A Burden Shared: Finding Support for Major Depressive Disorder

By Kathleen Hoffman, PhD, MSPH

The CDC reported in March that the number of people in the US experiencing recent symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5% during the pandemic.1 Given the circumstances, this 5% uptick in people reporting mental distress isn’t surprising. What should catch our attention, however, is that over 1/3 of the population described having experiences that qualify as symptomatic of a disorder even before the pandemic. The World Health Organization considers depression a global problem affecting over 264 million people every day.2

One Inspire member said:

[Depression] can affect every aspect of your life. This disorder comes with a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, and a sense powerlessness that can impact every aspect of your life.

Another posted on Inspire:

I have been experiencing Depression most of my adult life and it’s been well managed up until about 3 weeks ago. I can’t pin point a reason for this disabling Depression I’m going through now. I haven’t had any medication changes or anything like that. The symptoms I’m exhibiting include…: isolating myself from all family and friends, no pleasure in anything I would typically be interested in…loneliness, shame, guilt, nauseated with vomiting at times, stomach pain… suicidal thoughts and plan making, I stop talking to everyone, I don’t eat, I totally break down… Depression/Anxiety is ruining my life, relationships and much more. I’m ready to give up on everything.

Caregivers reach out to each other on behalf of their loved ones.

I am looking to connect with other moms out there! My daughter, now [age], has struggled with depression and anxiety for many years. When she was a teenager we had her in therapy, began antidepressants and did everything we thought necessary at the time. Fast forward-she’s married with children…and for the last few months she just hasn’t felt “well”. She’s been trying to get into a psychiatrist and therapist without much luck…. As you know the system sucks!

Patients and other caregivers respond:

I get it. My adult son, who is [age], has dealt with serious mental illness issues for many, many years. As a young boy, he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. School was difficult for him, but now that he is an adult, he has completely given up…As his mom…it is heartbreaking to see him struggle the way he does…. And I don’t know what to do to help him.
And you’re right. Services are not great, if they exist at all.

As a [age] who has struggled with depression and anxiety since at least high school, thank you for supporting your daughter! It can really be hard for family, as well as the individual who is ill.

Depression is also common among people suffering from chronic illness or chronic pain. Inspire community partner, Mental Health America, notes that people with chronic pain are four times more likely to have depression or anxiety than those who are pain-free.3 Long-term illness impacts normal activity, work, and social interaction in ways that create depression.

I been dealing with lupus [for 6 years]… im tossing and turning at night bc the pain is so excruciating… I havent left my room in a month I had to quit my job because it became to unbearable for my body… Everyday I cry because im scared I will never be happy I will never feel relief and every person I deal with i feel like im a burden… just because you cant see my pain doesnt mean its not there.

Another member shared their feelings about the results of surgical intervention:

I would just like to be able to talk to somebody about this ostomy bags of depression that I’m going through the big change in life I feel like I’m alone I don’t go out no more I stayed home I am super depressed

Antidepressants can be useful in relieving symptoms of depression. Because many antidepressants are available with differing modes of pharmacology, it may take more than one attempt for a patient and a doctor to find an intervention that works.4 Work is being done by a number of companies and organizations to find more treatments. For example, the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), the lead US federal organization for research on mental disorders, is involved in two studies aimed at better targeting of antidepressants using specific biological guidance.

One study involves using neural signatures in the form of EEGs along with machine learning to identify people likely to respond to antidepressant medication. The other study, just published in February, examines gene transcripts to understand “…how mental disorders with shared genetic risk factors result in different patterns of onset, symptoms, course of illness, and treatment responses,” with the mental disorders in this case being schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder.5

If a burden shared is a burden halved, Inspire members — patients and caregivers alike — are coping with depression by turning to this health community. Right now, there are over 61,000 posts on the topic of major depressive disorder (MDD), with over 38,000 members interested in MDD, posting and searching about it or in Inspire communities for MDD. These members try to help each other and participate in research. What they need is acknowledgement of depression as an illness – without stigma – and easily accessible resources for treatment. As a common component of the disease burden of other conditions, a change in the perception of depression and an increase in the available services and treatments, could change the course of recovery for many patients.


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1 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7013e2.htm
2 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
3 https://www.mhanational.org/chronic-pain-and-mental-health
4 https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/antidepressants/art-20046273
5 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2021/gene-readouts-contribute-to-distinctness-of-mental-disorders.shtml