Depression and Oversensitivity
Once again this past week I’ve been tearing my hair out over something that happened on my forum for people with depression. You might think the most frequent problem on the depression forum would be suicidal members. I have to say that I kind of expected that to be a big problem when I started the forum, but thankfully, that has not been the case.
No, my biggest problem is squabbles among the members. It goes on almost all the time. And as far as I can tell, one of the main causes of the squabbles is that many depressed people can be overly sensitive. An offhand comment that would just roll off the back of someone who’s not depressed can send a depressive into an hour-long bout of crying. It’s not something you see often on lists of depression symptoms. I don’t know why, unless it is too subjective to measure.
One consequence of being overly sensitive is to believe that anyone you have a disagreement with hates you. Of course, this simply is not true. It’s possible to disagree with someone without even disliking them. I think that this belief stems in part from the self-loathing that often accompanies depression. If you feel that you’re stupid or incapable of being liked or loved, it’s not a huge leap to thinking that other people find you unlovable.
Let’s say that someone stands you up for a date. A person who isn’t depressed might shrug it off and say, "Oh well, their loss." A person who’s depressed will blame themselves and mentally dredge up every negative quality they think they have, or they might get really angry at the other person.
The tendency to be overly sensitive means that everything on the forum can be blown out of proportion - every slight or perceived slight, any comment that’s even slightly insensitive, even errors of omission. If a member comes into the chat room and isn’t immediately greeted, they often think they are being snubbed. In reality, it’s very possible that the other people are away from their computers or distracted for the moment. That is partly a problem with interacting over the Internet instead of in person, but I think is mostly due to the tendency of depressives to jump to the conclusion that someone dislikes them.
Another result of this extreme sensitivity that I see on the forum is members asking that their account be deleted. Usually the request is accompanied by a note that says that everyone hates them and the forum would be better off without them. What I tend to do, unless the person has been causing problems, is to ask them to think about it for a few days. Actually, this approach came about partly because what used to happen, after I honored their request to delete their account, was that a few days later they would re-register, sometimes after several members had spent time convincing them that everything was fine and no one hated them.
How can you tell someone to be less sensitive? You can’t, really. While there are some personality types that revel in being the modern version of Blanche DuBois, most depressed people hate being overly sensitive. But unfortunately it seems to be a part of depression for many people.
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Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.