I have been clinically diagnosed with unipolar depression since I was 22, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at me, and, honestly, most of the time, you wouldn’t know it by having a conversation with me either—but it’s there, all day, every day, waiting for its moment to seize my psyche and render me an automaton husk in the shape of my physical self.
The thing is, depression is an invisible illness. It cannot be seen like the flu, a rash, or a broken arm. Saying this is nothing new, yet it appears that we continually forget this fact when it comes to how we approach the treatment of mental health and how we treat those we may suspect or even know to be suffering. Depression is, in many ways, the poster child for this kind of disconnect of treatment, as those without it often underestimate its effects of those who have it. Honestly, ask anyone you know to be a depression sufferer—or anyone you know who used to be—how many times they have had any of the following phrases said to them after admitting to feeling depressed:
- Cheer up; there’s nothing to be so upset over.
- I’m sure you’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.
- It can’t be that bad.
- You’re just sad; it’ll get better, you’ll see.
And these are just a few of things I, along with millions of others around the world have had to defend a legitimate illness against, simply because it lacks visible symptoms. And, truthfully answering these statements, defending myself against the blasé dismissal of my illness, wouldn’t be so bad if the whole point of it wasn’t to convince other people that I’m sick. Believe me, I would much rather try and convince people that I’m not, and I know that I am not alone in that sentiment.
So, it is with the above in mind that I say that we need to do a better job of identifying and understanding depression and do a better job of supporting the people in our lives that are sufferers of this common, invisible, ailment.
The easiest way we can help fight depression in our lives, is, first, to recognize common symptoms of depression, such as:
- Lack of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
- Apathy and low energy levels
- Difficulty focusing
- Loneliness or withdrawing from friends and family
- Not being able to sleep or sleeping all the time
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings
While the above list is in now way comprehensive, these are common and powerful indicators that you or someone you know may be experiencing depression. So, with all the above said, I implore everyone reading this to see the importance of a day like National Depression Screening Day, which is on October 11th. The work done by mental health professionals on this day (not to diminish the work they do every other day of the year) could very well save the lives of thousands and improve the lives of thousands more still by opening themselves up to the world and saying, “I hear you; others might not, but I do.”
So, the question now becomes: What can you do to help yourself if you think you’re suffering from depression?
Well, my first suggestion would be to go seek out an evaluation with a professional. I know that advice seems easy and obvious but taking that first step in engaging with the mental health process can often be one of the, if not the most difficult. It took me almost 3 years after my initial diagnosis to really engage with the process and see a therapist regularly. After that, it becomes a matter of listening to your therapist (if you start seeing one regularly) and listening to the part of yourself that wants to confront the illness (independent of regular therapy sessions).
Unfortunately, depression is not a broken arm—you cannot put a cast on it and just wait for it to naturally heal. It is an active process that requires effort on your part, but I can promise, that it is not wasted effort. Thankfully, there is a whole world of working professionals out there more than willing to help you help yourself, help you put in this work, and help you figure out what we—as a collective—can do to help alleviate the disease and render its symptoms and causes more inert in our lives.
Ultimately, though, it’s on each of us to look ourselves in the eye and say, “What do I need to do to get better?” and the answer to that question can start on October 11, National Depression Screening Day.