It's been almost a month since the news of Robin Williams' suicide broke and a lot of us are still reeling. He was a constant presence in our collective childhoods, so funny and such a joy to watch in his movies that it's difficult to imagine that he could be as sad as we can often be.
His death is a terrible thing but I think that there is some good that came out of it: a lot of us are now a lot more aware of how serious depression really is, and that our misconceptions can sometimes be dangerous especially when we've got a friend or family member suffering from it.
- Depression is a very real illness. Sometimes we use it to refer to having a case of the sad, or tell our friends that they're overreacting when they say that they're feeling depressed but it's important to remember that we can't be dismissive of it. According to Dr. Dinah Nadera, a consultant for the World Health Organization, depression is "a very common mental disorder characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration." These are all emotions or feelings that we tend to struggle with at certain points in our lives but what turns it into a disorder is if these feelings linger and prevent us from going on with our daily lives.
- Depression can sometimes manifest in physical symptoms. How do you know that it isn't just a bad day? If your feelings of sadness come with feeling tired or weak, or having vague aches and pains all over your body, it might be time to talk to a professional.
- Depression is treatable. A lot of people are scared to seek help for their depression because they worry that they might be judged as crazy or mentally disturbed. Overcoming depression isn't always as easy as trying to distract yourself from your problems or willing the bad thoughts to go away. Remember that there's no shame in seeking professional help for your depression.
Spot the Signs
If you're worried about a friend or family member who’s suddenly acting a lot differently, a little extra attention is all you need to spot the warning signs. Remember that the difference between depression and a bad day is in how long the bad feelings last. Try observing them for a week and asking yourself the following questions before approaching him or her about your concerns:
- Has anything serious happened to them recently? Depression is a result of both internal and external factors so watch out for triggers like a death in the family, a bad breakup, or even a bad grade in class.
- Have they stopped doing things that they loved doing?
- Are they quieter or more withdrawn? Conversely, they can also be hostile if you ask them what's up and they’re feeling judged.
- Are they especially or critical of themselves? Have they mentioned feelings of hopelessness or that they can't seem to get anything right?
A 'yes' to these questions isn't necessarily a 'yes' to depression, but they are signs that he or she may need somebody to talk to. A good way to open a conversation would be to say, "Hey, I noticed that you've been feeling down recently. Is there anything I can do to help?" Open up a line for communication, but don't pressure them into talking if they're not up to it yet. Feeling alone or isolated often adds to the sadness so the most important thing is for them to know that you're there to listen when they're ready.
The same goes for you if you feel that you may be suffering from depression. Open up to somebody you trust like a parent or a close friend. If you're worried about being judged by your family or friends, you can also talk to your guidance counselor. Chances are these people may have observed your feelings and that they're willing to listen.
Love, Love, Love
The most important thing to remember when struggling with depression (or helping out somebody else who has it) is that care is the key.
Take care of your body. It’s tempting to binge on junk food and lounge around in your pajamas all day when you're feeling down but studies have shown that healthy food makes for a healthier mood. Getting your endorphins up through exercise can also keep the blues at bay. If you're not particularly active, taking a walk (by yourself or with a friend) will help just as much.
Be aware of your moods. Keep a journal to write down your thoughts. Sometimes they don't seem as destructive when they're down on paper. You can also take note of the things that make you feel better, like watching your favorite movies, or spending time with a pet.
Do little things. Remember that it's important to make people feel that they aren't alone. Show your depressed friend how much you love them by making them a playlist of their favorite songs, or treating them to a day of pampering. Even something as simple as offering to go with them to therapy will help.
If you need someone to talk to but aren't comfortable going to your friends or family, here are some places where you can get the support you need.
- In-Touch.org has a crisis line with free and confidential 24/7 telephone counseling. Call 893-07603, 0917-8001123, 0917-5067314, 0922-8938944, 0922-3468776
- 7 Cups of Tea and I’m Alive are websites where you can chat anonymously and confidentially with a listener trained in crisis intervention. Visit 7cupsoftea.com and imalive.com.