May is Mental Health Awareness month. Is one month out of the year enough to talk about such an important topic?
Depression impacts approximately 7% of the U.S. population on any given year. That’s 16.2 million people every year that suffer from depression! Depression has no face and does not judge people by race, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, marital status, etc. It can impact any one of us and can leave a lasting memory even when we learn to manage to live with it or overcome it.
There is still a big presence of mental health stigma in today’s society because, unfortunately, that’s how most of us have been raised and socialized. Even if we’re the ones suffering from depression, and intellectually we know the symptoms, we could be in denial because depression has been made out to be abnormal. We have been socialized to believe that if we admit to being depressed, somehow we would be deemed crazy and somehow we would be judged by those around us. Although there could be some truth to this, we have to ask ourselves who decides what’s or who’s abnormal. The reality is, depression is normal and it’s real.
As a licensed mental health counselor, I have seen many clients suffering from depression triggered by various life situations. Some wait until they attempt suicide to get help; others wait for years, until something drastic happens with their job or relationships to get help; and yet others continue to live their lives without getting help. There are times when people do try to get help but because the treatment they are receiving is not the right fit, they give up on getting help. Just like it’s important to connect with your physician, your dentist, your OBGYN, and your massage therapist, it’s important to find a counselor who is the right fit for you. So, it’s going to be a trial and error.
Until the beginning of 2018, I only saw depression from my clients’ eyes and as a counselor. I had my observations and education guiding me. However, in the beginning of 2018, I got a first hand experience of what it means to be depressed. My depression was triggered by various transitions and stressors in my life that I felt I had no control over. I had begun a PhD program, my schedule at work had changed, my social relationships were suffering because of school and work, I began neglecting my spirituality, and my immigration status was in danger. All these stressors and life changes became so overwhelming that I began spiraling to where I began suffering from depression and anxiety. I lost my appetite, lost my motivation, would have crying spells, and stopped interacting with people around me. I allowed my school and work to consume me, but even with that, I did just enough to get through the day because that’s how low my energy was at the time. I began to lose weight by not eating much and continuing to exercise, could not concentrate in my classes, and sometimes would just have rush to the restroom just so I could cry without anyone seeing me. I even gave up caffeine because my anxiety was enough to make me jittery and restless. I hid my mental state from my family and my friends because I felt they would not understand and simply tell me to snap out of it or worry about me. This went on for approximately 2 weeks, at which time I got concerned and worried, before I decided to make a counseling appointment. As a counselor, I promote mental well-being and self-awareness so how can I fail to admit what was going on with me?
I went to counseling for approximately 6 months. I started with weekly sessions. When things were slowly improving I went biweekly and eventually transitioned into monthly sessions until I stopped going. My counselor realized that as a counselor I already know what tools I need in order to overcome my depression but having someone objective acting as a sounding board and helping me by sharing her perspective is what I needed from my counseling sessions. That’s the great thing about counseling. Counselors want to work collaboratively with their clients and set realistic goals, or at least that’s how I approach my clients. By empowering clients, counselors guide their clients without simply just providing the answers or problem solving. At the end of it all, we all have the potential to live a fulfilling life but sometimes we feel lost and need some guidance.
Throughout this journey of depression, I did inform a few people who asked about my well-being, especially after seeing my drastic weight loss, as to what was going on with me and how I was getting help for it. Some checked in regularly while others appeared to have felt uncomfortable with the topic of depression and counseling. Most complimented me on losing the weight and commented on how wonderful I looked. It was interesting to me that people around me were more curious about what I was doing to lose my weight as opposed to my mental well-being. They cared more about my body than my mind and emotions (the issue of body image is a topic for another day)! Little did they know that I had no appetite to a point where I did not even have a desire to eat chocolate, and I love chocolate, but I still continued to work out! What did not surprise me is when I disclosed my depression and counseling to my mother. She was definitely concerned that I was not eating much but when I disclosed to her what was really going on, its as if the conversation never took place. There is huge lack of understanding within the South Asian community about mental health, specifically depression. Although there have been efforts to create awareness, when these efforts are made by those who are not well versed in the mental health field themselves, somehow mental health comes across as being less important than physical health.
There are several other things, including counseling, that helped me manage and eventually over come my depression. In part 2 of this blog post, I will discuss how holistic wellness helped me and can be beneficial for us all.