“I’m so depressed.” This is a common phrase. However, many people still do not understand the difference between ordinary sadness and depression. Sadness is a normal, temporary emotion that we all experience occasionally. Depression however, is an overwhelming hopelessness in outlook that can persist for weeks at a time. Depression affects all types of individuals. People who suffer from depression often feel lethargic, have difficulty maintaining relationships and regular routines, and find it hard to communicate and interact with others. Sometimes, people suffering from depression might not realize that’s what going on; others may refuse to acknowledge it. Depression—like many mental health concerns—often gets stigmatized and dismissed as ‘weakness’ or ‘madness’. However, depression is a real and complex illness.
There are many triggers for depression—usually a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Not everybody experiences depression the same way; it can be a one-time event for some people, and chronic for others. There is no magic bullet and what works for one may not work for another; usually it takes a combination of things, and trial and error to figure out what helps. I offer these tips for people experiencing depression as well as their friends and family members from my personal experience, to help increase understanding and wellness.
For those experiencing depression:
- Take it seriously. Denying or ignoring it will not make depression go away. Depression is a real condition—acknowledge it. Don’t worry about what other people might say. Know that it’s not your fault and you are not weak. Just focus on doing the best you can, one day at a time.
- Ask for and accept help. Don’t be ashamed and don’t shut people out. Depression can make it hard to connect with others but getting outside assistance is crucial to overcoming this illness. You don’t have to suffer alone. Help is available; just ask.
- Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol is a depressant, even though you may feel “high” at first. Alcohol affects one’s ability to think clearly and make healthy decisions. Don’t depend on alcohol to help you cope.
- Address physical health issues. There is a real ‘mind-body’ connection and unaddressed physical health issues can trigger changes in brain chemistry, causing depression. Even if you doesn’t feel sick physically, it’s still worthwhile to get a general checkup when a depressive episode occurs, to rule out any possible underlying biological problem.
- Deal with emotional concerns. Too often, we don’t address issues that bother us mentally/emotionally. It can be hard to do this as it might involve confronting others, challenging relationships of intimacy, power, etc. However ignoring emotional matters just creates bigger problems. Talking things through with those concerned (or a neutral third party), and purging negative emotions through journaling, song, dance, or art is often very therapeutic.
- Address environmental factors. Many things in the school, work, or living space can affect our mental health. Too much noise, not enough quality sleep, overwork, family pressure, racism, discrimination, bullying, financial worries, the sociopolitical climate, etc can all contribute to depression. While it may not be possible to resolve all environmental issues, recognizing their impact and changing those which can be changed can improve mental health profoundly.
- Exercise. You don’t have to go to a gym; just work up a sweat any way you can: walk, run, bike, swim, dance. Just do something that gets your body moving every day; it makes a real difference.
- Cultivate positivity. This can be challenging as depression elevates negative thoughts over positive ones. Make a list of things that you are grateful for and that bring you joy, and remind yourself of them daily.
- Eat properly. Fresh fruits and vegetables, lots of water, less sugar and fried food contribute greatly to mental as well as physical well-being. Enjoying a healthy, delicious meal can also be a great reminder of the good things in life.
- Know that depression can be chronic. Pay attention to your experience. Make notes of what possible triggers might have been, as well as what worked or didn’t this time (realizing that they may or may not be the same next time).
For friends and loved ones of those experiencing depression:
- Don’t be fooled. People affected by depression are often ashamed and unwilling to admit that they are suffering and need help. Many paste smiles on their faces and brush off concerns. Don’t let this fool you.
- Mind their business. If you notice changes in a friend or loved one’s behaviour/personality that suggest they are more stressed than usual, aren’t coping well, or lack their usual interest in and zest for life, don’t ignore them. Be persistent in asking after them and don’t be afraid to get involved. Depressed people tend to avoid social interaction but it’s crucial that they not be left to suffer alone. Your presence can be crucial to their survival/recovery.
- Keep expressing your love. Often, knowing that there are others who care about them is what keeps depressed people from hurting themselves (Note: not all depressed people are suicidal, but many suicidal people are depressed). Show your love in as tangible a way as possible. Helping with basic things like making sure they have food and water, as well as assisting with daily errands and listening when they want to talk are concrete ways of making them feel loved.
- Don’t expect them to just snap out of it. Depression is not just a ‘bad mood’. Depressive episodes can last for weeks and it takes a great deal of effort to overcome depression- medication, counselling, and environmental or lifestyle changes may all be necessary.
- Take care of yourself. It’s not easy to be around someone suffering from depression, even if you love and care about them. They often cannot communicate or return your affection properly. Pay attention to your needs as well, and make sure you get the support you require as you support your friend/loved one.
Sherlina can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org