Depression is often overlooked as many have hidden it so well. Actual, this mental condition is common and there is help.
So let us explore what can be done to help those around us and ourselves as we could experience this unpleasant and sometimes crippling condition.
Dr. Felicia Chang (Writing Team)
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2. “How are you dear?” I asked a close friend. It has been at least two months since we last met. “I am getting better!” she smiled gently. I was quite surprised. Getting better meant she had not been well previously. I continued to probe. “What do you mean? Were you unwell?” “I was depressed but now I am getting better”. I was taken aback. I felt a tinge of guilt. How come I did not know? How could I have missed that? I asked her why did she not come to me for help. Her answer hit me. She said she thought she could deal with it, especially since she was professionally trained to deal with other’s emotional distress. She looked so well that even her friends did not detect the changes in her. Only when she broke down that she knew she needed help.
Over the last two months, I have friends who were affected by depression or very low mood. Most of them will try to brush it off as part of life and just have to deal with it. Many of them appear ‘normal’ outwardly. They were such great ‘actors’ that no one around them knew how much suffering they were going through, on the inside. Even some of us who were professionally trained, missed the cue!
A poem written by Nicole Noir
Sinking to the bottom
Arms and legs like lead
Unable to stop my descent
I feel myself as I drown
I am silently screaming
Mute, all to no avail
My brain tells me to fight
My body immobilised
Going under, going…going…gone…
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3. How serious is depression? In mental health there is a distinct difference between low mood and clinical depression. WHO define depression as a common mental disorder, characterised by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness and poor concentration. There are certain criteria to fulfill before we diagnose someone with clinical depression. However, in layman terms, low mood and depression are used interchangeably. So in this article, I will use the word depression for the feeling of very low mood.
As the definition has indicated, depression is very common. Most of us have gone through it at least once in a lifetime. And depression does not discriminate. It happens to young children, elderly, professional, the rich or poor. It can hit us anytime and anywhere. The death of the famous actor, Robin Williams was a great loss. A man who had brought us so much laughter died of depression. Isn’t that sad? Usually we can identify a trigger point; an event of loss – loss of health, money, relationship or meaning of life. Sometimes, the event may have happened long time ago and anniversaries may trigger the sense of loss again. But more often than not, many will tell you that they do not know what trigger the sense of void and emptiness, it just happened.
I have dealt with depression for many years. Most of the time, it is part of my counselling to my patients and family. Patients often go through depression because of multiple losses; the lost of health, independence, hope and the fear of losing one’s life. They share about being a burden to their family or the amount of money they spent to try to get better. Many of them have problems discussing their feelings with their loved ones because they think the discussion will only bring more burdens to their family. On the hand, the family member may go through the same thing as well. Many gave up their job to care for the ill. They lost their normal lifestyle and many times were isolated because they could not leave home to meet up with friends anymore. The burden of trying to get sufficient money to go for treatment and expenses at home left them with a lot of burden. Dealing with such dynamic is often hard because we do not have a permanent solution.
On a personal level, I have experienced low mood many times especially at work or due to failed relationships. I remember I was only truly depressed once when I was an adolescent and almost ended my life because of this feeling. I planned to end my life by jumping into the sea. I even took a bus to the jetty to execute this plan. It was only through God’s grace and mercy that I turned back at the very last moment. Page 3 of 6
4. Many have said that committing suicide is a selfish act. But when you are in that dark place, all that does not matter. You feel like drowning and there is no help. You feel that you are alone and no one will save you. You feel unimportant and even at death no one will miss you and since you are so insignificant, no one cares. People can try to talk sense to you but it will not work because you are in the world of your own.
Does this mean we give up? Does this mean we do not try to help? Let us then explore what are some ways we can offer help to others and ourselves if we were to face with this terrible ordeal.
First, we must learn to identify our feeling. I remembered once I was sharing about depression when my CG leader looked at me and told me he may have experienced depression. He did not know it at that time and could not figure out what was wrong with him. Once we went through the emotions and behaviors related to depression, he admitted he had that before.
So the first step is to identify your feeling. Are you always having low mood, losing interest in everything that is happening around you? Do you experience insomnia (unable to sleep) or having behavior that leads to isolation? How do you feel most of the time? Crying a lot? Feeling angry at everything? Feeling alone and unsupported? If you have a combination of these, probably you may be experiencing depression.
Second, try to find out what triggers this emotion. Is it a recent broken relationship with family or friends or an unfulfilled prayer? Is it because you have lost your job or income? Are you grieving for someone who is very ill and dying? Are you being bullied? Have you lost the meaning of life or purpose in life? Identifying the trigger point or event can help you to understand why you feel the low mood.
Third, try to figure out what is your expectation. Do you expect to get better? Strangely there are some people who do not want to get better. Some continue to sink deeper because they choose not to deal with all the negative emotions and remain in the doom and gloom. If you or your friends want to get out of this misery, then we must manage the expectation. Nothing can happen over days, especially if you have been in depression for quite some time. But managing one’s expectation can help in focusing on certain task at hand. Example, if I choose to feel a bit better today in comparison to yesterday, I will make an effort to achieve that goal.
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5. How do we achieve a short-term goal? For depressed individuals, they entertain negative thoughts all the time with feeling of low self- esteem. They will go through the trigger point over and over again till they are overwhelmed with all the bad and negative emotions which leave them immobilised. Trying to stop these thoughts can be tough but it can be done. They need to practice to stop these thoughts and replace it with something more pleasant or pray about it (cf. Philippians 4:8) to stop the cycle of negative thoughts. This takes practice but it will improve over a period of time.
Fourth, talk to someone you trust. Sometimes all you need is someone to talk to. By sharing the burden, perhaps it will give you a different perspective. I recently spoke to a friend. She said she is in a midlife crisis and feeling really down. Perhaps life had been tough on her as she is a single mother and all her life, she worked very hard to bring up her kids and give them the best. Once the kids grew up, she had the empty nest syndrome and felt lost.
She lost the meaning of life and felt that she does not know what she wants anymore. Listening to her, I had a sense that she needs a purpose in life. So I advice her that instead of looking at what she needs or wants in life, perhaps she could think of what God wants her to do. Put God first. That is the change of perspective that sometimes a friend can offer.
Lastly, after you have tried your very best to cope but failed, you need to seek professional help. Sometimes, kind-hearted friends tried their best to help yet you find it was not helpful. Perhaps more structured sessions by a counselor or psychologist may help to unfold the challenges and emotions you are facing. The difference between a psychologist and psychiatrist is the latter is able to prescribe you with medication that helps to elevate your mood while you are coping to deal with your depression.
Many choose not to see a ‘shrink’ because of the stigma. Here in Asia, if you see a psychiatrist, you may be labeled as ‘psycho’, ‘mad’ or ‘cuckoo’. But it is not so, in Western countries, even professionals like doctors or lawyers see a psychiatrist to help them with their emotions. So we must first overcome the fear of seeking professional help.
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6. As we go through all these, let us not forget to come into God’s presence. God has never intended for us to feel so dejected and depressed. His Holy Spirit will be with us even at our darkest moments.
I have a habit whenever I am feeling low mood. I start to count my blessings. I start with the things I have and not those I lacked. Having a heart of gratitude will open another door for me. Focusing on God and His love helped me to realise that there is always hope in a hopeless situation. I also appreciate support and love and prayers from my family and friends. It helps me to understand that I am not alone and there are people who love me dearly.
So dear friends, if you are going through depression, remember that you are not alone and our Heavenly Father is always there to help us through. For those of you who know someone who is going through a rough patch, be a good listener, keep your advice to yourself and pray for that person unceasingly.
God Bless! Page 6 of 6