.
- Just because you have a “good life” with respect to a variety of situational factors, it doesn't mean that you’re exempt from thinking in cognitively distorted ways that fuel depression – such as through filter thinking, overgeneralising, personalising, catastrophising, all-or-nothing thinking, emotional reasoning, mind-reading, disqualifying the positives, or should statements.
- Just because you have a “good life” with respect to a variety of situational factors, it doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from feeling difficult, painful emotions such as sadness over something bad happening; regret that something else didn’t happen; hopelessness about something that’s out of your control; worthlessness as a result of struggling with low self-esteem; or any of the other difficult, painful emotions we mentioned above. Once again, all of these emotions (and so many more) are capable of fuelling your depression, too.
- Just because you have a “good life” with respect to a variety of situational factors, it doesn’t preclude you from engaging in unhealthy behaviours that can contribute to depression – such as people pleasing, negatively comparing yourself to others, or any of the other behaviours we mentioned above.
- Just because you have a “good life” with respect to a variety of situational factors, it doesn't mean that there aren’t any physical factors which are contributing to your depression – such as difficulties sleeping, for example.
Consequently, like we’ve been saying, this means that absolutely ANYBODY can have depression – even people who have a “good life” with respect to a variety of situational factors.
End of free excerpt
If you struggle with "depression shame", then we hope that after reading this long, in-depth blog post, you now:
- Understand what some of the most common sources of "depression shame" are, and know that you are not alone if you experience them.
- Additionally, we also hope that, moving forwards, the suggestions and advice we've shared helps you to cope with - and in time overcome - "depression shame" as well.
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.
Teo, A. R., Nelson, S., Strange, W., Kubo, H., Katsuki, R., Kurahara, K., Kanba, S., & Kato, T. A. (2020). Social Withdrawal In Major Depressive Disorder: A Case-Control Study Of Hikikomori In Japan. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 274, 1142–1146.
Chapman, A. L., Gratz, K. L. & Tull, M. T. (2011). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety: Breaking Free from Worry, Panic, PTSD, and Other Anxiety Symptoms. New Harbinger Publications.
Burns, D. D. (1989). The Feeling Good Handbook: The Groundbreaking Program with Powerful New Techniques and Step-by-Step Exercises to Overcome Depression, Conquer Anxiety, and Enjoy Greater Intimacy. Plume.