Discussions of mental health have taken front stage following the loss last week of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, both of whom died by suicide. Although suicide is a complex issue, mental illness—especially depression—is a major risk factor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But, due to stigma, far too many people feel like they can't talk about their everyday life and how mental illness affects it.
That's why, in the wake of these high-profile deaths, Amanda Gordon (@shutupamanda) started #TheRealityOfDepressionIs on Twitter, encouraging others to share their experience living with depression.
Gordon tells SELF that she’s been doing mental health-related hashtags every Sunday night for about three years. But she was particularly motivated this week to start a conversation about depression.
“This week…made me all the more determined to get people to talk,” she says. “I am a huge Anthony Bourdain fan, and the news of his suicide genuinely broke my heart. In the wake of his and Kate Spade's passings, I wanted to give other people, who may be suffering in a similar silence the chance to be heard.”
Gordon says she dealt with “crippling” depression for 30 years after she lost her father to suicide. “It’s only because I found the strength to ask for help that I got better three years ago, and now I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” she says.
She’s glad that people have responded to the hashtag on social media. “Depression is such a lonely disease. Any way that veil of isolation gets removed, it makes me happy,” she says. “Commiseration is such a powerful tool for showing people they aren’t alone.”
Below are just a few of the themes that emerged in the Twitter discussion:
1. Many people with depression feel isolated.
It’s “very common” for people with depression to feel like they weigh down the people close to them, Thea Gallagher, Psy.D., clinic director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perlman School of Medicine, tells SELF. “In my work, many people struggling with depression and depressive symptoms talk about how bad they feel about themselves, and how much they don’t want to be a burden to others,” she says.
That’s why it’s so important to ask a loved who has depression how they’re doing, and to keep on asking and checking in, Igor Galynker, M.D., associate chairman for research in the department of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, tells SELF. Taking the initiative to let them know that you care, and that you’re there if they want to talk, can speak volumes, he says.
2. Depression can turn you into your own worst enemy.
Everyone has an internal voice, and it’s normal to “lose” arguments with yourself to an extent, Ken Yeager, Ph.D., director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. But people who have depression may experience constant negative thoughts that are hard to argue with.
If you hear a friend engage in negative self-talk, he recommends trying to help them reframe it. For example, if they say that everything is their fault, point out that there are other people involved in a particular situation, too, and everyone makes mistakes.
3. Reaching out seems like a small gesture, but it can have a monumental impact.
“Reaching out and saying, ‘I care about you,’ makes a world of difference,” Andrea K. Wittenborn, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Michigan State University, tells SELF. It can take years for many people who have with depression to seek help, she points out. So letting them know that your door is open for whenever they feel comfortable talking can be crucial.
4. Providing a supportive environment matters.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life: Some people just don't get it and are probably going to say some pretty insensitive (and inaccurate) things while they're at it. That’s why Gallagher recommends reminding your friend or family member that some people simply can’t relate to what they're going through and, therefore, might respond with judgment.
She recommends helping your friend find an online support group where they can have a safe space to talk to others who are going through the same thing.
5. Depression can be physically debilitating.
The inability to take care of basic needs is a sign of severe depression, Dr. Galynker says. “At that point, they need help urgently,” he says.
Instead of pushing your loved one to eat, shower, or do whatever they’re neglecting, he recommends encouraging them to see a therapist and, if you feel comfortable doing so, offering to go with them. “When someone is that depressed, they can feel overwhelmed. Even the task of finding a therapist is hard,” Dr. Wittenborn says.
6. Treating depression is more than just changing your mindset.
“Some people believe that depression is optional and it’s only weak people who get depressed,” Dr. Galynker says. “But it’s very much an illness.” Encouraging someone with depression to try to overthink it can actually be unhelpful because it can get them into a spiral of negative thinking, he says.
Instead, if your loved one has made it clear they don't want to talk, try to distract them by taking them to a movie, going for a walk together, or doing whatever else it is that you've done together in the past, Dr. Galynker recommends.
7. Certain comments can sting.
Definitely don’t tell someone that you miss the "old version" of them. “It’s a damaging thing to say,” Dr. Yeager says.
Instead, he recommends saying something like “I’d like to spend more time with you,” or asking, “How can we interact with each other more?” or, “What’s happening in your world that we can work together to change?” These all let your friend know that you’re with them and you’re ready to help them find a solution.
8. Just because someone's laughing doesn't mean they aren't in pain.
Humor can be an effective coping mechanism, Dr. Galynker says. But if you know someone is dealing with depression, it’s OK to pry a bit deeper if you are concerned and say something like, “I’ve heard you joke about your appearance negatively, and I’m wondering if there is any truth to that, as I want you to feel like you could talk to me if you were struggling,” Dr. Gallagher says.
9. Personal strength has nothing to do with it.
“There’s no such thing as 'toughing it out,’” Dr. Yeager says. “That whole mentality leads to poor outcomes in the long run.” Instead, it’s crucial to let your loved one know that it’s OK to ask for help, and that you’re happy to provide it. “Keep them engaged in ways that you can,” he says.
Overall, experts stress that depression is treatable and can be managed if someone can get help. If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text Crisis Text Line at 741-741.