If you’re set in your ways and unwilling to consider any perspective beyond your own, you can stop reading.
If you want an unabashed look into the mind of someone with depression, and you think you might have room in your head for more knowledge and room in your heart for more understanding, I hope you’ll read on.
I’ll set the scene for you now:
I’m sitting at my desk at work, and though no one around me has any idea something is wrong, I’m terrified. My heart rate is elevated, my chest feels tight, and something I can only describe as an aching numbness creeps across my skin. I’m having an anxiety attack. My brain is telling me bad things. It’s encouraging me to harm myself.
According to a 2011 Reuters article, one in 12 teenagers self harm, and 10 percent continue to do so into young adulthood.
Self-harming can involve cutting, burning, carving or any number of actions meant to inflict injury to oneself.
I’m looking at the office supplies in front of me, and my brain is telling me it would feel good to stab my forearms with a pen or staple my fingertips. I know that sounds crazy, and in many ways, it is. But depression is not rational, and that numbness I spoke of? It’s worse than any pain I’ve ever felt.
Throughout my teenage years and into adulthood, I have heard many people scoff at victims of self-harm, dismissing them as attention-seekers. For some, that may indeed be the objective. For many however, it’s a coping mechanism. As for me, though I have the awareness and self-control to avoid self-harming most of the time, the concept poses as a mode of sensory relief.
I’m fighting the urge to self-harm and instead frantically (well, it only feels frantic, because my appearance and actions are calm and normal) texting people I trust so they can distract me and bring me back to reality. Eventually, I do start to feel calmer, but not in a healthy way. After coming down from the height of my anxiety attack, I am physically and mentally exhausted. I’m nearly defeated. I want to die.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In 2013, someone in America died by suicide every 12.9 minutes.
There is a stigma attached to suicide, particularly in cases involving depression. The opinion I seem to come across most often is that those who commit suicide are selfish. Let me clear this up right now.
I sometimes find death to be an appealing notion when depression hits me particularly hard. I will be the first to admit that I have been tempted on numerous occasions to end my life. My suffering would cease. The chronic fatigue, overwhelming anxiety, mood swings, hopelessness, all that would disappear.
Depression causes its victims to think irrationally and feel hopeless and helpless. It can be argued that such thoughts are selfish in nature, but as someone who has experienced the illogical, tumultuous thinking caused by depression, I can say with certainty that there is more to suicide than a selfish desire to end one’s own suffering.
I want to die, to end my suffering and be rid of the struggle that is my life. But more than that, much more… I want to relieve the world and all those I love of a burden. Me. The lies my chemically imbalanced brain tell me cause me to begin to believe that everyone would be much better off without me. I start to try to rationalize taking my own life by considering all the ways I am a burden to society, economically, physically, emotionally and more.
Thankfully, I am aware and stable enough to eventually identify these episodes and understand that they are only that. Sadly, there are countless individuals who will succumb to their depression and end their lives. It is likely that, as you read this, someone is dying by suicide.
Suicidal thoughts and attempts are serious cries for help. If someone you know is exhibiting any signs they may be considering suicide, don’t be silent. The Mayo Clinic lists the following suicide warning signs and suicidal thoughts:
Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there’s no other logical explanation for doing this
Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
Warning signs aren’t always obvious, and they may vary from person to person. Some people make their intentions clear, while others keep suicidal thoughts and feelings secret.
I’m not asking you to understand depression. Truthfully, I don’t know that anyone can understand it until they’ve experienced it firsthand. I am asking you to be compassionate, and remove your own selfish feelings from the equation. Let’s end the stigmas.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Also visit these other links for more helpful information:
What do biological differences, neurotransmitters, hormones, inherited traits, life events and early childhood trauma have in common? According to Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit establishment for medical care, research and education, these factors are all possible causes of depression.
Who fits the diagnosis? It could happen to anyone
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one in ten U.S. adults report depression.
Depression can affect people of any demographic, but certain groups tend to be more likely to meet the criteria for major depression. Women, people between 45 and 64 years of age, people who are unemployed and those with less than a high school education are some of the groups likely to be most depressed.
I am a female, 21 years of age, a college student and I am employed. I don’t fit in every category for those who are at high risk, but I am part of the one in ten. I have personally been affected by major depression. I’m not the only one; many others outside the categories deal with the illness as well.
Jay Lee, a 23-year-old male college student with two jobs, has had experience not only with depression, but also bipolar disorder, a disruptive long-term condition characterized by potentially intense mood swings and many of the same symptoms associated with depression. Depression and bipolar disorder can sometimes be related, and according to Mayo Clinic, people with bipolar disorder often don’t get the treatment they need.
Lee’s biggest struggle began when his grandmother unexpectedly passed away in April 2007. He and his grandmother were very close and he had felt he could always confide in her. Over the next few months, Lee became very reclusive, his grades slipped and his outlook on life turned grim.
“I felt like I was all alone,” Lee said.
Lee and I both had feelings of hopelessness and despair in the depths of our depression, but others sometimes find a way to fill the void.
Bea Lile, a 75-year-old female, said that when she was 30 years old, she knew she was depressed but never did anything about it. Lile has always known God has been her guide. She said her relationship with God has given her “a joy and peace that doesn’t come any other way.”
Lile’s failing marriage contributed heavily to her condition, but she did not believe in divorce at the time and didn’t want to accept that her decision to be married had been wrong. She eventually divorced her husband, but she said “God was always there.”
“My depression was situational depression,” Lile said.
Lile understood she was depressed, but many people do not have a firm understanding of depression.
What it is and how it hurts
There are plenty of sources out there that explain what depression is, but a health article on The New York Times website provides a simple definition.
“Clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for a longer period of time.”
This disorder can involve a great number of symptoms. The severity of a particular case of depression can depend on how many symptoms the affected person experiences. MayoClinic.com lists several symptoms of depression, including feelings of sadness or unhappiness, insomnia or excessive sleeping, fatigue, restlessness or agitation, decreased concentration, changes in appetite and feelings of guilt or hopelessness. Trouble thinking, crying spells and unexplained physical problems are also symptoms that can come with depression.
Lile said she “slept less and ate more” when she was deeply depressed, while Lee said he experienced fatigue and irritability, but that those symptoms weren’t the worst part.
“My heart hurt more than anything,” Lee said.
The causes of depression are still being explored, but a variety of factors may be involved, sometimes all at once. Information from Mayo Clinic explains that physical changes in the brain seem to be linked with those who experience depression. Hormones and brain chemicals have the ability to affect mood, and it’s possible that depression can be inherited, though researchers are still trying to find genes that may be involved in causing depression. Life events and trauma such as death, loss, abuse and high stress can trigger depression or make a person more susceptible to its symptoms.
It’s no DIY project
Normal day-to-day activities and life in general can become very difficult under the hold of depression. Depression is a chronic illness, and Mayo Clinic explains that it’s not something someone can simply “snap out” of. It often requires long-term treatment such as medication or counseling.
When Lee finally understood he couldn’t get better on his own in October 2007, his parents supported his trip to see a doctor. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Lile never sought professional help, but when she began attending college at the age of 49, each time her small psychology class met, it was more like a counseling session.
“It was the only therapy I got,” Lile said.
Her studies and self-examination further helped her cope with her condition, but in her pursuit of a job, she was required to take several tests, one of which was an emotional evaluation that resulted in a visit to a designated mental health counselor.
Lile said she’s always been able to express some feelings with her coworkers and friends, so when the counselor asked her why she was depressed, she explained every reason she could think of. The counselor stared at her for awhile before speaking.
“Do you realize you’re smiling and crying at the same time?” the counselor asked.
Lile did realize it, and that’s all she knew how to do.
A great number of people suffer from depression, but many still don’t know how to get better.
It’s bigger than you might think
The estimated 9 percent of Americans facing depression come from all regions of the United States. According to a state-by-state analysis posted on stateoftheusa.org in 2010, of the 45 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia that participated, the Southeast states had the highest rate of currently depressed adults, led by Mississippi at 14.8 percent. Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia and Oklahoma also had high rates, while the colder states appeared to have a lower rate of depression. North Dakota had the lowest rate at 4.8 percent, followed by Minnesota, Alaska, Iowa and Colorado. The survey was conducted in 2006 and 2008 and not every state participated in both years of the study, but it’s impossible to accurately measure depression rates.
Why does it matter?
It may be beneficial to study depression on a large scale, but it’s important to also focus on the individuals suffering from the condition. When left untreated, depression can lead to emotional, behavioral and health problems. Mayo Clinic lists several complications associated with depression, such as alcohol and substance abuse, anxiety, problems at school or work, family conflicts, relationship difficulties and social isolation. Self-mutilation, premature death from other medical conditions and suicide are all risks associated with depression.
At the height of my condition, I nearly died as a result of the extreme fatigue, physical pain and emotional exhaustion I had been experiencing for many months.
Jay Lee and Bea Lile both considered suicide as an escape from the pain.
Lile attempted to overdose on medication.
“It was the weakest moment I’ve ever had,” Lile said.
While driving, his little sister in the vehicle with him, Lee had an urge to “crash the car and die.” He decided against it for the sake of his sister and the rest of his family.
If you feel depressed, you should seek medical attention, as symptoms of depression may not go away on their own, and can actually become worse if ignored. It is especially important to seek help if you are experiencing any suicidal thoughts. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) reports that over 38,000 people in the United States die from suicide every year, and over 60 percent of those who die by suicide suffer from major depression.
It doesn’t have to hurt
According to the AFSP, depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Once depression is recognized, treatment can help. Between 80 and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain at least some relief from their symptoms.
I sought treatment in July 2012 after suffering from different levels of depression for over four years. I have been taking antidepressant medication since then and I have made some lifestyle changes, and I’m feeling significantly better in comparison to my lowest point.
Lile eventually learned that in addition to her situational depression, she had an inactive thyroid, which can also cause depression. She was prescribed a light antidepressant and thyroid medication, but she stopped taking the antidepressant within about six months when her thyroid medication began to work.
Lile expressed the importance of voicing your feelings, because it makes it seem more controllable. She also said you can really change your way of thinking and learn coping skills, but not alone.
“Don’t try to do it by yourself,” Lile said.
Lee has had to make his own changes in life to be happy. Playing golf and surrounding himself with friends and activites he loves helps him cope, but he knows he still has several issues to work on.
“I’ve tried to make myself smile more and say the word ‘hate’ less,” Lee said.
Lee is still taking medication for his condition and he said he feels ten times better.
His advice for anyone facing depression is simple.
“Just get help, really,” Lee said. “In any way you can.”
So, what do all Americans who suffer from depression have in common? We share the ability to heal, the right to be happy and the responsibility to take care of ourselves and get well.
Additional information from Mayo Clinic:
If you have suicidal thoughts
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, get help right away. Here are some steps you can take:
- Contact a family member or friend.
- Seek help from your doctor, a mental health provider or other health care professional.
- Call a suicide hot line number — in the United States, you can reach the toll-free, 24-hour hot line of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 to talk to a trained counselor.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
When to get emergency help
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. If you have a loved one who has harmed himself or herself, or is seriously considering doing so, make sure someone stays with that person. Take him or her to the hospital or call for emergency help.