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Depression Is Increasingly Common, So Here’s What You Need to Know

I have, for a good chunk of my life, struggled with depression. And, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), I’m not alone: an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States have had at least one major depressive episode. Due to the pandemic, it seems to be increasingly common. The CDC reports that symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in 2020 when compared to the same period in 2019. This means that there are a lot of new people dealing with depression since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began at the beginning of 2020.

As someone who has been dealing with depression on and off since 1997, I have a few pearls of wisdom to share. I don’t say this for sympathy, but to bring the truth into the light. My hope is that my experience will help you feel less alone. Even though it is uncomfortable, it’s so important that we break the stigma around mental illness and mental health. When we do, we tear down the barriers to care and the sense of isolation that many of us face.

If you’re struggling (or know someone who is), here are 17 things I want you to know about depression — from someone who’s been there:

1. I have depression. My life doesn’t suck. I’m not sad because something specifically sad happened. I seemingly have everything and I still have depression.

2. Depression doesn’t always show up as “sadness.” For me, it more often shows up as apathy, numbness, lack of motivation and a sense of worthlessness.

3. Depression has nothing to do with not trying hard enough. It’s not a matter of needing to meditate or to do yoga or to eat right or get more fresh air. Those things can help, yes, but it has nothing to do with trying hard – especially not based on other people’s standards of “trying hard.” It’s a matter of what is happening in the brain.

4. External circumstances or “knowing better” won’t necessarily fix depression. Yes, getting a good night sleep helps. But my depression doesn’t vanish just because things are going well in my external life.

5. I feel angry sometimes because I know that my depression is robbing me of joy and my ability to be present for moments of exquisite awesomeness because my brain is lying to me. Knowing that I’m not able to fully appreciate things makes me sad and it makes me angry. Knowing that I self-sabotage or push people away hurts.

6. I also feel afraid sometimes because mental health is so stigmatized, still. There are more open conversations than ever. But I am still afraid because I worry that people will judge me or that they will think that I’m an unfit parent or that they’ll think I’m a fraud.

7. This is what depression does. It creates elaborate illusions of isolation and separation. Because depression is an evil liar. 

8. Getting help can be easier than you think. And asking for that help can be a weight off your shoulders. When I sought professional help, it was totally nerve-wracking and I felt so much better instantly simply by telling someone I needed help and having them listen and help me to make a plan. Going to my general practitioner to ask for antidepressants was one of the weirdest, bravest, scariest things I’ve ever done. And it changed my life.

9. Hotlines are wonderful. In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is: 1-800-273-8255.

10. Reaching out to your friends is even more wonderful. Don’t wait for your friends who you think might be having a tough time to say something. They may not be able to. Check-in on them. Tell them you’re thinking of them. Invite yourself over. Let them know you are there. Your friends with depression might not be able to reach out to you first. Remember that they may not be able to accept help the first time you try.

11. Just because I have depression doesn’t mean I don’t have something valuable to say or contribute. My depression doesn’t define me. And if you have depression (or anything similar going on), it doesn’t define you either.

12. In fact, I think we are often the canaries in the coal mine. We are often the ones who are most sensitive to the ways that our world is sick and hurting. This doesn’t make us magical or mean that our depression doesn’t still hurt. But this context is important. We are necessary, valuable parts of society, just as we are.

13. What I really, really want you to know is that you are a brave person who is capable of hard things. If you woke up this morning, you’re doing great. If you get out of bed, you are slaying it. If you are breathing, you are winning.

14. We need to change the conversation. We need to change the systems that make depression so rampant: capitalism, sexism, white supremacy, ableism and other intersectional oppressions. And we need to make sure that everyone has access to the mental health care they need.

15. It is my actual job to teach people about self-care and healing and spiritual practice and I still have depression. This is my life’s work, and I still struggle.

16. I have depression, and I believe that another world is possible. I plan to keep fighting for it.

17. You are loved. I don’t know you, but I love you completely, exactly as you are today. You may feel alone, but you are not. I promise you.

Follow this journey on www.christytending.com.

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