“Everybody saw her drown but nobody saw her struggle.” – Unknown
Depression, in fact all mental illnesses are a hidden illness, out of sight from those around us. The stigma attached to depression often leads to shame about our diagnosis and our inner struggles that most keep to themselves not because we want to fight our illness alone but because we don’t think anyone will hear our words, understand or know how to help.
Up goes the mask to hide our depression and to hide our pain. On the outside we look like we are fine on the inside we are in the battle of our lives with our own demons and an unforgiving illness that shrouds our world in a deep fog leaving us in darkness where only our Black Dog can find us. This is how I grew up hiding my inner demons, hiding my self-harm, and not revealing my true self. It wasn’t because I wanted to live like this alone it was inbred in me by a family culture that you didn’t talk about your problems and if you were to become emotional you were told to snap out of it or to toughen up. I began to believe that how I was feeling and what I was doing to myself was normal and so began my journey of covering up the pain.
We all want to believe that if something was wrong with us that someone would see the signs, see us drowning in the ocean but so often even our most immediate family and friends can’t see our struggle. Is it that people around us are so use to the way we are that they are unable to see our pain, the signs that we are drowning in our own emotional turmoil?
I often read about the guilt family and friends feel when their loved one dies at the hands of suicide and through their grief and attempts to understand find themselves struggling with the same thought ‘I didn’t know something was wrong.’ Nobody can know the guilt and grief of losing a loved one so tragically and left in pain by the knowledge that if they had of known they would have been able to help and prevent their death.
I wish there was an easy answer to how people around us can see the signs of depression, talk and listen to our loved one struggling with depression but it is not so simple. Even those educated in the signs that someone is struggling with depression can’t see the signs because that person is so good at hiding their struggle and have a persona that they are okay.
The likes of BeyondBlue and R U OK?, are working hard to increase the awareness of depression and how to not only see the signs of depression but also how to start a conversation with a loved one if you suspect they may be suffering from depression.
So how do you know if someone is suffering from depression? Here is a list compiled by BeyondBlue Signs and Symptoms resource which helps you to know what to look out for:
• Not going out anymore
• Not getting things done at work or school
• Withdrawing from close family and friends
• Relying on alcohol and sedatives
• Not doing usual enjoyable activities
• Unable to concentrate
• Tired all the time
• Sick and run down
• Sleep problems
• Loss or change of appetite
• Significant weight loss or gain
While you may not know how your loved one is feeling you can keep an eye on their overall mood, some of the feelings you may notice of someone through their mood or through their conversations with you include:-
• Lacking in confidence
One of the hardest things that someone can do with someone who may be depressed, is starting a conversation to check if they are okay. R U OK?, has developed a number of resources to assist people start a conversation with their loved ones who may be depressed. They encourage people to check on those around them by asking “R U OK?”, they recommend the following to assist you in asking the question and starting the conversation about someone’s mental health:
Ask R U OK – start a general conversation, build trust through good eye contact, open and relaxed body language, and ask open-ended questions.
Listen without Judgement – guide the conversation with caring questions and give them time to reply, don’t rush to solve problems for them, and help them understand that solutions are available when they’re ready to start exploring these.
Encourage action – summarise the issues and ask them what they plan to do, encourage them to take one step such as seeing their doctor, and if they’re unsure about where to go to for help, help them to contact a local doctor or their employee assistance program.
Follow up – put a note in your diary to call them in one week, if they are noticeably unwell follow up sooner, ask if they’ve managed to take the first step and see someone, and if they didn’t find this experience helpful, urge them to try a different professional because there’s someone out there who can help them.
You can view further resources and information at BeyondBlue or R U OK?, who both have extensive resources to help people with or who are trying to care for someone with depression.
As a community we need to take more notice of our loved ones and those people around us to ensure that they R U Ok?, and to start a conversation with them about their mental health to ensure that we prevent them from drowning and help them to overcome their struggles with depression. We need to live in a society that is not shrouded in stigma attached to mental illness and by starting the conversation with those around us we are starting to build a community who are willing and able to start conversations about peoples mental health.
WARNING: If you are depressed and require immediate assistance you can ring Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 224636.