Mental Health and a Helping Hand

This will be one of those unpopular posts that probably no one will read but I feel it’s important enough to write about. Having experienced mild to severe clinical depression in the past I have learned several things. Depression isn’t always the same every time, nor the feelings that accompany it. And people don’t truly understand it, nor how to help a person going through it.

For those who have never suffered from a severe depression there can be a lack of sympathy. The person looks healthy but sure he/she is just moping, or grumpy or wallowing in self-pity. This can in fact be true for a few people or those who are emotionally crippled in some way and use it as a crutch. However, even that situation indicates the person is not emotionally healthy or psychologically whole. Depression can hit all types of people in all walks of life, whether rich or poor, unemployed or working, male or female.

The condition has different degrees of severity. In the past, I have had to fill out questionnaires for my doctor that ask a range of questions and how you feel about them (on a scale), from feeling unloved or unwanted to feeling unmotivated or suicidal. Yes, a person can lie on these but it doesn’t serve a purpose to get drugs if you’re mentally healthy, or to let yourself sink into a black mire if you’re not.

A lower level of depression could be a general malaise and lack of energy. Symptoms can range and can include oversleeping, not being able to sleep, lack of appetite, overeating, anxiety, fear, sadness, boredom, lack of sexual interest, and various body pains. One way that my doctor discovered that I was clinically depressed was that I went to her about an elbow pain that wouldn’t go away and no amount of physiotherapy was helping it. It turned  out that it was caused specifically through my depression and with anti-depressants the physical pain went away too.

Sometimes I just start to feel bored or like I don’t really care much about things that other people are getting fired up over. It can be a sign of the first stages of depression. It can, also, just be a sign of boredom, but it’s a trigger I have to watch for. Sometimes it’s a lack of energy and motivation. This can look like many other illnesses such as thyroid disease, anemia, stress, so it’s important that a doctor diagnoses it and does so correctly. And sometimes depression comes out in the inability to cope. That can be in something as simple as answering the phone, making an appointment, dealing with a last-minute change, not able to make a decision, etc.

It varies in intensity and ability. When I was clinically depressed I managed to go to work every day, barely. I’m quite a good chameleon so I could hide what I was going through, but it built up by the end of the day and I was dragging myself home and crawling into bed. I couldn’t answer the phone, I barely ate, making myself have a bowl of soup a day, and that was it. I didn’t go out and I didn’t cry because I was beyond most emotion except a bottomless pit of loneliness and despair. It was not fun, and I was resistant at first to anti-depressants, thinking they wouldn’t help. I was wrong. I did not enjoy feeling like the world was overwhelming me.

And it was. I was broke, even partially unemployed. A relationship had ended, and I was having health issues partly caused by the depression. I couldn’t find anyone to date and 9/11 happened putting the final nail in that coffin. When I said to my doctor that I had reasons to be depressed she agreed, but said it wasn’t that bad things didn’t happen but how we cope with them. It’s a good gauge to use, seeing if I can’t cope with everyday things that I could handle at other times.

But…depression hasn’t always been this bad, nor has it felt the same. Other times I’ve overeaten. I’ve felt lonely. Or I was lethargic. There are many things that can make a difference in depression, including environment, life situations and healthy lifestyle. Irregular sleep habits and lack of physical activity can exacerbate the condition of depression. Diet plays an extremely important role and a diet high in carbohydrates and sugars and low in vegetables is bound to toss many people towards big highs and big lows, leading to unstable emotional conditions. And of course drugs and alcohol (a depressant) play a big factor; drinking while on anti-depressants can lessen their efficacy.

The other part of depression is that those around you are likely not to understand or comprehend the severity. People look at someone who is sad, depressed, grieving, morose, etc. and think, why don’t they just suck it up and get over it? Getting over depression is sometimes the same as getting over cancer or a broken leg. It takes time. It takes medical care and it takes the support of one’s community.

Mental illnesses tend to fool us. We think if a person looks whole, they are whole. And if there is something wrong with their mind, then they’re crazy and they get stigmatized. I have known people who killed themselves because of their depression. I have had friends tell me that I’ve been through this before and dismiss me, even when I was trying to communicate my feelings.

If a depressed person manages to communicate to anyone what they’re feeling (and remember, in our society we are afraid to ask for help or look frail and weak) it might be no more than saying, “I’ve been depressed,” or “I’m on anti-depressants.” If someone you know says that to you, it means they are reaching out to you and want your help. They might be afraid to say more unless you open up to them. If you don’t know how, ask them how you can support them. They may very well say, “I don’t know,” because the depressed mind cannot always see solutions. It’s like being at the bottom of a giant glass tube with no way to get out. Seeking information, or talking to your own health practitioner will help you support friends or family. One of the best things to do is to just call the person or talk with them and ask them how they’re doing. Get them to go for a walk, some way of using their bodies, which will help regulate the mind. Depression often has a component of feeling isolated, unwanted and unloved. Loneliness can be debilitating and deadly.

I found it incredibly sad and tragic that the one person I knew thought his only recourse was to kill himself. He probably saw it as the best solution for everyone he knew. No one should have to choose that. I could write more and probably will at some point but we all need to be better educated about depression: what it means if we have it, how to prevent it and how to help those we know who are going through it. It is definitely not as easy as just “sucking it up.”

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1 Comment

Filed under Culture, drugs, family, health, life, people

One response to “Mental Health and a Helping Hand

  1. I agree with you that it takes more than just ‘Sucking it up’ but I disagree that depression is a mental illness.
    I was diagnosed with depression and bi-polar disorder. I was suffering such severe anxiety that I often wouldn’t leave my room or answer my phone for days. But I think these days we’re getting it the wrong way round and trying to ‘cure’ this problem by treating symptomatic responses.
    What changed my life was when i realized that it was not that I AM depressed, it was that I was BEING depressed. It takes a lot of effort to be depressed. It does and anyone that has DONE depression knows that fleeting joyful moments need to be quickly replaced with negativity in order to keep up the illusion of depression.
    For me the meanings that I assigned to the circumstances of my life created a feeling of depression. This feeling of depression left me in inaction. This inaction created more of the same circumstances in my life and reinforced the original meaning that I created. It was a viscous circle. Medicine will not break this cycle.
    So for all those who ARE depressed I have one question ‘Beyond that, what ARE you that is so much more’

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