November 2014

Dealing with Depression

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

It’s a Wednesday night in March. I am reading the news about fashion designer L’Wren Scott who committed suicide by hanging herself with a scarf. “I could do that,” I think, pouring another glass of wine as a salty river of sparkly eye shadow and black mascara rushes down my cheeks.

I had been feeling down for a few months, a combination of physical pain and personal stresses collecting on my heart. If you saw me out and about or talked to me on the phone, chances are you never guessed. I hid it well behind my public smile, pretty clothes, and bubbly personality. But what was brewing below the surface was a sense of desperation. Thoughts of suicide became less fleeting and more focused. I knew I was in trouble and needed help, but I wasn’t sure where to turn. After all, I was always the person other people came to with their troubles.

The next morning, forced out of bed by the call of my bladder and the cat’s cries for food, I talked myself into going to the gym. I thought it might help lift my spirits, as exercise often does. Squeezed into a corner of an overcrowded room, my sense of isolation grew stronger as I went through the motions of “taking care of myself,” all the while wondering, why bother? When class ended, I made my way through the maze of bodies, mats and barbells and headed toward the door. That’s when the miracle happened.

A young woman, whom I knew vaguely from a few brief conversations at the gym, spotted me and made a point of saying hello and asking, “How are you?” Instead of a perfunctory, “Fine, thanks, and you?” my answer surprised even me. “I’m not doing so well,” I said.

The conversation continued in the hallway, and as we took turns sharing our personal struggles with mutual understanding and empathy, something shifted. At the end of our chat, she put her arms around me, and with a warm hug, she said, “I knew there was something special about you from the first time I saw you.” What she didn’t know was that she had just saved my life.

“Wow,” I thought. “If a virtual stranger saw something special in me, who am I to think of ending my life?” Touched by an angel, I mustered the courage to seek the professional help I needed to recover.
Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in the U.S. alone, someone commits suicide every 13.3 minutes. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death. And the strongest risk factor for suicide is depression.

What is depression?
Many people use the word “depression” to describe reactions to life’s struggles, losses and disappointments. But depression is different from normal sadness in that it takes over your day-to-day life, interfering with your ability to work, concentrate, eat, sleep, and have fun. The feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness color the whole world gray.

Unfortunately, depression is hard for even mental health professionals to pinpoint and treat, since there are several different forms of the illness. Signs of depression can include extreme sadness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and/or just a feeling of emptiness.

Yet some people can hide it, as I did. The typical stereotype of a depressed person is someone who mopes around with a melancholy or negative disposition. In a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that most people whose depression was successfully hidden from others were people who had an outgoing, agreeable, and extraverted personality. The patients spent exhausting days working up the energy to smile and laugh, while inside they were in mental pain and anguish.

The hopelessness that goes along with depression can make suicide feel like the only solution. Thoughts of death or suicide are a serious symptom of depression, so take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. It’s not just a warning sign. It’s a cry for help.

Are you depressed?
The following signs and symptoms may indicate that you are depressed:
• You can’t sleep or you sleep too much.
• You can’t concentrate or find that previously easy tasks are now difficult.
• You feel hopeless and helpless.
• You can’t control your negative thoughts, no matter how hard you try.
• You have lost your appetite or you can’t stop eating.
• You are much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual.
• You can’t stop crying or you cry over things that wouldn’t normally move you to tears.
• You feel empty or numb.
• Nothing seems fun anymore. Activities you used to enjoy are no longer of interest.
• You’re consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless behavior.
• You have thoughts that life is not worth living (seek help immediately if this is the case).*

Where to get help
If you are depressed, please seek help today, right now. Depression is not something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. It is an illness much like heart disease or diabetes. Without treatment, it is likely to get worse and even threaten your life. At the very least, it is robbing you of today’s joy.

A good place to start is with your family doctor, who can refer you to an appropriate specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. If you do not have a family doctor or need help finding resources, please call the Coastal Empire Community Mental Health Center at (843) 681-4865 or visit online at cecmhc.org.
Most people can’t just “snap out of” a depression. You may need talk therapy, anti-depressant drugs or a combination of the two. Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness are part of the illness, and negative thinking will fade as treatment begins to take effect.

Meanwhile, you can do a few things to help yourself:
• Reduce your stress by setting realistic goals.
• Assume a reasonable amount of responsibility that doesn’t overwhelm.
• Break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can.
• Try to get out among people.
• Confide in someone.
• Participate in activities that may make you feel better: mild exercise, going to a movie or a ballgame, or participating in religious, social, or other activities.
• Postpone important decisions until the depression has lifted.

 *If you are thinking of ending your life, go to the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, any time 24/7.

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