This is the second in our National Mental Health Awareness Month mini-series

The month of May is a time to raise awareness for those with mental or behavioral health issues and to help reduce the stigma that they experience. Stigma is what is holding back sufferers from getting the professional help and medication that they may need. Sometimes, it is even difficult for them to open up and talk about what they are going through with their loved ones. According to the International Bipolar Foundation, more than half of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime. However, based on the findings from National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 40% of adults and 50% percent of youth receive the medical help they need.

Stigma arises mainly because of the lack of  understanding of mental health and even fear. In the past, not many would want to talk about this topic; it was pretty much taboo. Although exposure and acceptance have improved in recent years, we still can and should continue to make improvements.

A couple of months ago, a loved one of mine was diagnosed with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). I had a lot of questions. Did she not feel loved? She had a lot positive things happening for her, so why is she depressed? I was honestly shocked, to say the least. I thought to myself, how could this happen?  And then I realized, I was not helping in any way. In fact, I may even be making things worse by asking all these wrong questions.

Prior to the diagnosis, she demonstrated rapid shifts in mood swings, self-harm and talks of suicide. Looking back, I was probably in denial. It is one of those things you read about but did not imagine would happen to you. The signs were there, but in my mind, I dangerously downplayed all of her actions.

Fortunately, because of the trust between us, she was able to open up to me and admitted she needed to seek professional help. How brave! We reached out to a family service center shortly after and were assigned to a counselor. There were individual sessions and also group sessions. Many of these conversations were difficult but she understands that they are necessary for her recovery.

We are very lucky, in a sense, that we have access to help and support. It was not difficult for us when we were trying to seek professional help. She is now connected with two counselors, one in school and one from the family service center. She is also meeting with a psychiatrist and has started her medication. On top of that, we have a mentor who calls or messages her daily and they meet up regularly for fun activities like canvas painting, playing at the arcade and chatting over dinner.

As a carer for someone with depression, there was a lot for me to learn and also to un-learn. In the past, I would probably be quick to judge or brush off a sufferer’s emotions as over-reacting. But today, after speaking with the counselors and mental health being more widely talked about and information more available, I was able to get the help I need to assist in helping someone else.

Following are some of the useful tips I was taught by the counselor:

  • Remind them you are always there for them and that they are always loved. Let them know that although you may not understand what they are going through, you will always be there for them.
  • Never tell them that there is always someone worse off, and they should “snap out of it.”
  • Never blame them for what they are going through.
  • Sufferers usually feel like they are a burden to their loved ones; it is important to let them know that this isn’t so.
  • Encourage them to continue with their hobbies.
  • Encourage them to maintain a healthy lifestyle with a good eating and drinking habits and a good sleeping routine.
  • Do not underestimate the power of praises, a daily achievement for a sufferer could even be something as simple as getting out of bed.

These are some of the more common myths about depression:

  • Depression is not a real illness
  • Depression is just self-pity
  • Depression does not happen in children and it only affects women
  • Talking about it makes things worse
  • Depression is a sign that one is weak
  • Depression only happens to you if you have experienced something traumatic

You may read more at these links:

I am so grateful to be working in a company like Blue Yonder, especially in difficult times like these. My manager and team understand the situation and allow me to apply for time off to attend group counseling sessions or for hospital appointments. They also constantly check in on us and remind me to rest and take care of myself. As the carer, it is also important that I too feel supported and that I do not feel like I am alone in this situation.

If you know someone suffering from depression, I hope you can encourage them to seek the professional help that they need.