It is the leading cause of disability across the globe and affects over 350 million people. It takes victims of all ages. It is a precursor to disease. By 2020, the World Health Organization, predicts that it will be the second most prevalent medical condition in the world.
It is depression.
There are different forms of depression, some more severe than others. Some types include seasonal depression, situational depression, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, and psychotic depression. Fortunately, I personally have only faced depression in infrequent, situational based incidences. Others close to me have not been so lucky.
On one occasion during my college years, a close friend texted me goodbye. It was not a conversation, but rather an apology for letting me down because life was simply too challenging to face any longer. It was clear from talking to this person that they were ready to move forward with their decision to die. Nothing I said would convince them. I called the police and was transferred to a sheriff local to that region of the country. It was a traumatic experience feeling the weight of someone’s life over 1000 miles away from me in my own hands. The pressure of determining where they could be and who I could connect with in x amount of time that might know their location was unreal. Fortunately with one of my best friends at my side while I stayed on the phone, police found my friend and took them to an overnight psychiatric center. Today this person is alive and thriving. With the tools to cope and a better understanding of how mental illness affects those around us, we can all save lives together.
Step One. Compassion is Prevention
My mantra this month is to come from a place of compassion.
I learned this one from my former boss and yoga teacher. While working at my yoga studio, there were times that communication was so poor it really affected the fluidity of the business. Clients became quickly frustrated with the unclear activation dates and program discounts. As the face of the yoga studio while managing the office, I definitely dealt with many of those frustrated clients. There was one time in particular I remember feeling so deeply agitated; I voiced my frustrations in an email to my manager. After pressing “send” I realized how easily some of the statements I made could be misinterpreted. I believe in that instance, my manager had every right to call me out and tell me what I said was inappropriate. She did not. She came from a place of compassion and told me she understood exactly how I felt and thanked me for my hard work. That was it. Well actually, she offered to meet with me if I ever needed any career guidance or mentorship in any form. I was blown away. It made such a huge difference in my life I still think of it frequently as a reminder to always try and understand where another person is coming from before surrendering to a negative emotion such as impatience, frustration or anger. Those emotions are not productive.
Coming from a place of compassion is an approach to communication to be used in every verbal and nonverbal interaction. (EQUALLY IMPORTANT-I never use caps, they are way too intense, so this IS important: come from a place of compassion with the voice inside your own head. Be compassionate towards yourself!)
It can be difficult to remain calm and tactful let alone friendly and compassionate when speaking with someone who is being rude or disrespectful, but it is so true that you never know where the other person is coming from.
This is particularly true with depression. Depressed people can come across as mean, moody and self-centered. It can be overall difficult to carry on a pleasant conversation. On the other side of that, they may also exhibit no signs or symptoms of depression.
We learn to put on masks early on in life. Since you never really know how someone is truly feeling, in all of your interactions with people throughout the day, come from a place of compassion. It sounds too easy-just be compassionate, but what we are creating when we found our decisions and attitudes with a basis of compassion is a more supportive, constructive environment for everyone. You could be the reason someone chooses life.
Strive to make that positive connection. It could make a bigger difference than you thought possible.
Step Two: Coping & Helping.
If someone discloses to you that they are depressed, their reasoning or lack of reasoning may seem silly, irrational or dramatic. Or, it may be completely understandable. It is not always easy to support your own depression or to support a friend or family member who is depressed. I have some tricks up my sleeve for coping with my own rainy days and helping others.
- Find Inspiration. When I found out the love of my life had cancer I found Kris Carr. She is a cancer-thriver and survivor with a kick-ass approach to life, a contagious smile and so many Youtube videos to make you feel lifted and invincible, it will knock your socks off. Find someone that moves you whether that be Oprah, Russell Wilson, Bruce Lee-you name it. Find inspiration.
- Watch out for toxic environments. Determine if the person suffering from depression can find a safe-haven to get away from external stressors. If you can, offer your own place as a peaceful spot for them to stay for a night or two. If possible, try to take them out to dinner, a movie, the beach, a park, etc.
- Comic Relief. My personal favorite is Ellen Degeneres. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine.
- Listen. And don’t speak. Just listen, nod and offer understanding.
- Meditate. For fifteen minutes a day, close your eyes and let go. While working at my yoga studio, I remember speaking with a man who told me over sex, drugs, rock and roll, meditation was “simply the sweetest serenity” he had ever experienced. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kWe501bBel8
- Yoga. Find a reputable yoga studio where the teachers are certified with 200+ hours of training in your area to get started, then if desired make a personal practice at home. (Yoga in my experience is generally different at a gym than in a studio.) Yoga is proven to reduce stress and help you connect with your authentic self. It is a great way to prep for meditation.
- Exercise. Even just a brisk, ten minute walk a day will boost your mood.
- Get outside. It’s called “cabin fever” for a reason. I always feel more centered after going on a hike or merely sitting outside in the sunshine.
- Seek Counseling. I would always recommend this first over harsh antidepressants that are typically not shown to be that effective. Talking to a third party is possibly one of the hardest resources to convince a depressed person to seek out. That being said, it can honestly be one of the best tools for finding happiness when you are really just feeling like complete and utter shit for an extended period of time. It can seem daunting to disclose personal feelings and experiences to a complete stranger, but what at first seems intimidating becomes the beauty of that experience. Make sure you connect with the counselor and approve of their bedside manner before you commit to counseling sessions.
- Diet. Nutritional imbalance can cause depression. Eat a diet filled with an array of whole fruits and vegetables. Seriously ditch the fast food for your own sanity. And mine. Avoid processed foods. Challenge: Can you go a day without crackers, chips, cereal, fruit cups with added sugar, energy bars, yogurt and other processed items? Try eating only whole foods: brown rice, veggies, homemade trail mix, dried fruit, homemade smoothies, hot cereal etc.
- Medication. I really do not advocate antidepressants very often. I know a couple of people who have found them helpful. For the long term however, I recommend lifestyle changes and a supportive group of friends and family over popping pills. For more severe forms of depression medication may be necessary.
- Take it seriously. A close friend of mine dealt with someone who texted her frequently stating they were going to commit suicide. Conversations between them carried on for several weeks. My friend never thought he would actually do it. His father later found his body. If someone is talking about suicide, assume that it is not for attention. I would rather be pegged as the girl who was dramatic for calling the cops than the girl who didn’t stop someone from taking their own life. Know when to dial 911 or hold an intervention.
A heavy topic today, but know that you deserve to be happy!