I was asked this question (or some variation on the same theme) a half dozen times in the past week.
“He just stays up in his room watching Netflix. Is that depression?”
While depressed people certainly tend to avoid things, not all vegging out in front of a bingeable TV series is depression.
People hide in their rooms and numb out with TV for other reasons:
- Just relaxing
- Needing more alone time, or time away from family
- Avoiding responsibilities or unpleasant activities
- Feeling lost, restless, or uncertain
- As a tool for coping (albeit not always a healthy tool)
But none of these are necessarily depression, or any illness for that matter. Even when your loved one uses a problematic coping skill, that doesn’t signify the presence of a mental health condition.
In our current world, questions like, “Is this depression?” can lead to excessive labeling and dangerous overtreatment. While families and friends are trying to understand and help a non-functional or distressed loved-one, we are at times too quick to jump to common illnesses like depression when we see someone who isn’t functioning.
Being lost isn’t depression, although it can be related. Wasting time in mindless activities is not depression (or else we are all depressed in the age of binge watching TV series).
More important, treating unhealthy coping as if it is depression doesn’t help. Medications (the most common treatment for depression) won't improve coping skills.
To solve the mental health crisis, we have to direct people to the right places. That means providing reassurance, not medication, to folks who aren't truly ill. Otherwise, mental health clinics become overrun with the wrong folks and inaccessible to the ones in need of the most help.
If your loved one isn't coping in healthy ways, try gentle confrontation, or schedule time with a counseling professional for advice.