7 Strategies for Handling Depression

By Jared Hammer on September 19, 2017

Dealing with depression through my college career has been especially challenging. This is a challenge I’m sure that I am not alone in facing. With September being suicide awareness month, it’s high time I break my silence and add my voice to the conversation. We need to be talking more about our mental health, myself included.

Sourced from Flickr

Even though I’ve been dealing with depression since my teen years, I’m still uncomfortable talking about my mental health and seeking out professional help. Our society treats open dialogue around depression as a taboo of sorts, leaving far too many people under the impression that seeking help from a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist, is a sign of weakness.

Treatment for depression has shown to be highly effective, but according to Emory University, “less than 25 percent of people with depression receive adequate care.”

Emory University also notes that there are over 1,000 suicides a year on college campuses alone and that roughly 1 in 10 students have made a plan for suicide. It seems to me that a lack of awareness and a willingness to talk openly about these issues is at the heart of the problem.

I lost my brother to suicide 12 years ago. Divulging that information is typically a highly uncomfortable experience, for both me and whomever I’m talking to. The listener usually displays visible awkwardness and pity. Typically, this makes me feel alien, as though something must be wrong with me. The uneasiness usually lingers as we try and change the subject, or worse, they begin grilling me with far too many questions about it.

It’s not that I feel like I need to constantly bring up the traumas of my past, but when asked questions like, “how many siblings do you have?” I must decide whether to be real about my answer. Do I tell them that I had six but now only five, or just pick one of the two numbers? When I’m frank with my answer, the best responses are always the ones that don’t miss a beat, that simply acknowledge my truth and move the conversation on. If I want to discuss the matter further, I think it’s best to let me be in control of that.

When we talk about depression and suicide with someone who is suffering, allow them to go at their own pace. Make sure they know that you are there to be supportive, and offer a nonjudgmental ear if needed. We need to have these conversations, but I’ve found pushing on someone else’s problems before they’re ready can do more harm than good.

Losing a sibling to suicide is the biggest deterrent for me to not follow in brother’s footsteps. I know firsthand the overwhelming pain that comes with losing someone to suicide, and I could never inflict that pain on another person. Depression makes it hard to care about yourself, and when I’ve found myself in such a state, I’ve remembered the people who care about me, who would be traumatized if I gave into my mental illness.

image from media.defense.gov

It is also true that depression can convince you that nobody will care if you were gone tomorrow. In my experience, this is never true. Someone always cares, whether we choose to believe that truth or not. When my brother died I was stunned to find out just how many people cared about his life, who were suffering from his decision to die. Truly, people care about you more than you can ever know.

Choosing to continue living for the sake of other people is not enough, but I implore those who may be considering suicide to consider the lasting damage their death would have on those who love them. It’s important to realize that people care, but it’s still more important to learn how to love yourself.

Seek Professional Help

Of course, seeking professional help is by far the most effective way to treat depression. There’s an unfortunate stigma around receiving psychological help, and I think it’s important we break the narrative that there is a weakness to seeking help. Seeing a mental health professional is no more a weakness than seeing a medical professional for physical health. Taking care of yourself often means seeking help. We are no more equipped to treat our own minds than we are a broken limb. Oftentimes, it may seem that such help is unavailable or too expensive, but I’ve found that all too often people are not aware of the resources available in their communities.

If you’re a student, there’s most likely a psychiatric facility on your campus, and the services tend to be free. The services I’ve received at Montana State University have been highly useful in helping me get a manageable handle on my depression. Most communities also have social programs to ensure that you can receive counseling services when you need it. Before concluding that professional help is unavailable, do some research to find what services and programs are available in your area.

Whether you have depression or not, it’s important to be aware of these services as well. Being able to point them out to someone else who’s suffering, and encouraging them to seek help can make all the difference.

 My 7 Strategies for Handling Depression

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve been perfect in managing my depression, but over the years I’ve found methods that work to fight unhealthy states of mind. These strategies may not be for everyone. Professional help is almost always the best option for treating mental health issues. Still, we cannot be equipped with our own personal psychologist at all times.

Below are my top seven strategies and reminders for staying in control of my depression.

1. Build a ladder: Perhaps my favorite advice for battling depression is the “build a ladder” concept. By seeking out experiences you’ve always wanted to have, essentially working on your own bucket list, you develop experiences that make your own life worth living. These experiences are like steps on a ladder that lead to a more fulfilled life.

This concept comes from a woman named Martina, and you can learn more about “building a ladder” from her video.

2. Failure is not the end: This is something I continue to struggle with as I finish my bachelor’s degree. I’m terrified of failure, and I often assume I will fail before I even try. This inhibits my ability to succeed because I expect the work I’m doing isn’t good enough before I’ve even finished it. All of that second-guessing only feeds my depression.

Remember that it’s okay to fail, that failure is not the enemy. When I tackle assignments without worrying that I’m doing everything wrong, it makes it so much easier to move forward. We can strive to learn from our failures rather than being afraid of making mistakes.

3. Meditation: I used to think meditation was kind of dumb. Then I had a writing professor who required her students to meditate for five minutes before every class. It took me about a month of practice, likely due to my own attitude, to recognize the benefits of meditation. Taking that little bit of time to breathe and check in with myself helps keep me calm and focused.

4. Self-love: This is probably going to sound corny to most readers, but I’ve found that taking the time to tell myself positive things throughout the day, and especially when I’m feeling down, really helps me build a better self-image. Sometimes, I’m so off that it takes me a while to find things that I like about myself, but I can always find something, no matter how small.

5. Learn to take a compliment: I don’t take compliments well in general, but it’s especially when depression strikes. My typical assumption is that I’m only being complimented out of pity, rather than out of genuine acknowledgment. When I’m given a compliment and I notice I’ve brushed it off as pity, I try to reevaluate and let the compliment sink in. Assuming negativity in an otherwise positive exchange is the depression talking. Taking the time to reevaluate helps tell depression to shut up.

6. Stop living by other people’s expectations: Your life is your own, and nobody else gets to live it for you. When you allow the expectations of other people to dictate your life, you stop living for yourself. Think about who you want to be in life, and what kind of behavior you expect from yourself. It’s okay to screw up, but too often our shame in our failures comes from fear of what other people think, rather than from what we think and expect from ourselves.

7. Accepting and asking for help: This goes hand in hand with seeking professional help, but it applies to daily life as well. I’ve realized that I’ve neglected to ask for help too many times, typically for fear of being a burden on someone else. When help has been offered to me, there are times I’ve rejected it, out of my own sense of pride. I’ve learned to acknowledge that fear and pride are feelings I project onto the person or situation before I’ve even let them in.

When I’ve resisted this urge, I tend to find that people are happy to help and that accepting that help is not a weakness. We are stronger together. When the opportunity comes to return the favor, do it. You will strengthen bonds that will help you move forward.

As the Beatles said, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

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