a guide to helping yourself or a friend
Written by: Asher Low, B.SW, R.SW
Most of us have experienced being down and out. Especially as adolescents, where we’re hit with physical, emotional, social and psychological changes all at once. And the stresses of school, relationships, and unrealistic expectations seem to be magnified a million times.
But these road bumps, stressors, and emotions come and go… and we move on with life. Easy! Right? Maybe not. For some people the unhappiness, numbness, and feelings of worthlessness don’t go away.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide
According to international statistics, depression is an epidemic, with teenagers and youths in their early twenties being especially vulnerable. Almost 8% of teenagers are affected by depression, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide. Research has also found that more than one third of young people who struggle with depression don’t seek help at all.
Overall, one in seventeen people suffer from Major Depressive Disorder at some point in their lives - and the number of people diagnosed with depression right now? 350 MILLION. Making it the leading cause of disability in the world.
IT’S A BIG DEAL
The struggle is real. Depression has more than just an effect on your emotions. If untreated, some of its other effects include:
A reduced ability to cope with work, school, and daily life
A negative impact on existing and future relationships
Other mental health issues
Self-harm and suicide
SO WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
Depression (or Major Depressive Disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, think, and act. It is more than just feeling sad, depression affects a person’s ability to navigate daily activities, relationships, school and work, and often decreases their quality of life.
If you’re depressed, you may feel like you’ve lost all hope and worth, and that nobody understands what you’re going through. You may even feel ashamed of yourself - but you don’t have to! Depression can happen to anyone and it is not something that you should be ashamed of. You’re not alone and there is hope, there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself start to regain your balance and feel more positive, energetic, and hopeful again.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression: A combination of symptoms lasting more than a week might indicate a mental health condition
“I’m really tired of feeling hopeless and worthless. But above everything else, I’m just tired of being so tired.”
Angry outbursts, irritability, or restlessness
Avoiding friends and activities they once enjoyed
Feeling sad, empty, numb, hopeless, helpless, or worthless
“I think I’m just afraid to be happy. Every time I get too happy, something bad happens.”
Changes in energy level (tiredness)
Changes in eating (overeating or eating too little)
Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
Problems with concentration, memory, or ability to think clearly
Being unable to complete tasks
Sudden decrease in school or work performance
*If you or anyone else exhibits these signs, please seek help immediately
Thoughts or plans to kill or hurt oneself or others
Running away from home
OTHER DEPRESSIVE DISORDERS
Unfortunately, major depressive disorder is not the only depressive disorders out there. Just like how there are many different types of cancer or heart conditions, there are other mood disorders that have similar effects on the people who suffer from them. These include:
People with dysthymia often have a depressed mood that is generally less severe than those who have depression but lasts longer. Often lasting more than a year
2. Adjustment Disorder (Situational Depression)
Adjustment disorder or situational depression is a shorter-termed form of depression that happens because of a traumatic incident or major life change. These can include the following:
Relationship problems such as a breakup or divorce
Experiencing the death of a loved one
Developing or having a loved one develop a serious illness
Stress caused by physical changes in adolescence
Academic failure or stress
Being a victim of a crime
Having an accident
Undergoing a major life change (such as having a baby)
3. Bipolar Disorder
Also known as Manic Depression, people with this illness cycle between periods of depression, periods of mania, and periods where they seem to be OK. Mania is almost like the opposite of depression, and symptoms can include:
Having lots of energy
Little need for sleep
Talking very fast
Having difficulty focusing or having a short attention span
Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there)
Delusions (believing things that are not true, eg. having superpowers)
Bipolar disorder affects about 2% of the population worldwide. Because of the wide range of symptoms, bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, or even alcohol and drug abuse. If you’re experiencing both highs and lows, it is important to tell this to your counsellor, social worker, or healthcare professional.
HOW DO I DEAL WITH IT?
There are a number of things people can do to reduce the effect that depression has on them. Often, these involve some change of lifestyle, which might be difficult to do at first. But keep going, don’t give up, and things will get better!
Seeking professional help
Being part of a supportive community
Talking to a loved one or friends
Going outside or picking up a hobby
Getting regular exercise
Getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis
Depression is a real illness and help is available. With proper diagnosis and treatment, most people will overcome it. If you’re experiencing any symptoms or signs of distress, don’t hesitate to speak to a helping professional or doctor about it.
“Remember this: You weren’t put here to be depressed. To feel guilty, ashamed, unworthy or condemned. You were put here to be victorious.”
Often, depression is not an illness that one can handle alone. People with depressive disorders need others on their team and in their corner to keep them going when they don’t feel like can anymore. The first step to getting better is to ask for help.
Talk to Your Parents
You may think that your parents won’t understand, or maybe, you’re concerned that instead of helping you, telling them will only make things worse. Especially if they have a track record of nagging or getting angry at you. But the truth is, more likely than not, your parents love you and want to do anything they can to stop you from hurting. Sometimes they respond with frustration or say things that they don’t mean because they themselves feel helpless, don’t understand, or don’t know how to help. Tell them anyway, set aside time to have a conversation, and tell them what you’re going through, how you feel, and help them understand how serious it is.
NOTE: If your parents are abusive in any way (eg. physically, neglectfully, emotionally…etc), or if they have their own challenges that may make it difficult for them to care for you (eg. mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse…etc), speak to another person that you can trust, who can also direct you toward the support you need - such as a savvy friend, relative, teacher, counsellor, coach, or pastor.
You can also ask if they’d be willing to accompany you to seek help.
Talk to a Helping Professional
It may be daunting to share your personal challenges with a stranger, but helping professionals are trained to help you work through the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that you may be struggling with. These people include, counsellors, social workers, and psychologists.
Therapy is a useful tool that can help you understand yourself better and find strategies to help cope with the depressive feelings, thoughts and beliefs. Helping professionals that work with you are also ethically bound to keep the information that you share with them confidential. Unless you’re in danger of hurting yourself or others.
Social workers like those at Limitless can also help you work around any other issues that may be contributing to your current mental state, such as financial issues, family issues, bullying, or other stressful life circumstances.
Talk to a Medical Professional
Sometimes, depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and medication may help relieve it’s symptoms. Such medications are often only prescribed by psychiatrists - doctors who have advanced training and experience with diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. As it’s usually not a long-term solution, medication is also often used in conjunction with therapy, so your psychiatrist may suggest going to see a helping professional during your visit.
NOTE: Medication is sometimes a process of trial and error, and you may not see results immediately, or you may be prescribed with a drug that does not work for you. Even if it’s the right dosage, it usually takes four to six weeks to fully take effect. Be patient, and work closely with your psychiatrist to find a prescription and dosage that works.
You should also keep track of any emotional and physical changes as medication can have side effects. Contact your doctor or therapist immediately if your depression gets worse or you experience increasing or more severe suicidal thoughts.
Once you’ve started a course of medication, do not alter it. You may be tempted to stop because you’re feeling OK, but doing so could cause a relapse or withdrawal symptoms. Speak to your doctor if you would like to stop.
Ultimately, if you do have symptoms of depression, or think you have a mental health condition - don’t dismiss it or try to handle it on your own. Talk to somebody, especially if you’re thinking about hurting yourself or someone else. The bravest thing you can do right now, is to ask for help.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-IV-TR. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association.
Fung, D., Ong, L. P., & Tay, S. L. (Eds.). (2012). REACH chronicles: A community mental health model for children and adolescents in Singapore. World Scientific.
G., Loh, H., Renjan, V., Tan, J., & Fung, D. (2017). Child Community Mental Health Services in Asia Pacific and Singapore’s REACH Model. Brain sciences, 7(10), 126.
Glied, S., & Pine, D. S. (2002). Consequences and correlates of adolescent depression. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 156(10), 1009-1014
Institute of Mental Health. (2011). Latest study sheds light on the state of mental health in Singapore
Jorm, A. F. (2012). Mental health literacy: empowering the community to take action for better mental health. American Psychologist, 67(3), 231
O’Connor, Lewandoski, Rodriquez, et al. (2016) Usual Care for Adolescent Depression From Symptom Identification Through Treatment Initiation. JAMA Pediatr., 170(4):373-380
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2014) Mental Health Matters: Social Inclusion Of Youth With Mental Health Conditions Uncitral
World Health Organization. (2017). Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates. Geneva