I looked at my ill roommate with disgust. I thought to myself, “Why won’t he eat his food?”. I said to him, “Eat your food”. “Why is he being such a baby? Doesn’t he understand he needs to eat, so he can take his meds?”. “Come on, take your medicine”, I repeated, a little more frustrated, and annoyed.
A few months later, I fell ill. I looked at the plate of food and had no desire to eat. Intellectually I knew I had to eat. I knew the illness was causing the loss of appetite. My tummy was empty, and I needed to eat so I could take my meds. But, I looked away, only desiring to wrap myself with more layers of bedsheets.
When most people come across someone who is experiencing depression, they often respond as I did. They wonder why the person won’t just be happy, go out, and live life. They say to the person, “just cheer up”. They even get angry and dismissive. They do all the wrong things. And sometimes, they worsen the situation (they let the sick person starve or the depressed person spiral).
This is why it is important to understand depression. So you will know how to respond to someone who is feeling depressed.
What Is Depression, And Why Should I Care?
Depression is a mental illness that negatively affects one’s emotions.
Many people think they are rational – that they act solely based on logic. But this isn’t true. We (humans) are creatures of emotions. And, our emotions are heavily influenced by the level of concentration of bio-chemicals in our brains.
Happiness has a hormone. Anger has a hormone. Anxiety has a hormone. Trust has a hormone. Risk taking has a hormone. You name it. Consequently, depression (and all other mental illnesses) can arise when one or more of these hormones go haywire.
The presence or absence of certain substances in our bodies often leads to illness. For example, diabetes is caused by the absence of sufficient insulin (which, interestingly, is another hormone).
But not all illnesses of the body are hormonal. Sometimes a tumor in the brain can lead to depression, just as an organ failure can cause physical illnesses.
That said, everyone is at risk of falling into depression given sufficient reason.
The causes of depression are numerous
But they are broadly categorised into
- genetics (i.e. by inheritance)
- biochemical (influenced by medications, alcohol, etc.)
- hormones (triggered by menopause, childbirth, etc.)
- situations (trauma, struggle in life, etc.)
- season (daylight hours, extreme temperatures, etc.)
Unlike regular illnesses, depression is very complicated, and hard to investigate. Because it doesn’t have a single known cause or variable to observe. Not everyone easily gets depressed. Sometimes, people overcome depression without any particular treatment.
However, all these don’t negate the fact that depression is real, serious, and dangerous.
You can tell someone is depressed when
They are persistently
- Angry or spiteful
- Worried or anxious
- Distracted, or confused
- Drinking, or abusing other substances
- Threatening or premeditating suicide (this is a huge red flag)
Chances are you know someone at risk. Depression is not something you can simply get over (because it’s a real illness beyond the control of the sufferer). You may ask…
What can you do to help people who are experiencing depression?
You might be tempted to empathize with them and try to feel their pain. But as we’ve talked about in this piece – Empathy Vs Compassion – that is not the best thing to do.
What you rather want to do is
- spend more time with them
- help them with water, food, or some chore
- invite them to talk about their feeling; then listen.
- don’t try to make them laugh
- don’t tell them it isn’t a big deal (even if it seems not to be to you.)
- don’t claim you understand
- don’t claim to be an expert
- encourage and reassure them all is going to be fine
- reassure them they can always reach out to you
- refer them to a therapist, and encourage them to keep to the appointments
- monitor them closely and call a suicide helpline if they start threatening to kill themselves.
Recommended Read: Why Are We Talking About Mental Health (In Nigeria)? <
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One more thing (before it’s too late)
Some people are very good at hiding their struggles. They wipe their tears before they show up in public. Sometimes you only learn about their struggles on the suicide note they left.
Your friend, sibling, parent, co-worker, colleague, or some stranger in the streets might be struggling right now. Depression isn’t always as portrayed in the movies. Depressed people can sometimes put up a facade of being (very) happy.
Experience has taught me that people’s emotions often swing like a pendulum – from euphoria to despair, to and fro it goes. And sometimes when the pendulum swings too far, they kill themselves on the happiest day of their lives.
(Show compassion to everyone…)
A Self-Help Writer And Editor Who Keeps It Simple (Yet Elegant)