In the past few months I have heard of cases in the media and in my own community about depression and suicide. People living with depression whom we would never suspect based on the lives they live. From Robin Williams, the infamous comedian and actor from movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook and Jumanji (to name a few), to Simone Battle, an actress and singer and previous finalist on X Factor, to Titi Branch, co-founder of Miss Jessie’s natural hair care line, and many others. These individuals were in the public eye on a regular basis and to us fans and supporters they seemed to be living the good life. They were successful, wealthy and adored and admired by many. However, looks can be deceiving. Many of us didn’t know what they and many others deal with behind closed doors.
When I was younger there was this guy in my church. He was older than me and some of my friends so I knew he was in high school. He was very quiet and I remember he got teased a lot. I don’t even remember why people laughed at him, maybe because he was quiet, but I do remember he always spoke to me. Every time he saw me he would say “hi” and smile and I would say “hi” and give him a smile not understanding what was so wrong with him that people would laugh at him. After a while, I didn’t see him coming to church as often as he did and later heard that he committed suicide. I was too young to understand what that meant or what drove him to that point. I just remember saying, “but he was so nice to me”. Most recently I heard about a young woman, from a church I attend, age 22 or 23 who took her life. I don’t know any details, but it was safe to assume that she had been battling depression and it became unbearable. From celebrities, people in the spotlight to ordinary everyday people like myself, depression affects us all, no one is exempt.
But what is this silent killer and why are so many taking their own lives? First, I call it the silent killer, depression that is, is because it’s almost as if it’s taboo and we don’t want to speak about it. We suffer in silence and/or allow others we know to suffer as well. To speak on mental health issues such as depression is not exactly welcomed, in our families, churches, communities, among peers, etc. We are quick to talk about someone else, but we rarely talk about ourselves and the stuff we are going through and dealing with on a daily basis (you know, those things you’re afraid to talk about. Yeah those!).
Now let’s learn a little about depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you. Depression is a common but serious illness.
Many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapies, and other methods can effectively treat people with depression.
Someone suffering from depression may say, “It was really hard to get out of bed in the morning. I just wanted to hide under the covers and not talk to anyone. I didn’t feel much like eating and I lost a lot of weight. Nothing seemed fun anymore. I was tired all the time, and I wasn’t sleeping well at night. But I knew I had to keep going because I’ve got kids and a job. It just felt so impossible, like nothing was going to change or get better.”
NIMH reports that people with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.
Signs and symptoms include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
How can I help a loved one who is depressed?
If you know someone who is depressed, it affects you too. The most important thing you can do is help your friend or relative get a diagnosis and treatment. You may need to make an appointment and go with him or her to see the doctor. Encourage your loved one to stay in treatment, or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs after 6 to 8 weeks.
To help your friend or relative
- Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
- Talk to him or her, and listen carefully.
- Never dismiss feelings, but point out realities and offer hope.
- Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your loved one’s therapist or doctor.
- Invite your loved one out for walks, outings and other activities. Keep trying if he or she declines, but don’t push him or her to take on too much too soon.
- Provide assistance in getting to the doctor’s appointments.
- Remind your loved one that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.
How can I help myself if I am depressed?
If you have depression, you may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless. It may be extremely difficult to take any action to help yourself. But as you begin to recognize your depression and begin treatment, you will start to feel better.
To Help Yourself
- Do not wait too long to get evaluated or treated. There is research showing the longer one waits, the greater the impairment can be down the road. Try to see a professional as soon as possible.
- Try to be active and exercise. Go to a movie, a ballgame, or another event or activity that you once enjoyed.
- Set realistic goals for yourself.
- Break up large tasks into small ones, set some priorities and do what you can as you can.
- Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
- Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Do not expect to suddenly “snap out of” your depression. Often during treatment for depression, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before your depressed mood lifts.
- Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs, until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
- Remember that positive thinking will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.
- Continue to educate yourself about depression.
Information via NIMH
I’m sure at some point in life every has or will experience some symptoms of depression due to environmental, genetic, situational and other contributing factors. The key to not staying in that dark place is to get help and talk about what you are experiencing. You don’t have to suffer in silence and while it may sound cliche’ things can get better. When I was in college my grandmother passed away and I experienced some symptoms of depression from overeating, sleeping a lot and not wanting to do anything. I noticed that it affected my schooling so I sought help from a school counselor. While I wasn’t diagnosed with major depression, my counselor did confirm that I experienced symptoms of depression and she helped me to work through them. Had I not sought the help I needed when I did, who knows how bad the symptoms would have gotten.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or depressive symptoms, please know that there is hope. I worked for several years in the mental health field and I have witnessed people work through mental illnesses, address and treat the symptoms and live successful lives.
I hope that this helped to shed light on a very serious issue.
Until next time…