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  • Writer's pictureHelen Su

Wearing Depression

According to the World Health Organisation, 280 million people around the world suffer from depression. In Australia, BeyondBlue estimates that about 3.1 million Australians experience an episode of depression in their lifetime (see here for latest stats). That's 1 in 7 of our current Australian population and I'm guessing that this only reflects those of us who are able to say it.

I'm sure you and I know someone or multiple people who have been depressed at some point in their lives or are currently depressed. We may or may not have known how to name what they're feeling but we can see that they are not quite their usual selves.

Although many may have experience a depressive episode before, how many of us truly realise it for what it is? And if you do, do we really want to say it out loud?

After all, depression is a big word. The big "D".

The most common statements that I get as a psychologist about depression are:

What do I have to be depressed about? I've got everything. My life is good.

Why am I feeling this way? I've got nothing going wrong in my life.

I don't know how to describe what this is. I'm not sad.

How can I make it go away? I shouldn't be feeling like this.

These are all very scary questions and I watch and hear them haunt my clients. The thing about being depressed is: there doesn't seem to be a "correct" answer to any of these questions, unless the answer is "I know how to make it go away". I often wish that that was the case. But as I've come to terms with all my clients, we know that we can't close our eyes and simply will it to go away. Even as a psychologist, I myself couldn't do it either.

Here are some answers which might hopefully help us understand better about depression and what it does.

1. There is rarely a "good" reason for it

This is number one on my list because the issue with depression is, there isn't always a direct cause for it. Any event such as loss of job or loved one, academic or work stress, bullying, even a natural disaster in another country could trigger a depressive episode, but that still doesn't mean that you will not ever feel depressed again. Depression may also sometimes cause us to overlook internal factors which are more invisible and enduring.

As humans we are obsessed with cause and effect. Everything needs to have a purpose, a place, a reason behind it. When we're told that there is no reason or none that we can see immediately anyway - we dislike this instantly. Depression isn't something that is willing or pleasurable. It isn't something that can be fixed as easily as we might fix a car. It is a complex mental health concern which may have happened due to the timing of a combination of factors from life events, to personality factors and chemistry in the brain. Our susceptibility to it may have even begun ages before we had full perceived control in our lives as adults.

2. It isn't quite the same as feeling sad

It's hard to describe what it means to feel depressed. We all get the impression that being depressed is equivalent to being sad and only varies in terms of being a more intense/severe level of sadness. I've certainly experienced and been told time and time again that this is not quite the case. Yes, the low moods and the tearfulness are two major symptoms commonly present in depression. However, "flat" and "empty" are two terms which I've come across which may be more useful in their description.

From personal experience, it's almost as if you are an empty shell and there is no energy or purpose left in your body to even sit up. And this is happening while your mind is spinning in circles with self-critical questions such as, "What's the point?" "I'm such a failure." "I'm useless." which you don't seem to have any control over and are keeping you awake despite feeling like all energy seems to have left your body.

This prolonged hopelessness and enduring paralysis of your mind and body takes over completely and you're finding it extremely difficult to do the things you usually do.

3. How can I make it go away?

One of the most toxic and devastating things about depression to me is this endless chase to make it go away. We get sucked into the need to do away with what seems like this unpredictable and highly undesirable condition like we do with all things that we dislike or make us feel uncomfortable.

Part of the danger of trying to "get rid" of depression is that we spend more time than necessary in trying to manage it. Kicking it and managing it are different. Many of us, just by our intense dislike of anything that is uncomfortable or nasty will want to choose to kick it away.

I like to invite my clients to think about mental health like a baby that's crying. You can't kick it. In fact, if you do, the worse thing that will happen is that you get into serious trouble for doing that or seriously harm the baby (or yourself really)! And at best, all you might get is the baby keeps quiet for a while, but soon comes back and cries even louder!

We do the most counter-intuitive thing that we do after your child has cried for what seems to be a 100 years. We comfort it, we hug it and give it space and the attention it needs. And just like a child who needs the attention, maybe this part of yourself (your mind), will start easing and feel less messy. Maybe this thing called "depression" or however we want to label it, will start feeling less scary.

Depression is a big word to dissect and even harder to see happening to yourself or your loved one. Health professionals don't take it lightly either.

To me, I see it as a common language to be used with my peers and some clients, so that we know we're talking about the same thing. Whatever it feels like to each individual, family or even community, everyone can use their own language. The absolute crucial hope here is for more to recognise mental health's existence and importance, whatever we choose to call it.

Depression is not something which needs to be all-debilitating or overwhelming. Mental health is about caring for our minds because we all deserve that.

I walk alongside Depression, and it took me a while to come to terms with it.

I wear Depression and I work with it to help myself and others understand it as much as I can.


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