A few weeks ago, the weekly #u30pro Twitter chat dealt with how to ask for help at work. I doled out my two cents on the subject without a moment’s hesitation – I’ve never had a problem going to others for their advice when it comes to tackling issues of a non-personal nature. Since that discussion, I’ve been thinking more about the importance of asking for help…not in the workplace, but in our every day lives.
It’s hard to believe it now, but I completely lost my sense of self during part of my last two years of college. Feeling largely apathetic, I existed in a constant state of low-grade melancholy. I retreated from the company of those who had been my closest friends and lost interest in the activities that had been my passions outside of school. At one point, I couldn’t even manage to sit down and read a book without feeling restless and distracted. I did only what I had to do to succeed in school, and my social life went from thriving to virtually non-existent.
My family has a strong history of depression. Though the warning signs seemed obvious, I refused to acknowledge that it could be the culprit; I blamed it on stress, on disliking the alcohol-centric social environment at the UW, on the pressures of school…anything but *gasp* a mental illness.
A 2008 study by the American College Health Association found that 1 in 3 undergraduates had felt “so depressed it was difficult to function” at least once during the previous year. By the time they reach age 24, 1 in 4 young adults will have experienced a depressive episode. According to a 2005 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, “depression during this critical period may increase the likelihood of substance abuse, impair work and relationship function, and negatively influence an individual’s subsequent development,” but “fewer than 20% of young adults with depression receive high-quality care.”
After months of existing as a mere shell of a human being, I knew I needed to ask for help. I saw my doctor and discussed the changes in my affect. He recommended that I see a therapist and consider taking an antidepressant (an idea I had previously been strongly opposed to). I was tired of feeling so empty, and set up an appointment with a counselor through the university. I came to terms with the fact that I truly needed some outside support; unfortunately, the same doesn’t hold true for many other young people. In a study of nearly 11,000 16 to 29 year-olds who had positive screening results for depression, 26% stated they refused to accept the diagnosis. The reasons for refusal? Many disagreed with the idea that medications are effective in treating depression, while others admitted they would be embarrassed if their friends found out.
After a several weeks of therapy, self-reflection, and a low dose of an anti-depressant, I began emerging from the tunnel. I started to reconnect with my friends and explained what I had been going through, and contrary to what I had been so convinced of, not a single one judged me or treated me any differently. They simply said they had missed the “old Ellen” and were glad I had done what I needed to do.
They now know that if they’re ever struggling or need someone to talk to, they can rely on me. I’ve been there, and I wouldn’t wish for anyone to tackle depression feeling alone and ashamed.
I’ve seen far too many 20-somethings try to drown their sorrows in a bottle of Grey Goose or a case of Beast Light…those who insist “everything is fine” but inevitably end up in tears after closing time is called. While books like Prozac Nation stigmatize the use of antidepressants and claim we’re turning into a horde of pharmaceutically-numbed zombies, getting help for depression isn’t as simple as having a prescription filled.
Battling depression requires a willingness to acknowledge that you can’t continue to go on the way you have been. Coming to terms with that, and realizing that it’s not a flaw or a poor reflection of you as a human being, is much easier said that done. It simply is what it is; you do what you need to do to get back to the life you deserve to be living.
If you’re struggling with depression and you’re still in school, check out your university’s counseling services. For those of you in the work force, see if your employer offers an Employee Assistance Programs that can provide some direction. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeing a therapist; if anything, it speaks volumes about your determination to acknowledge your personal demons and banish them. For some, it may be as simple as figuring out what triggers the onset of a depressive episode and developing some coping strategies (e.g., exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, etc.). If you opt for medication as part of your treatment, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re not alone. Don’t look to pills as a quick-fix – remember that they’re part of the process of getting well.
While we demand frank discussions about reproductive and sexual health, we largely ignore depression and the like because they hit too close to home. It’s shameful that we’re perfectly comfortable discussing the anatomical features of Lady Gaga but would rather eat lead paint chips than acknowledge any kind of personal mental health issue.
Mental health is our generation’s elephant in the room. It’s time we stop ignoring it.