Depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the world…and yet it’s one of the most difficult for people to understand, especially in Trinidad and Tobago. Worldwide, it’s the leading cause of ill health and disability; more than 300 million people are living with depression, according to the World Health Organisation.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many statistics or studies about depression in Trinidad and Tobago, which is probably one of several reasons why there is so much stigmatisation surrounding it. Lack of education leads to ignorance. Many people still don’t understand what it is, and, because we don’t talk about it, it’s grossly underestimated just how many people are living with it.
The face of depression is something that many still can’t grapple with.
I live with depression. Most people who know me or have met me think that I’m extroverted, upbeat, and happy and energetic. I am all of those things, but, I have periods where I struggle with severe depression and anxiety. Depression can affect anyone, and the more we’re open about it, the more we can understand it and help those who live with it.
Here are seven things people with depression want you to know.
1. We’re not “just having a bad day”
Depression and sadness mean two different things. Sadness is a normal emotion that everyone experiences, and a feeling that may lift after a few hours or days. Depression, on the other hand, is a persistent sadness – it can last for weeks, months or even years. It can affect you in various ways such as changing your personality, interests, how you see yourself, and the way you see the future. Depression, like any medical disease, requires professional care to be treated properly. It does not just “go away” on its own in most cases, no more than a broken arm will go away if you just want it to.
2. Being depressed doesn’t mean we’re ungrateful for everything we have
“What reason you have to be depressed?”
“You have a job and a roof over your head. It have plenty out there who worse off than you.”
“Just keep praying.”
Many assume that we’re in an unnecessary funk because we can’t see our blessings, that if we just took the time to be grateful for the wonderful things in our lives, we’d have no need to feel depressed. The two have nothing to do with each other. Being depressed doesn’t mean we’re ungrateful, it simply means that, like many other disorders, we are living with an imbalance that is beyond our control and affects our emotional, mental, and in some cases, physical well-being.
3. No, we can’t just snap out of it
Depression doesn’t have an on and off switch. You can’t tell someone who’s depressed to snap out of it. It’s not only insensitive, but it also implies the person can willingly control the dark period that they’re in. They can’t. Imagine falling into a well and trying to climb out without a rope or ladder. Sounds frustrating and exhausting just thinking about it, right? That’s exactly what depression feels like for many. It’s a strong, overpowering (and in some cases, crippling) feeling and it’s a constant struggle to work through it.
4. We’re a lot stronger than you think
When people think of depression, most times they conjure up the image of someone who’s always down, overly sensitive and cries at a moment’s notice.
Living with depression isn’t easy. Getting out of bed and balancing work, school, family and life’s day-to-day challenges while suffering in silence takes a lot of courage and strength.
Imagine getting bad news about a loved one. Now imagine having to pretend to the rest of the world that everything is okay. It’s not exactly an easy thing to do. Living with depression is like wearing a mask: you have to put on a front that everything is fine but internally you feel like you’re dying. That takes a lot of strength. We don’t choose to be depressed. It can affect various things in your life such as relationships, work, and education.
Depression is out of our control; we don’t choose to be in a low mood all the time. We aren’t weak because we have depression, we’re strong in spite of living with depression.
5. There isn’t always a reason to be depressed
Most people think depression is a matter of cause and effect, that there needs to be a reason for someone to feel depressed. This isn’t always the case. It’s easier to accept depression if someone is going through a breakup or is experiencing a health scare. Depression doesn’t need a cause and that’s precisely why people living with it don’t feel comfortable opening up about it: society tells us that if there’s no reason to feel depressed, we shouldn’t feel the way we feel. While the exact causes of depression aren’t completely understood, it’s believed that it may be caused by a combination of factors including a genetic predisposition as well as certain environmental factors.
6. It can affect anyone
For a lot of people, the word depression conjures up images of quiet, antisocial individuals who always wear black and constantly harp on about how the world is a dark, desolate place. Depression wears many faces; the most outwardly bubbly, funny, larger-than-life can be suffering living with depression in silence. Don’t assume that just because someone appears to have their shit together they’re fine. They may need a shoulder or an ear and just don’t know how to reach out. Which is why…
7. We don’t want to feel like we’re burdening others
Living with depression is not easy. At times it’s difficult to articulate what we’re feeling, much less why we feel the way we do. What’s more, it can be very scary to not feel as if you’re in control of your own feelings. When you add the stigmatisation of depression, it makes it very hard to open up to others. We sometimes feel that other people won’t understand, will dismiss our feelings or even look at us like we’re crazy (we’re not).
How you can help
Educate yourself. That’s the most important thing you can do. Try not to judge or to preach. Put aside your philosophies for a minute and understand that your friend/loved one really needs your support. Contribute resources that might help your loved one: books, websites, articles, support groups or forums.
Listen. Really listen. Simply be there. And, as much as you can, offer hope; it’s one of the most powerful tools in combatting depression.
If you live with depression and feel like you can’t speak with anyone, please contact Lifeline for 24-hour support at their toll-free numbers: 800-5588, 231-2824, and 220-3636 or the Suicide Hotline at 645-2800 or 645-6616. The Ministry of Health has various Mental Wellness Centers throughout the country and private psychology practitioners, like Douglas and Associates, are also available, along with this list of registered practitioners.
The best way to beat the stigma around depression is to talk about it. Have a story you’d like to share? Send us an email at [email protected]