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I was fifteen. In an emotional abusive relationship (probably my trigger). I was alone in a crowd and no one knew. I tried to talk to councilors, I tried talking to matrons (I was living in a boarding hostel at the time) but no one would listen. No one would take me seriously, except maybe one or two of my closest friends. Doctors wrote me off as attention seeking. Depression is not attention seeking. It is not something “cool”, it is not a fad that should be celebrated. It should be supported and most of all there should be more awareness for those going though it at a younger age, I had no idea what I was going though.
Depression. We all know of it but do we actually know what it is exactly? Most people describe it as a feeling of low mood that does not fade over time, feeling like you are at the bottom of a huge hole with no light and, more importantly no rope. This is only when you are alone. There is help out there, people who will take your mental health seriously. There are ledges in this hole and trust me you can grapple your way up to the top again.
The science behind depression is a little less solid as the brain is such a complicated part of being human. The theory is that mood related chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are low or not present during depressive episodes, which is a chemical imbalance in the brain; this is evident by googling pictures of depressed brains. As weird as it seems, though this activity you can clearly see the differences in light between the two brains, with the non-depressed brain showing much more brain activity than a depressed brain.
So what causes this to happen to people? There is no solid answer but there are many triggers. For example having a loss, either in the family, job or partner, a break up or a traumatic event can cause it. And while this isn’t 100% proven, there are theories that it is also in a person’s genetic makeup, such is the case for me. It doesn’t mean you’re doomed if your partners or family members have had depression. Just means that it could happen to you. Like green eyes could happen to someone’s child if they have green eyes and their partner has blue. Never fear however as there is always help. While it might seem that you are alone at the bottom of a dark hole (or at least that’s how I saw it) depression is very common, Its been estimated that 1 in 5 New Zealanders have depression or have felt depressed at some point. So you are not alone, my friend.
Where do you get help? There are heaps of websites for New Zealanders with depression to connect and talk about their experiences to help them get though what they are coping with. Talking to your GP is also really helpful, to consider medication, and talking to a counselor. For every person the experience is different. Some will need medication, some will be scared of it, and some may just need someone nonjudgmental to talk to.
Fast forward 5 years. I’m 20, still struggling with depression in a minor way (though I have ways of dealing with it now) and I can live my life relatively normally, well as normal as student life can be. I am no longer in an emotionally abusive relationship and most importantly I got help. But there is a stigma attached to it. And it’s something I don’t understand about depression. After three years with no treatment and feeling horrible and two in recovery I still find it difficult to talk about openly, even to my parents who are meant to be the least judgmental people in my life. For something so common why is there such a stigma around being ‘depressed’? That while it’s serious “in the bigger scheme of mental health people with just depression are pretty close to sane”. Why are these assumptions? I have been told many things ranging from been told that I’ll learn to be stronger (because I was weak?) to being told that I’m just over reacting as a sixteen year old I was ‘too young’ to have depression.
This is complete bullshit, but because I was told this so young I naively believed it. There is a huge depression stigma that, I believe, stops people from getting help.
What I think is worse is the difference between male and female with the stigma of depression. That a man can’t have depression because then he is essentially not being a strong man, that he is showing weakness for, what I believe, is being strong for too long and cracking? How is this right? It isn’t, that simple. But it’s an unfortunate fact. I personally have found the best way to deal with the stigma is by blocking it out. If someone has something negative to say about your mental health then they can say it, but it is YOUR mental health so they simply have no idea what they are talking about. And if it is really getting to you plug yourself into your phone, iPod or mp3 and go for a walk or a run until it clears.
I think some of the best things to remember if you are in this situation where you’re feeling at a really low point and it doesn’t seem to be getting better or coming close to an end that YOU ARE NOT ALONE, and there is always help. There’s always someone willing to throw you a rope.