Depression and isolation are kind of like the mean girls of mental health. They are BFFs. And it’s decidedly not a healthy relationship. They spend most of their time with one another, often to the total exclusion of others, and they hate it when other influences interfere with their relationship. Isolation serves Depression and Depression thrives in Isolation. Theirs is a very powerful, mutually reinforcing bond.
My friend “Sara” has been struggling with both depression and isolation over the past year. Recently, she graciously agreed to be interviewed about her experiences for my work with CTRI. Her hopes are to help increase awareness about mental health and work to dismantle the many misconceptions and the stigma around depression in particular. She wants to be part of starting a conversation.
Because depression thrives in isolation, one of the first proactive steps to address depression is to reduce isolation and increase connections. Sharing Sara’s perspective is an attempt to do both.
Depression has many faces.
Sara describes how many people in her life are surprised that she experiences depression. She “seems fine”. She has a job. She is part of a strong community. She is smart, articulate, etc. She experiences all of these things and more.
She also experiences depression. This is a part of her that only some will see.
Sara describes struggling to pull herself together in the mornings during the workweek. Sometimes it’s only with the help of her partner that she gets herself to work. She says that with great effort she can “shut down depression” and fight her way through the workday. But getting through the day can take its toll. When she gets home, she often crashes. Hard.
Just because a person doesn’t look depressed doesn’t mean that they are not being deeply affected by depression. People experiencing depression often become quite skilled at putting up a false front. Don’t judge, she says.
Take the time to get educated.
There is so much silence, shame and stigma surrounding depression. This creates myths and misunderstandings that further reinforce the silence. Sara says that getting to know the realities of depression is one of the most important and most helpful things we can do to support those experiencing depression. Learning demonstrates care, she says.
There are many great video resources on YouTube. Consider the following:
What is Depression? (4.28 minutes)
I Had a Black Dog, His Name was Depression (4.18 minutes)
Advice is not helpful.
Sara describes hearing various tidbits of unhelpful advice, on a regular basis:
- When I am feeling down, I find going for a walk to be helpful…
- You just need to give it to God.
- Have you tried meditation?
Sara says she has had to work hard at trying to remember that such advice is rooted in good intentions. She also noted the effect unsolicited advice has on her is often the opposite of what is intended. Even well-meaning suggestions have left her feeling small, helpless, incapable, isolated and silenced. Be curious and listen, she says.
Overcoming depression can be a long haul.
Depression is not something a person can just snap out of. And just because it may look like someone is “wallowing in self-pity”, it doesn’t mean that they are not desperately trying to step out of the shadows. Sara describes to me how she works so hard every day to lessen the grip that depression has on her. Don’t assume I am not trying. I am, she says.
Walking alongside someone who is experiencing depression can be taxing and frustrating. Those closest to the person experiencing depression are also touched deeply. Remember BFFs Depression and Isolation? They love to spread their influence outwards and suck energy, joy and hope from all around them.
Sara tells me that she is not sure how she would manage without the love, support and understanding of those closest to her. Sometimes, those people need a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on too. Support the supporters, she says.
Depression and Isolation have archenemies: Connection and Openness. It is only by opening up dialogue and building meaningful connections that we can overcome the most destructive dynamics of depression.
The harsh reality is that 1 in 5 of us will directly experience a mental illness in our lifetimes, and the other 4 are likely in a relationship with someone who has. We need to keep talking about this!
Special thanks to Sara for helping boost this conversation.
Let’s continue the dialogue that she and I started. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
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