Emotional fluctuations are anticipated and normal within the human lifespan. Depression, however, is different; it is a persistent feeling of sadness, lasting more than two weeks in duration, which is detrimental to one’s behavioural, emotional, mental and physical well-being. Depression is caused by a combination of factors such as biochemical imbalances within the brain, environmental factors, genetic make-up and personal experiences. An article published by the Stanford School of Medicine utilized twin studies to highlight the role of genes in depression, demonstrating heritability as a major risk factor for depression. While another article published by Harvard Health asserts that depression is caused by imbalances within chemical receptors which are responsible for perception and temperament. Putting aside medical explanations of depression, environmental and personal experiences are also strong triggers for depressive illnesses. Distressing events such as the death of loved one, loss of a job and termination of a relationship increase an individual’s vulnerability to depression. However, the societal stigma associated with depression prevents individuals from acknowledging and accepting their illness, in turn affecting a practitioner’s ability to correctly diagnose and treat the symptomologies of depression. This stigmatization forces sufferers to isolate themselves from social support which is an important protective and preventative factor against depression. In turn, possibly increasing the risk of suicidal behaviour and ideation.
A week ago television personality Charlotte Dawson lost her fight to depression, committing suicide in her apartment. Upon hearing of her death I was overcome with grief that she felt that the only escape from her depression was to take her own life, that in order to cope she had to result to such an extreme and permanent measure. Her death had become a social media frenzy with people updating their statuses sending their condolences to her family and friends, yet, very a few people wanted to address the cause of her death, depression. As a society we tip toe around an illness that affects 350 million people worldwide, that is one in four women and one in five men. However, as a society we need to open the conversation about depression, to lessen the judgement, the stigma and to make it easier for people to say “I am sad and my sadness is unendurable”.
I am one of those one in four women that have experienced depression. There is no sugar-coating how it made me feel: SIMPLY SHIT. You wake up and you do not want to get out of bed, nothing seems worse than the idea of having to engage with people, little things irritate you and you find yourself lacking patience at the simplest things, a good night’s sleep does not fix the tiredness and emotional lows become so frequent that you cry at the drop of a hat. Depression overrides clarity, hope and optimism, leaving you feeling burdened and heavy. The lack of control you have over yourself, your emotions and your life during depression is incredibly difficult to deal with. From every angle of your life your feelings of sorrow are exacerbated, emotionally debilitating and exhausting you. The experience is further intensified when you feel like you cannot share your emotions and thoughts with anyone as you do not wish to burden others and when you realise that majority of people do not have the patience to deal with your sadness. It is essentially a solitary experience which slowly erodes the self, which is not surprising considering it is metaphorically referred to as the black dog.
My knowledge of depression was not enough to assist me in apprehending what was happening to me psychologically. As a friend of mine said “I consider myself to be very privileged in the life that I have. That’s one of the main reasons I don’t talk about my depression, I don’t believe I have the right to feel the way I do.” Openly discussing my experience in the privacy of my GP’s room was stressful in itself. I sensed her judgement peering over my answers to questions like “On a scale of one to ten how anxious are you?”, as if it were absurd that someone as fortunate as myself would feel anything but gladness and gratefulness. It was not until I sat across from a trained therapist, pouring out my heart and soul, that I started putting the pieces of the puzzles together. What I realised in those sessions was that when you deny yourself the right to deal with your problems by repressing them; you also deny yourself the ability to recover.
An essential part in recovering was communicating. Communication does not have to entail talking, it can be a written email, letter or text, as long as it verbalises your emotional experiences. People can and will help you, however, you must search for them and be open and receptive to the support and strength they have to offer. Reaching out, verbalising that you need help and being honest with yourself is the beginning of a better day, a better week, a better month, a better year and a better life.
When your body becomes sick, your immune system fights for its right to function; when you hold your breath, your body fights for its right to breathe; and when you break a bone, your body fights for the right to heal. It’s the same with when you feel distressed, disheartened or depressed: you must fight to get your groove back, to live a life that is a little happier, and to find the ability to laugh and smile again.
If the most minuscule cells and parts within you haven’t given up yet, why should you?
You’re meant to fight.
If you know anyone experiencing depression please reach out to them and offer them a helping hand, in the words of Stephen Fry: “Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”
If you are experiencing depression please seek help through these avenues: