MY MOTHER DOESN’T BELIEVE I’M DEPRESSED. SHE TELLS ME TO JUST “BUCK UP.” COULD SHE BE RIGHT?
Life presents its fair share of challenges, and in difficult times we can experience feelings of sadness and loneliness, and we can become withdrawn. Don’t worry, these feelings are normal. They’re reactions to struggles and disappointments, and not necessarily indicative of a mental disorder. However, there does come a time when negative emotions turn the corner and become cause for concern. When this happens, it’s important to know how to recognize you have a problem and seek the support of loved ones, which is one of the most important tools for healing.
When I was 24 years old, I had just gotten engaged, I had purchased my first house with my then fiancé (now husband), and I was starting my dream job. Despite these exciting developments, I started to feel overwhelmed with sadness. I was quick to dismiss those feelings as adjustment pangs to a lot of big changes.
As the weeks went by, the sadness was joined by insomnia, a lack of appetite and a crushing lethargy. I went to see my family doctor, convinced I had a problem with my thyroid (the symptoms of hypothyroidism can mimic those of depression). But when the blood tests came back normal and she suggested I was struggling with depression, it was a light bulb moment.
Yes, it’s possible and even normal to experience negative emotions during happy life events, but in my case, those feelings latched on and refused to let go. They may have been triggered by the new responsibilities, but the persistence of those feelings indicated a larger problem.
For me, receiving a diagnosis was key to accepting that I had depression. In turn, it prompted me to get the help I needed and, most importantly, brought on the support of close friends and family.
A mental illness is as legitimate as any other illness, but because there aren’t always physical symptoms, it’s easily dismissed — either by friends and family or by the very person who is suffering. There’s a perception that looking on the bright side, counting your blessings or getting fresh air will make depression simply go away.
Sadly, this often results in feelings of guilt from those who struggle with depression, and exacerbates the problem. The truth is, if those who live with mental illness could just “buck up”, why wouldn’t they? That said, it’s often difficult for friends and family to understand the deep-seated and persistent sadness that is the hallmark of depression, so communication is key.
Tell your loved ones how you’re feeling. Explain that clinical depression is an actual medical diagnosis, the criteria for which are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders. Point out the things they can do to support you, like keeping you company, cooking a few meals with you or providing a lift to your therapy appointments.
Above all, point out that validation, understanding and active listening are key to getting on the road to recovery. With the proper support, those who struggle can live healthy and fulfilled lives.
ELIZABETH WIENER AND LISA BROOKMAN Elizabeth Wiener is an educator who lives with depression and anxiety. Lisa Brookman is a clinical psychotherapist based in Montreal. Together, they form WiseWomenCanada.com @wisewomencanada