According to the WHO, every 40 seconds, one person loses their life to suicide. A global phenomenon, it has put India on the map as the country with the highest youth suicide rate. Unsurprisingly, the primary cause is depression. On World Suicide Prevention Day today, let’s take a look at what you and I can do to make living with depression easier.
Step 1: Validate its existence
First things first, let’s get this straight: depression is not mythical, it is not a way to get attention, and it certainly isn’t cool. It is a mental illness that is as real and potent as cancer. So when somebody tells you they have depression, take them seriously. Do not brush them off with claims like “oh you’re just feeling blue, it will pass.” Thanks to the social stigma around mental illness in general, it takes a lot of courage to even admit having it in the first place.
As someone who has recently been diagnosed with ‘mild to moderate depression’ by a professional, I remember how relieved I felt that someone finally understood my mental state. And I was moved to tears when my family not only acknowledged it, they also accepted it. The validation alone helped me see myself as a survivor instead of a victim. Sadly, depression is commonly denied, labeled as something it isn’t. For instance, I have heard it described as “weakness”, an “attitude problem”, and a “choice”. There’s plenty of people in the world who make us depressed folks feel judged and inadequate. Please don’t be one of them. Your invalidation alone might push them over the edge, particularly if they are a teen or a young adult.
Recommended Reading: How the Blue Whale Challenge Manipulates Teens
Step 2: Listen and react accordingly
Unfortunately, validation alone doesn’t make it all go away: depression is often a chronic monster that needs time and effort to be tamed. As part of your survivor’s support system, you need to be there for them as much as possible. A huge part of that is simply listening to what they have to say – both the said and the unsaid. I find that some hours and days are harder than others, and what helps me most is speaking less and doing more of whatever I think will distract me best. At such times, I appreciate an inspiring quote or two sent by my sisters or dad on our WhatsApp group instead of an actual conversation. I work from home, so on bleak days, my mom graces me with her company because she knows it makes me feel better. She does not make small talk just for the sake of it, as that never helps an introvert like me feel better. Not even on the best of days.
Of course, your reaction will vary as per their personality and the intensity of depression they are suffering from. The basic idea is that you get that your friend or family member will find it harder to function on some days. Your job is to let them know that it’s alright when they get overwhelmed and that you are not offended by their aloofness. Do not push them into something they don’t want to do, unless its exercise. That always helps, even if only a little. Of course, it’s hard to find the will to exercise with this ailment, so accompanying them is more effective than simply motivating them to do it alone.
Step 3: Stay in touch
I cannot stress this enough: you are going to be the one making more effort than them to stay connected. With all the inner turmoil they are going through, you will find them pulling away from you. Please know that this is not because they are selfish or couldn’t care less about you. If I had a rupee for each time someone thought this way, I would have a decently paying side gig. It’s just like Rachel Goldberg said in Unreal: “depressed people don’t call. Not depressed people when they’re depressed.” While I do want to know what my fam is upto, I am often too caught up in my own issues to actually ask them. Over time, they have learned to inform me of the changes in their life themselves, and you know what? It makes me feel like they care about me enough to keep me updated.
The bottom line is this: none of our changed behavior is intentional, it’s only a result of our mental disorder. Not contacting us often enough makes us feel neglected and at times, even more depressed. So please, communicate with us regularly in whatever way you are comfortable with.
Step 4: Be alert
Watch out for signs that we are succumbing to the darkest thoughts of our mind. That’s when you know the depression is getting worse. And when that happens, suicidal tendencies begin to kick in. I have been there myself quite a few times, and here’s the thing: we feel like ending our lives because depression has clouded our judgment. We are in it so deep that we cannot see our life ever getting better. The urge to self-harm is born out of our need to eliminate our suffering once and for all. Paradoxical as it sounds, we don’t want to die, we simply don’t want to exist. In a way, this is good; it means you can help us find the will to live.
Keep tabs on how we are doing. If you ever feel that we are getting worse, do not hesitate to intervene. In order to give us the help we need, you will sometimes have to keep your check-ins very frank. For example, a direct question like “are you feeling suicidal?” will nearly always elicit an honest yes or no response instead of triggering us to act on our thoughts. In fact, we want our close ones to ask us how we are feeling so that they can stop us from ending our lives. Because somewhere deep down, we want to be saved. Our survival instinct, no matter how dormant, cannot be erased.
Recommended Reading: Suicide Is A Bad Idea, Especially Because It Might Not Work
Step 5: Know that it might never go away
So you have accepted your friend or family member’s depression, are supporting them without judgment, and have vowed to kept an eye on them. You are doing great so far! Just one more thing left: accept it to be a chronic condition. There may be times when it might seem as if they have fully recovered, but this is more the exception than the norm. In most cases, depression ebbs and flows. Its intensity, frequency and impact vary from person to person, but what is not variable is the fact that it is not their fault.
Having depression is not a character flaw, it is basically either due to chemical imbalance in the brain (clinical depression) or a traumatic life event (situational depression, the kind I have). It is important that you show just as much compassion to a person suffering from any kind of mental illness as to a person suffering from any kind of physical illness. Therapy and/or medication to keep physical health problems under control is nothing to be embarrassed about, right? Why can’t we extend the same courtesy to mental health problems? Replacing judgment with empathy and discrimination with kindness have been proven to contribute towards better coping mechanisms and recovery for the latter. Who knows, one day we might even live too see a world where mental health gets the same amount of importance and acceptance as physical health. After all, we possess both a mind and a body. If either one is sickly, both suffer.
Every single step has empowered me to get through each day, unscathed and hoping for a better tomorrow. I hope they help keep you and your loved ones safe as well. As insidious as depression is, it is very much treatable. No matter how bad it gets, hang in there. For suicide is not a choice; in fact, it is an irreversible mistake that takes away all your choices.