I would first like to begin by giving a trigger warning. I will be talking about mental health and depression and I realize that this may be triggering for some people. If that is the case, I would advise you to leave for the duration of my speech. Also, please note that the pastors and I will be available to talk about this subject after church (event).
Before I get started, I would like for all of you to imagine your worst day ever. Your alarm didn’t go off, so you barely have time to get ready. You struggle to get the kids ready for school. Your car won’t start and you’re late to work. At work, or if you’re in school maybe someone starts digging at you about a project, they’re making fun of you or yelling at you. You start thinking about all of the things you have to do, at work, at home and everything in-between. Do you remember how that felt? (Ask for opinions from audience.)You felt anger, sad, frustrated, lost, lonely, down, stressed, overwhelmed. That is essentially how someone suffering from depression feels on a normal day.
How would I know? My name is Talia Malon and I know that I seem like your normal, average 20-something year old. I look healthy, however I am clinically diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I also have avoidant personality disorder tendencies. I have been in therapy for over 4 years and I was only recently discharged from an outpatient treatment program for mental health. I’m here to talk to you about depression because May is Mental Health Awareness month (mental awareness is important) and I want you to understand mental illnesses. I want you to understand that I wake up fighting a battle everyday whether I am at work, at home or out with friends. Each day may be a battle where I am under siege for every waking hour but I am determined to win this war, because there is only one other alternative.
Depression is defined by the Mayo Clinic as, “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest…. It affects how you feel, think and believe and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems.” While this definition works for the health institutions around the world, I find that there is an easier and more forthright definition. “Mental illnesses are diseases. Depression is a disease.” It is a disease of the mind and it’s not easy to physically see unlike cancer but nonetheless, it is a disease. “This disease affects approximately one in four adults” (NAMI). You can die from it. People have died from depression. The most recently notable, would be Robin Williams. The coroner’s report may say suicide, but honestly he died from depression. “Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and more than 90% of those who die by suicide had a mental disorder” (NAMI).
Trying to explain depression is like trying to teach physics to preschoolers; it’s virtually impossible because depression affects everyone differently which makes it so hard to describe. It’s hard to explain the numbness you feel, the uncaring, sadness, frustration, loneliness, worthlessness, etc. But what I can tell you is that depression lies. It’s like a bully, but it is able to reach into the darkest places of your mind and use it against you. .It magnifies every negative thought I’ve ever had about myself. And it does so continuously. I won’t just ‘get better’ one day. It’s a continuous struggle between me and my brain. My therapist at Linden Oaks calls it a committee. This committee is my depression. It’s sitting in the back of my mind constantly, so I have to be careful because I know that there is something self destructive in me. Martha Manning, clinical psychologist and writer says, “Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern, just the slow erosion of self, as insidious as cancer. And like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience; a room in hell with only your name on the door.”
Mental illnesses are also invisible diseases. You can’t tell by looking at someone whether they have these diseases or not. Often times, we make split second decisions about a person without speaking a word to them, without knowing them at all. We don’t know if they are suffering from bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression or any other illnesses or issues, but we have already judged them based on their looks, their behaviors and their actions. I feel that this is an issue, because honestly, people with mental illnesses can’t help the way they think. As an individual with depression, there is something chemically wrong in my brain that affects my thinking and I cannot fix that on my own. As Trisha Goddard, a British actress and TV personality said, “Cancer is not the worst thing I’ve faced – that was depression. With depression, nobody brings you flowers, and the doctors can’t operate and tell you, you’ll be free of the disease within weeks.” (and she would know, she has suffered from both)
So what can you do? You can be part of a support group for someone with mental illness. You can help them and be there for them. Ask them how they are doing and really mean it. Sometimes there is nothing that will make them feel better. Sometimes there are only things that will make it worse. You can not ‘fix’ them or cure them of their mental illness anymore than you can cure a person of leukemia. I feel that it is best understood in the words of one of my supporters. “I support Sara fully, no matter what. Even though I have feelings similar to hers, I still have trouble remembering that her thoughts of worst case scenario are not by choice. I get frustrated talking with her. I get angry sometimes and just want to explode. But I take a moment to remember how I’ve felt and how she must feel; a million times worse. I take solace in knowing that I can be there for her. No matter what. If you know someone with depression, take the time to educate yourself. Listen to them, no matter how frustrating it can be, and give them a shoulder to cry on. Don’t bother asking them what’s wrong because they probably don’t know. Just let them talk. Be their supporter. You could be the only motivation they have to do anything.”
Coming here to speak to you today is the first small step towards my ultimate goal. These are the first steps as I try to start a non-profit organization for education, awareness and tolerance on mental illnesses. I have named this foundation ADAPT; Advocates for Depression Awareness, Progress and Tolerance. I felt that this name was fitting because when you make the decision to be the supporter of somebody suffering from a mental illness, you have to adapt. Depressives also have to adapt as they try to cope with their illness. Both sides have to adapt their viewpoint and adapt how they interact with others. Educating yourself and becoming an active supporter of someone with a mental illness may save a life.
In closing, I would also like to encourage you to take care of your mental health. It is just as important as your physical health and it can be anything from taking a break from life and going for a walk outside to talking out a troubling situation with a friend to getting therapy for even a couple of sessions. I encourage those with depression to keep holding on. You are not alone and this may be the hardest fight of your life, but it is also one of the most important. We are here for you. Please visit my blog for more information on depression, how you can help and how you can find help. Thank you.