Lately I’ve been thinking that I’d like to cover some topics that are hard to talk about, but that I’d like to give attention nonetheless, especially because they’re such taboo subjects. After some of my recent columns that were viewed quite well, I decided to start a new column series called: “Let’s talk about: <Insert subject>”. Today will be the first entry. I don’t know yet how often I’ll post these, but what I do hope is that they will help whoever is reading them.
Today is World Mental Health Day and mental health is a topic that’s really close to my heart (or should I say brain?). As some of you may know my girlfriend Bren has a bipolar disorder (type 1 with rapid cycling) and when we began our relationship I decided to read about manic depression a lot. My thought was that I really needed to know what it meant to have such a disease, but also to try and create some understanding for everyone who is suffering from mental health issues. I believe there’s still a big taboo on this topic and one thing a lot of people who suffer from depression run into is misunderstanding. So let’s look at some of these misconceptions about depression and what you can actually do to help someone who is depressed, shall we?
A depressed person is just sad
Probably the biggest misconception of all, but people who are depressed aren’t just sad and need cheering up. It really doesn’t work that way. Depression is a constant battle of that person against dark thoughts and feelings. It’s also a battle only they can fight. All you can do as a loved one is being there and this can be very daunting. Oftentimes I would ask “Is there anything I can do for you?” and the answer you’re likely to get from someone who is depressed is that they simply don’t know, because they’re too busy surviving.
A person who is depressed can’t laugh
Another big misconception is that depressed people can’t laugh. They can, but that doesn’t mean they’re not depressed. Similar to how you can still laugh when you have the flu, but you’re still feeling terrible, except that depression is a lot tougher to deal with. Laughing can help, though, and humour is a great way to cope with things. Never underestimate the power of a good laugh.
Depression only happens because of traumatic events
Life changing events like the loss of a loved one, getting fired, or a break up can all lead to depression, but it’s definitely always the cause. Most of the time it’s the accumulation of many factors that lead to depression and this differs from person to person. Some people who fight depression their entire lives didn’t get depressed because they are constantly experiencing heavy traumatic events.
Depression is not a disease
Despite what people might think, it’s a scientific fact that depression is in fact a disease. It’s a psychological, social and biological disorder. Research shows that there’s even a direct link between the guts and brains, which is why a lot of people who experience depression usually have digestive problems as well. The more we understand about how our brain works, the better we can treat people who suffer from depressions, but the link between the brains and digestive system might just be key in finding a cure, or at least some alleviation.
Depression is just in a person’s head
This is far from true. Depression is chronic and as such, it requires the right type of treatment. This is different for everyone. The fact remains that depression also causes a lot of physical problems, like headaches, back pain and cramps, to name a few things. Most of the time people will only acknowledge someone is sick if they can actually see the symptoms. The fact is that it just isn’t that simple with depression.
I know a person who’s suffering from depression, what can I do to help?
If you know someone who is depressed, or who’s known to suffer from depressions and you want to help, there’s a few things you can do to help. Please remember that everyone experiences a depression differently, so none of the tips I can give you are “golden rule” kind of tips. The most important thing is that you keep a dialogue going with that person to find out what could help, but in my experience they don’t always know what you can do to help, because it’s too hard to think and they’re using all the energy they have to simply make it through the day. Here are some things you can try.
Don’t give your (expert) opinion, but simply listen
It’s very important to listen to someone who’s depressed. No one else but they can tell you how they’re feeling at any given moment. Just trying to listen, without the intention of giving your opinion, or well meant advice, is always a good option. People in general just want to be heard and understood. Listening is a skill you have to develop, so make sure you’re actively trying to listen and understand what your friend, lover or family member is trying to say. Just listening can often be a good thing.
Don’t take things that are said during an emotional outburst too hard
Depressed people can sometimes say things they don’t mean. They might be angry, or feel completely hopeless. Usually when they say something during this time, they don’t really mean it and will feel really bad for even having said it. Trying to determine whether someone really means what they say is hard, I know that, but try to understand that these things might not be directed at you and are simply the result of someone who is struggling with themselves. Whatever you do, try to remain calm and know that they’re going through a really tough time.
Don’t force them to do something and try to create a tranquil environment
Distractions can be good for a person who is having a depression, but one thing you should avoid is forcing them to do something. For some getting out of bed is a monumental achievement and adding more stress won’t help them to overcome their depression. The best advice I can give is to create an environment that is tranquil. Try to free your schedule and cancel some appointments if you must.
Forest or beach walks are a little gift
Going for walks can help, especially when they’re in environments with a lot of nature. Try to take someone who is having a depression for a forest walk. Walking will make the body release serotonin, which is a mood enhancing hormone. Combined with a beautiful forested or beach area, it can really help that person to feel just a little better. Remember that you shouldn’t force someone to go on a walk, but if they do decide to join you, it can really help them a lot.
Being there is the most important
The hardest fact you have to deal with as someone who is trying to be there for someone who is depressed is that there’s very little you can actually do. Depression is a battle that only that person can fight. And most of the time this means that all you can really do is to “just be there”. This sounds very frustrating, I know, because I’ve experienced this myself. You just have to accept that you can try to help, but whatever you do, make sure you listen and just be there.
Put your mind first!
I hope this article has reached the right people. Depression is a very tough subject, but I have seen that the acknowledgement of it being a real disease is growing and awareness is very important in our fast moving world. Women suffer from depressions a bit more than men do, but still around 7% of the entire population suffers from depressions, so you’re likely to know someone who has it, or you’re unlucky enough to have experienced them. Whichever is the case, I have the fond hope that one day all people will understand just how bad it can get and that there will be a better understanding of how to deal with depressions, by all people affected by them.
Jeffrey, You ARE doing it as you said you might with your series, “Let’s talk about it.” Your choice of “depression” is excellent in this world we live in with the high 7% you quoted. And the personal connection you have with Bren’s bipolar disorder makes the subject real & not an academic exercise. I like your approach here of “dispelling myths” & then “how can I help.” Your content under these categories is excellent with so much first hand experience. And I personally love the “mind-body” connection you make. I have preached this my whole adult life that you cannot separate the two. I am sure Bren is pleased with the sensitivity with which you approach the subject &, may I dare say, Bren has been your best teacher. –Very fine contribution here to help others. Phil