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Tackling depression seriously


Depression. PHOTO:

I look forward to a day when Nigerians start taking mental health seriously. I talked to a friend recently who was going through something profound and it got me thinking: One of the more serious aspects of mental health is depression and we just don’t seem ready to acknowledge it as a dangerous condition because it’s easier to judge.

“Why can’t they just snap out of it? Aren’t they trusting God? Isn’t a Christian supposed to be joyful?” If your life is too sad, you’re being dramatic. If it’s too happy, you’re hiding something. Our society is so quick to judge.

When a person is depressed, they are judging themselves with such extremity, that anyone else who judges them, causes that person more pain, suffering and more harm. When a person suffers from depression, judging them can literally put that person’s life in danger. You will not help them by saying things like: “it’s all in your head!” or “you just have to move around to feel better.” Think before you speak.

I’ve had thoughts like that go through my mind. To my shame, I couldn’t understand why depressed people couldn’t just be stronger. But time and experience have slowly changed me over the years and I’ve learned a few things about depression and how to serve those struggling with it. It sucks the life out of you, debilitates you, crushes your spirits, and makes it very difficult to think accurately.

If you haven’t experienced this, then you need to be very slow in making judgments about those in darkness; do NOT be dismissive. You don’t know what it’s like and, until you go through it, you won’t. You can’t tell a depressed person to snap out of it, anymore than you can tell a person with a headache to snap out of it. It doesn’t work like that.

Worse still is trying to correct a person deep in the abyss of depression. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for gently reminding them to trust in God’s character and promise, but try not to fall into the temptation of offering solutions, such as a book or sermon. This usually isn’t a great idea. Depression makes it almost impossible to concentrate and can almost totally destroy any energy or motivation a person may have.

Those you call ‘attention-seekers’ on social media may actually be dealing with depression. The fact is, depressed people could be doing it for attention, just not the kind of attention the world imagines they are. They may not be complaining or being upset on social media to annoy everyone. They might be doing it because they have no one to talk to and it’s 3 a.m. There’s a world of people on the internet 24/7. Maybe someone is there to listen. The attention they seek may just be the attention and caring attitude of another human being who just might be able to understand.

The everyday stigma of knowing the world thinks you’re faking it; that it’s all in your head; that it’s just for attention; causes many people with depression to never access help. It may be “all in your head” but that doesn’t make it any less real than having cancer or diabetes. What they need is compassion and hope. If someone you know is posting a depressed status, they might just be trying to reach out, to feel less alone in the battle against their own mind.

Depression is troubling both for the afflicted and those that care about them, making it also difficult for the latter. It’s all too easy to run away from helping because you feel they are just too negative, like it’s something contagious. That’s why it’s important to be able to recognize depression, for your own health and those that you love and care for. There are certain behavioural traits that are quite common in depressed individuals and are worth being aware of: aloofness, loss of interest, increased alcohol or drug use, mood swings, excessive tiredness, sleep problems, cognitive problems, self harm, suicidal thoughts and more.

Witnessing someone that you love go through depression can indeed be a difficult experience. Exacerbating this difficulty is the feeling of helplessness that loved ones of depressed people often feel. Perhaps what you can offer is hope. Hopelessness is one of the main symptoms of depression, and the afflicted often fear that the darkness will never end.

Hope. Compassion. Love. Support. Learn these things; offer them like you would hope to receive should you also fall into the abyss. Understanding depression, depression types, and treatment options will put you in a better position to understand the condition. With this understanding, you are far less likely to criticize or judge.

Depression is a serious condition and needs to be treated ASAP. If your loved one is opposing treatment or shows troubling signs or behaviours, you should contact a doctor or other mental health professional for advice. I hope this speaks to someone.

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