In modern society, mental health is still something that is rarely talked about and those who suffer are often shamed. This is seen in celebrities with alarming frequency, with one of the biggest examples being Britney Spear’s mental breakdown in 2007. In order to make those who struggle with mental illness feel less alone and ashamed, it is important for people to start talking about mental health more openly, stop making suicide jokes, and for teachers and bosses to be more accepting to those with mental health issues.
Talking about mental health openly can be incredibly difficult, but even something as small as “oh, I’m actually meeting with my therapist after school” or “I'm worried about switching new meds; I hope everything goes smoothly!”. These short and casual comments can help depressed people feel like less of an outsider for taking meds or seeing a therapist. These comments can make people feel less alone.
Casual suicide jokes (i.e. “I have so much homework tonight I want to kill myself”) make people with histories of depression or suicidal thoughts feel inconceivably awful. These remarks may not have cruel intentions, but they can bring up incredibly dark memories and trauma for those struggling with depression. For too many people, suicidal thoughts are not a joke. People brave through weeks and months of sleepless nights and not feeling safe in their own body. Throwing suicide thoughts around as something to be laughed at is belittling the sometimes crippling struggle of depression and bringing up trauma that can be too much of a weight to bear.
Not only can mental health stigma be reduced among peers, but it can also be decreased by an increased acceptance from teachers and bosses. “Mental health days” should not be seen as a sign of weakness. Mental health leaves and mental health learning plans should become the norm. When one has the flu or mono, they are expected to take time off of work and school to get better, and mental health should be treated no differently.
Self care is arguably the most important thing I have learned from struggling with depression. Self care looks different for everyone, but the key to caring for yourself is to see yourself like a plant. Plants need sunshine, water, and love in order to grow, and so do people. Self care isn't always bubble baths and expensive lunches; sometimes, it's as simple as looking in the mirror and saying “You know what? I am capable and I am radiant”. Self care is listening to what your body and mind need in order to feel your personal best. Some examples of daily self care include:
-cutting toxic people out of your life
-lifting yourself up through positive affirmations (i.e. “I am worthy of love” , “I am beautiful”)
-watching your favorite movie/tv show
-surrounding yourself with people who love and support you unconditionally (even if the quantity of people is small, it's the quality that matters)
-prioritizing getting enough sleep
-listening to your favorite music
-allowing yourself to have treats (like ice cream!)
-reaching out to people
Self care varies greatly from person to person, but the ultimate value that self care promotes is that your well being is important. Finding a home within your body is a long process, but it is worth it in the end.
Steps to Recovery
When depressed, recovery can feel unfathomable. Every day feels like a battle and it is incredibly difficult to believe that things will change. Not only is hope a light in a dark tunnel, but also you must take action in order to get better. Depression is no different than any other illness; you need to prioritize your health and be hopeful that things will improve (spoiler alert: things will get better).
Step 1: Accept your Illness
In order to go forward with getting the help you need, you first need to accept that you have depression. Sometimes this first step can be the most difficult, because it involves accepting that something is wrong. Because of internalized mental health stigma, you might have thought that your depression was just you being lazy or overdramatic. The symptoms for depression include:
-extreme feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, and worthlessness
-lack of motivation
-noticeable weight gain or loss
-problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
-suicidal thoughts and tendencies
-headaches, aches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause
If a majority of these symptoms apply to you, then you may have depression. Do not panic, because there are many different ways to treat depression. You are not worth less as a person because you have a mental illness
Step 2: Tell a Trusted Adult
The person you confide in can be a parent, a relative, or a counselor, but try to make sure it is an adult. It is important that you tell an adult first because they would likely be able to help you find treatment. If you have a best friend or sibling that you trust, it may also be beneficial to talk to them about what you are going through. They would be less likely to be able to actively help you seek out treatment options, but it is still helpful to have support from those you care about. When confiding in people you trust, remember that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. Many people struggle with mental health throughout life, and those who you tell will be honored that you trusted them and more than happy to help.
Step 3: Find a therapist
Therapy is one of the most effective methods to treat depression. One of the most common types of therapy for depressed patients is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which addresses problems that the patient is having and is geared towards finding solutions. CBT has the power to alter problematic thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes and help find healthy coping mechanisms.
A good therapist can make you feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders and oftentimes, they can be on call if you have a large problem outside of therapy. With this being said, therapy can be a big expense and often times people cannot afford it. If this is the case for you, do not worry! Calling 211 will connect you to free support groups and low cost therapy in your area. Prioritizing your health is always the number one priority.
Step 4: Find meds (if you can)
In the brain of a depressed person, there is not enough serotonin being produced, which leads to feeling uncontrollably melancholy. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) block the reuptake of serotonin, which increases the neurotransmitter’s presence in the synapses and therefore allows for more serotonin to be relayed to the neighboring neuron. The most common types of SSRIs include prozac, lexapro, zoloft, and paxil. If you don’t have insurance or you cannot afford to take medicine, that is okay. You can still go to free support groups or low cost therapy that can lower depressive symptoms
Step 5: Change treatment when needed
Sometimes the first therapist isn’t a good fit or the meds you start taking make you feel worse. If this is the case, do not hesitate to change treatment methods! Everyone’s bodies react differently to medications and the therapist that is perfect for one person may not be very helpful to you. Each person who struggles with mental illness has a very different path to recovery, and they are all valid and beautiful.
What to do if a loved one is depressed
It can feel very powerless when a loved one is depressed. Seeing someone else struggle is a heartbreaking experience, and it can be hard to find the best way to help them. The first thing you should know when someone close to you is depressed is that you alone cannot cure them. Depression is a serious mental illness that cannot be cured by simply “cheering up” the depressed person. Depression and sadness are far from the same. Another important thing to remember is that you should not feel guilty that your loved one is depressed, and you must not make them feel guilty for being depressed either. Your loved one is likely already struggling with the fact that their depression is making you sad, so you should not ever make them feel more guilty than they already do, no matter how much pain you are in. Also, depression is a mental illness that can occur due to a myriad of factors, such as genes, trauma, physical illness, stress, and even other medications. You are not the reason that your loved one is depressed. Depression is caused by larger factors than one person.
Some things you can do to make life easier for a depressed person are reaching out to them, treating them how you would any other person, and being there to listen. When people are depressed, they have the tendency to distance themselves from other people. Thoughts such as “I am a burden to other people” and “They can probably find someone more fun to spend time with” run through depressed minds all too often. These feelings of worthlessness can even lead to one being bedridden for days at a time. Because loneliness is such a prevalent and painful feeling for depressed people, the best thing one can do to help a loved one who is suffering from depression is reaching out. Even if you invite them out to lunch or to a museum and they decline the invitation, at least they know you are making an effort to spend time with them, which means a lot to someone who feels so lonely. When you do spend time with said depressed loved one, make sure to not treat them differently than you would any other person you care about. When depressed people aren’t treated as a sob story, it makes them feel more connected. Bringing up one’s depression in a public setting singles them out in a very uncomfortable manor. Lastly, it is important to always be there to listen. If your depressed loved one trusts you enough to talk about what they are going through, it is imperative that you listen actively and without judgment. Try to respond with phrases like “I’m so sorry you are going through this” or “you are so strong”. Depressed people have to go through a lot everyday, and it is important to do all you can to support your depressed loved one on their journey to recovery.
What to do if you’re suicidal
Being suicidal is incredibly scary. Not feeling safe in your own body is one of the worst feelings imaginable. When you are experiencing an episode and you are all alone, it is important to try and do these things:
This can be incredibly hard to do, but it is arguably the most helpful thing you can do in this situation. Whether this person be a parent, a grandparent, a significant other, or a best friend, it is important to have someone you trust. In this situation, it is best to talk about another, more lightweight topic than your thoughts because it can help you get your mind off things. Calling someone you love can also make you feel more connected, which is crucial when experiencing extreme lows. Also, if you have a therapist, it is useful to have their number so that you can call them in times of an emergency. Their job is to help you and you are not “being inconvenient” by calling them. Furthermore, the suicide hotline is available around the clock (see Resources) and they are incredibly helpful with talking through what you are feeling. There is also a crisis text line (see Resources) if you have a hearing impediment or have anxiety talking on the phone. Lastly, you can always call 911 if you feel incredibly unsafe and need to be taken to a hospital immediately. Your safety is the top priority and there are many people who are here to help you.
Think About Things to Live For:
This might seem difficult, but in dark times it is important to hold onto what makes you want to live. Try to think of small things that enrich your life, such as the smell of freshly cut grass, the feeling of a light breeze on your face, sleeping in late, constellations, fruit, an exceptional song, or a sunrise. When you think of things that make you happy, try not to think of people because that can lead to extreme guilt for having suicidal thoughts. In contrast, thinking of overlooked occurrences that bring joy can help you feel more optimistic. Trying to brainstorm little but lovely things in your life can potentially lift your spirits and bring a little smile to your face.
Do Something Relaxing:
Doing a calming activity can help when the mind’s storms seem too loud. Coloring, playing an instrument, doing yoga, reading a book, or doing a puzzle are activities that help calm the mind. They all require the individual to be completely focused on the task at hand, which is incredibly helpful when having such dark thoughts. Also, all of these activities can make you feel proud of yourself, which can help overall mood.