Mental Illness (Mostly About Depression)

**Trigger warning for a detailed account of my depression symptoms towards the middle of the note, including suicidal thoughts.**

Since this has started, I have interacted with a few people who are misinformed. I’m hoping this will be informative to at least one other person to prevent people from accidently hurting their friends.

I’ve been depressed on and off for about two months now. I’d never been depressed in my life before. Nothing triggered the beginning of it; it just started all of a sudden. Medication seems to be helping more than talk therapy so far.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 26% of Americans 18 years old or older have a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. For major depressive disorder, 6.7% of those 18+ in the U.S. suffer every year [1]. For an 1,800 person school, that’s 450 with a mental disorder and 121 with major depression. In a survey administered by the American College Health Association to students at two and four year institutions, about 30% of college students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function” at some point in the past year [2]. For how common mental illness is, it is not talked about sufficiently.

A common misconception is that mental illness is something you can snap out of if you are mentally strong enough. This is not true. If it were as easy as that, then this wouldn’t be such a widespread problem. Also, who would want to deal with this kind of thing if they didn’t have to? Saying that you can snap out of it is the equivalent of telling someone with the flu, “If you have strong enough control over your immune system, you can stop having the flu whenever you want.” Would you ever seriously tell someone the latter? No, because you would sound like a jerk? Then don’t say the former either!

Before I became depressed, I didn’t quite understand what people with depression had to deal with. And I still don’t completely understand what people with other disorders have to go through. It’s one of those things that sound terrible but you don’t know exactly how bad until you experience it yourself, like the pain of a breakup or the death of a loved one.

However, this doesn’t give people the right to make remarks such as the one in the last paragraph. If you do and the other person tries to inform you of why that comment was unacceptable, then the least you can do is apologize. Anything else and you are almost definitely being a douche-canoe (thanks to whoever introduced me to that term, I love it and would give you credit but I have a bad memory for names and faces, sorry).

**Trigger warning for the following section.**

To help people understand what depression can feel like, I’m going to go into detail about the symptoms I’ve had. It’s also important to stress that people can have a wide range of symptoms in terms of type and severity. They can also change over time like mine has over the past two months.

At the very beginning, I felt extremely alone even though I have an awesome, loving partner and decent network of family and friends. I was never the type to need constant reassurance from my partner that I am cared and loved. But during this time, part of my mind would try to convince the other part that I was actually alone and not cared about. I needed (and got) a lot of outward affection. This was a typical battle in my mind during that time: “You’re alone and no one cares about you.” “Nuh uh, I have Ben [not his real name] and some friends and family.” “Really? If so, then why didn’t they respond to your messages right away?” “Ben is in class and busy and my other friends probably are too.” “Mhmm, he knows that you are depressed. If he really cared, wouldn’t he respond no matter what?” And I would end up crying contemplating if anyone in the world really cared, because my mind rationalized that if they did, they would magically know that I really needed for them to get back to me right away because that was how I was measuring how much they cared about me at that point in time.

There was also a time when my mind chastised me for eating: “Why are you eating right now? You don’t deserve to eat and live. You should starve yourself and die.”

When I have suicidal thoughts, I ponder whether the good parts of my life are worth having to deal with the bad parts. During the first month or so, I had about two or three awesome days and the rest have ranged from being terrible to limited episodes of depression. I’ve gotten pretty close to attempting suicide twice now. Both of those times, I just wanted to get away from dealing with the world because of work, stress, and the way being depressed made me feel. It felt like the feeling of getting worse was never ending so I should just stop it from getting worse.

There have been moments where I felt stuck in place and couldn’t move for short periods of time (maybe five to ten minutes).

After the first month, I’ve had more episodes of feeling dragged down or hollow and not wanting to do anything. I’ve felt like I need more sleep than the 6-7.5 hours that was enough for last semester. I get agitated more easily now and can’t handle stress as well. Having more than one big assignment or exam a day totally stresses me out to the point of not being able to handle it. When the anxiety is bad, just looking at the paper I’m supposed to be reading makes me have a breakdown. I don’t want to not be able to do work but if just looking at it makes me have a crappy few hours, it’s hard to start. Even though I’ve been less directly depressed, the anxiety and stress have been getting worse to the point of triggering depression. I can have a decent day and then a few hours later, it just hits me for a while. Episodes can last anywhere from minutes to hours at a time, and it’s common for me to have multiple episodes in one day.

**Trigger warning ends here.**

So what can you do to help? Tell them things that prove that they are cared for and not alone:
– You’re there for them (but only if it’s true because if they call in the middle of class and you get annoyed, they’ll feel like a burden and not reach out to you again).
– They are cared for, loved and missed when you can’t be with them. Specifics examples and affection (even virtual) help.
– They can get hugs, cuddles, etc. from you.
– You can just hang out to talk about whatever (or nothing at all) to help them get their mind away from depressive thoughts.
– You want to help (it’s okay if you don’t know how, they’ll probably tell you how).
– They aren’t a burden, that this is what partners, friends and family are for, getting through the rough times.
– It gets better even if it doesn’t feel like it.
– Inviting them to go to events/out with you, even to Val .
– Make planned and unplanned stops by their room.
– Check-in on them through calling, texting, emailing, etc.
– If you’re not sure if someone needs support, just offering to talk if they want to can mean a lot.

The above are the things that I like/need but they can vary from person to person so just ask. Sometimes they will be afraid of being a burden or that you’re just trying to be nice even if you don’t really care so you might have to be insistent that you want to help and negate those feelings.

I’ve decided to take a medical leave for the rest of this and next semester instead of trying to catch up on all of the work I’m behind on. Hopefully the anxiety and depression will no longer be an issue by next spring.

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