Depression doesn’t discriminate by age, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation and can impact the ability to carry out even the simplest of every days tasks. Depression is experienced differently for everyone, ranging from the extremes of suicide all the way to high-functioning depression. The challenge with brain-based conditions is that we can’t see them, it’s all on the inside and they look fine.

Every year on April 7th, the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates World Health Day to mark the anniversary of the founding of the WHO. This anniversary provides an opportunity to highlight a specific health topic that is relevant to everyone–and the theme of the 2017 World Health Day campaign is depression.

WHO estimates “more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. Lack of support for people with mental disorders, coupled with a fear of stigma, prevent many from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives.”

Wow. Almost 20% increase in 10 years – now that is crazy.

Yet–this debilitating condition can be treated. It starts with a conversation. A conversation will lead to a better understanding of what depression is, which will reduce the stigma associated with it and to more people feeling comfortable enough to ask for help.

So let’s talk.

There’s a difference between being in a funk and a clinical diagnosis of depression. It can be event driven by major experiences, it can be a chemical imbalance influenced by substance abuse, it can be a state of mind that takes over, an overwhelming sense of loss and hopelessness. The one constant is the variability in how depression is experienced on an individual level.

The first thing to know is that telling someone to just “get over it” is not helpful at all and will put the person in a more depressed state because they know they simply can’t do that. Collectively, we (society) needs to stop taking depression so lightly and stop telling others to “just get their shit together and quit focusing on the negative”. It’s like telling a paraplegic to just get up and run.

Our job is to be clear with a person that we are there to help them, whatever that may look like. It may be as simple as listening, or maybe it means you drive that person to a doctor.

How do we talk about depression if we think someone is depressed?

The answer to that is–it depends. Children and youth are different and require a different approach than adults. With an adult, start the conversation by asking if they want to have a conversation with you. Really. It’s that simple. Maybe you have noticed some concerning changes in behaviour recently that you’d like to talk about–they don’t laugh as much, lack energy, have stopped doing things they normally enjoy. Be ready to be open. Sometimes somebody else needs to just listen and not give advice and not fix them, just listen. We can’t solve somebody else’s depression. They need expert help.

In the workplace culture, there isn’t a lot of acceptance if someone isn’t happy. A good culture recognizes the whole range of emotions people can have. One way to open the conversation might be to assess the whole team to understand individual personalities, needs and skill sets. This will pave the way to building a supportive workplace culture as outlined in recent study results published by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

This study of over 40 Canadian organizations aimed to create a voluntary standard on psychological health and safety in the workplace. The study looked at barriers and facilitators to implementation of a standard and some key actions undertaken by the organizations which included policy, employee and family assistance programs, mental health knowledge and managerial training. To be sure, the study is a very encouraging step in the right direction and hopefully actions will follow the findings.

For now, what do you do if you are already dealing with someone with a mental illness? If mental illness is not something you have not dealt with before, it is scary. There is no control, there is no fixing it. Being around someone who is depressed is draining. Tell me – where is it written that you have to deal with it everyday? We need to give ourselves permission to say we have good days and bad days too. Some days you have the energy and then some days you just don’t. Be honest about it.

Caregivers, friends and family need their own boundaries. I have a family member who rants for hours nonstop on the phone and it would exhaust me. I couldn’t be fully present because it was so taxing so to cope I would play a game on my phone at the same time. This might seem like a jerk move, and it kind of was–but–it allowed me to listen and be engaged without being consumed by the intensity of the conversation.

When you are dealing with a very intense person, you need to decide how much time you can spend with them before it starts affecting you. Sometimes we get into abuse issues because people are not checking in with themselves because people are hitting their frustration points. Everyone has a capacity point that will eventually get met, it is important to not cross that line, for everyone’s health and wellbeing.

I think I am depressed, what should I do?

Start talking about it with people that you trust. I’m hesitant to recommend going to doctor because I think people are over medicated for depression. There are a lot of lifestyle choices we can change and a lot of it comes down to the plethora of expectations we have placed on ourselves. We don’t know how to be still, or give ourselves a chance to take a break from things.

Write a note that says “I suffer from depression, and I need help”. By writing it out, you’ve put it outside of yourself. If you gave yourself permission, who is the first person you would give that note to? If you really said nobody, then give it to the next person you see. There will be somebody else who knows that you are. Whether they see you as quiet, reserved etc., they know you are not doing well.

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