Let's talk about depression
Just over a year ago, someone I knew completed suicide. We weren’t close, but even so, hearing about his passing came as a tremendous shock and made me take a close look into my own life.
Steve* was a smart and accomplished 27 year old with a broad smile and an eagerness to make a difference, unlike anything I'd seen before. He was extremely intelligent and, in my view, a happy young man. During our interactions, he was friendly and articulate and had a very clear view of what he wanted to achieve with his life. Those of us who remember Steve, remember him for his ability to help and his reassuring smile.
It came as a terrible and shattering surprise to hear that he had decided to end his life after a period of behaving erratically. During this period, friends and acquaintances, including myself, put his behaviour down to some eccentricity or him just going through a tough time, but he would soon get back to normal. In fact, I remember commenting that he would shape up – this was after receiving another strange message from him. My reasoning? Maybe he just needed some time to get back to sort himself out and we needed to give him space. From what we can understand now, that was the last message he sent just before ending his life.
We heard of his death just a few days later. At that point, we were all left to piece together the moments we spent together and all the missed opportunities to reach out and help him. Some of us thought about the last conversation we had with him. Others, about how they tried to reach out and were shut out by him.
In the days after his death, there were many questions and hardly any answers. There was a lot of bewilderment and blame throwing. Then, there was an article in a national newspaper which picked up the story and reported on his last moments. It made for harrowing reading. Steve had suffered from depression on and off throughout his short life and we never knew about it because we had never discussed it with him for fear of hurting his feelings.
Now, more than ever, depression is something we talk about openly. Things have changed and keep changing. Depression is no longer something that happens in secret and can’t be discussed – with so many celebrities speaking openly about how depression has shaped their lives and what impact it’s had on their work and relationships we feel that we have permission to share our own stories of depression.
But, what is depression?
According to the Mental Health Foundation, "depression is a common mental disorder that causes people to experience depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy and poor concentration".
Some may only experience depression once, but others may experience it periodically and may need medication.
For those that have suffered from depression, they know all these symptoms all too well and come to dread when the first signs rear their ugly head.
Interestingly, people with depression believe that how they are feeling is not OK. Usually, there’s a lot of questioning and berating that takes place – how can others be happy and I can’t? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I deal with the simplest things in life and instead feel like I’m drowning the whole time? Why am I so weak? These are some of the questions that may linger in someone’s mind when they’re going through an episode.
What can we do to start getting better?
Recognise that there is a problem
Being unwell is never ok. However, the moment we accept we are not well is the moment where we can take steps towards recovery. It may not be a permanent recovery, but strategies can be put in place to help manage symptoms effectively.
First of all, acknowledge that something is off. Denying how you feel and berating yourself for feeling that way is counterproductive. Instead, show yourself some compassion and accept that there are times when you won’t be feeling well and may need help.
Share the burden
It’s really important to speak with someone you can trust completely – a family member, a friend, a health professional, etc. - whoever you feel will be able to listen to you without judgement.
Easy does it
Go really slowly. Usually, the impulse is to isolate yourself and stop doing all the things that you enjoyed before and made you feel better such as socialising, seeing friends and family or exercising. Depression wreaks havoc with body and mind and the longer you have been in this state, the more difficult it is to see results quickly. Take your time and do the smallest thing you can in the moment to start feeling better – for example, if you want to exercise, start by taking a gentle five-minute walk. If you used to love dancing, start by dancing at home or look at joining a dance class. Whatever you choose to do, take your time and be really gentle with yourself. In time, you’ll be able to increase the amount of time you spend doing pleasurable activities.
The key here is to build on things that bring you pleasure and encourage connection with yourself and others.
Be in the present moment
Mindfulness can help you to anchor yourself in the present. Whether you join a group or use a meditation or mindfulness app, just spend some time checking in with yourself and how you feel. Again, be gentle with yourself and move at your own pace.
Seek professional help
Sometimes, we are unable to pull out of our depression by ourselves. This is not a sign that we are incapable – it’s just a sign that we need some extra help with our symptoms. You may even need medication and a health professional will be able to assess you and recommend the best form of treatment.
It's important that, if for some reason you feel that the person or people you are working with are not dealing with your needs appropriately, you choose someone else. Don’t feel that because you started working with someone, you have to work with that person to the bitter end, especially if your needs aren’t being met. The professional relationship has to work for both parties, so you have a better chance of recovering and staying well for a long time.
Finally, for those of us that have dealt with (or are dealing with) someone who is depressed we need to learn to listen without judgement. If someone comes to us because they want to talk, then we just have to do one thing – listen. Not give feedback, tell them what we think, how they should run their life or try to ‘fix’ them. Yes, if needed we must be brave enough to suggest treatment, for example, but the first step to recovery for someone dealing with depression is to speak with someone that will give them the space to express their fears and doubts without fear of judgement.
Depression is an ugly beast and can take the meaning out of life, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence and you don’t have to deal with it alone. Seek help and things will start to get better, one day at a time.
If you're experiencing depression or are worried about a loved one, help is available. Talking to a counsellor can help in many ways, including helping you understand what may be causing your depression, and teaching you coping techniques.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
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