Many people feel that depression is ‘their’ illness — they are the only ones suffering in this way — and that they either can’t talk to others or ask for help, or don’t want to.
This was certainly the case for Lora Innman, a long-term depression sufferer and now a mental health advocate interviewed in ‘Back From The Brink’. When she tried to find somebody to talk to about the depression she was suffering, she found that people backed off and were unwilling or unable to hear about it.
Combine this with several failed marriages, moving around the U.S. and trying to raise her son on her own, and the sense of isolation was compounded all the more intensively.
Like Lora, you may find that trying to deal with depression alone makes real progress extraordinarily difficult. There is real or perceived stigma to contend with. There also is the isolation resulting from a reduced desire to socialize and practical difficulty in doing so. Sure, we may ‘get by’ if we wear a mask when socializing, but then talking to people simply becomes exhausting and we tire very quickly and dread the next encounter. That’s not sustainable.
The end result? You feel more alone and isolated than ever before. The depression is all the more overwhelming. You lack the contact and context that gives perspective, reinforcing your feelings. It creates a negative feedback loop and sense of being the only one unlucky enough to be stuck with these symptoms.
You’re Not Alone, No Matter How Much You Think You Are
What if I helped you look at things differently by telling and showing you that, in reality, you’re not alone? There are ways you can directly and indirectly call on others to help you. Whether through conversation, a support network or the example of others, you can build your resilience and ability and this aids and speeds up recovery.
Taking the first step — admitting you’re struggling to cope and need help — is the first, most difficult step in taking action and getting the support and resources you need. But once you get past this barrier, you’ll be glad you did.
Here’s four starting points:
1. Talk to those around you
You don’t have to formally inform someone that you feel like you have clinical depression.
Indeed, such an approach may have the feared effect of deterring someone from talking further with you. However much they may want to help (and let’s face it – friends and family members in this situation want to help), when you start using formal terminology they may feel unqualified to assist or unwilling to shoulder a burden they don’t know much about.
Instead, you can simply say that things have been a bit tough for you lately and that you’re struggling to cope. Ask if they can listen to you without judging for a little while, and then tell them how you feel and what you’re going through. You may be surprised how supportive, empathetic or understanding your family member or friend may be.
Even the process of hearing yourself verbalize your inner turmoil can itself help with taking action and getting help — it’s out in the open now and can more easily be addressed.
2. Join support groups
There is nothing like being able to talk with people who really understand what you are going through — fellow travelers — those who also live with depression or bipolar. There are specialized depression or bipolar groups, and those that support all mental health challenges. Three good questions to consider when choosing a group are:
- Is the group leader empathetic and caring and able to facilitate a supportive environment?
- Does the group run meetings in a way that suits your style and follow good mental health principles?
- Is the group committed to encouraging people to not only discuss their problems, but also to take action?
3. Call a support line or reach out online
These provide total anonymity and support from either trained counselors or people who have been through depression and survived.
Most countries have a free dedicated helpline which you can call to talk to a trained counselor, such as Lifeline in Australia (13 11 14), the Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. (800-273-TALK), or the worldwide network BeFrienders (http://www.befrienders.org/need-to-talk).
Alternatively, if you prefer to put your thoughts into words, consider an online depression forum, where you may register and post anonymously and receive public and private replies from others who are or have suffered depression and can offer mutual support and advice.
Psych Central has a good list of depression forums. In addition, my Back From The Brink Facebook group and LinkedIn (work-oriented) groups also contain supportive communities who are open and share their stories, and the Back From The Brink newsletter will keep you updated with stories and resources so that you’re never alone or isolated.
4. Read others’ stories
Reading the documented struggles of others from all walks of life when it comes to depression can help provide you with a sense of both perspective and scale. Not only are you not alone — many more people are afflicted than you may have initially thought.
There are plenty of stories available online. My book ‘Back From The Brink’ contains stories of people from different backgrounds, how depression or bipolar affected them, and what they did to manage the illness. You may also find optimism and inspiration from the way in which some of those interviewed have turned depression into a foundation for a thriving life or have — in Lora’s case — used their own experiences as the basis for advocacy to help inform and support others. ‘Back From The Brink’ also contains more information and resources to help you build more emotional support and compassion.
You’re not Alone if You Don’t Want to Be
One commenter on my recent PsychCentral article on exercise and depression analogized depression to being in an invisible prison cell, but for which you hold the keys to escape. I encourage you to take action and seek help from one of these four suggestions, and realize that things can, and will get better for you.
Cowan survived the worst depression his psychiatrist had ever treated.Click here to find out more.