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 depression’ by a professional, (**update** – as of November 2018, I have been diagnosed with severe depression that is clinical in nature. I have major depressive disorder as opposed to my earlier diagnosis of situational and mild depression.) 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. Click To Tweet Your invalidation alone might push them over the edge, particularly if they are a teen or young adult.
Step 2: Listen and react accordingly
Unfortunately, mere validation 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, proper 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 actions must 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 buck 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 close ones are up to, 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 can.
Step 4: Be alert
Don’t be fooled when we keep saying ‘I am fine’. Prod us gently so we feel safe enough to open up about how we really feel. 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 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 something to live for. Click To TweetIt doesn’t need to be grand and epiphanous – trivial stuff like nudging us to take up a long-forgotten pastime or surprising us with our favorite foods is just fine. It gives us something to look forward to. Sure, our newfound will to live won’t be permanent and will need plenty of regular replenishing, but hey, it’s a good start.
So basically, 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. And believe me, it will not trigger us to act on our thoughts. In fact, we want our confidantes 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.
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 keep an eye on them. You are doing great so far! Just one more thing left: accept it to be a recurring 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.
Depression is not a character flaw. Click To Tweet It is important that you show just as much compassion to a person suffering from any kind of mental illness as you do 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 to better coping mechanisms and recovery for the latter. Who knows, one day we might even live to 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.
Each and every step above has empowered me to get through black days, unscathed and hoping for a better tomorrow. I hope they help keep you and your loved ones safe as well. Remember, as insidious as depression is, it is treatable. Living with depression sucks but suicide is not a choice; in fact, it is an irreversible step, an act of desperation that takes away all your choices. For all you know, you might still exist in this world as a spirit after you die. So no matter how bad it gets, hang in there.