Depression is often described as the “invisible killer” because many of its symptoms—sadness, numbness, malaise, fatigue—are unseen. However, a new initiative by Changi General Hospital (CGH) and philanthropic organisation Temasek Foundation Cares hopes to raise more awareness of this insidious disease.
In May this year, CGH and Temasek Foundation Cares launched Project eMHFA(S), an online platform designed to help people better detect signs of depression and other mental illnesses. This couldn’t have come at a better time, considering the rising prevalence of depression in our highly competitive, stressed out society. According to the Singapore Mental Health Study conducted in 2010 by the Institute of Mental Health, as many as 1 in 17 people have suffered from Major Depressive Disorder at some time in their life.
Living With Depression
If you have a loved one who’s suffering from depression, you’ll know it’s not an easy journey – both for you and the sufferer. “Growing up, I always knew there was something wrong with my mum,” says Anna Lee, 30, “She was prone to crying jags and would lose her temper easily on my siblings and I. It was exhausting being around her and I avoided staying home as much as possible.”
She adds, “Back then, I did not understand her condition and would try in vain to cheer her up. Now that I’m older, I understand that depression is a mental illness – it cannot be willed away just by telling someone to cheer up.”
Experts agree that psychoeducation is an important first step to supporting a loved one with depression. In an article with Psychology Today, Dr. Deborah Serani says that by understanding depression, its symptoms, and treatments, you’ll be better equipped to relate to your loved one’s experiences. She says, “You’ll learn that depression is an illness that has genetic and environmental factors. You’ll learn the myths and facts that surround mental illness, which will also help you advocate for your loved one.”
Nicole Kay, founder of The Tapestry Project SG, a ground-up initiative that highlights first-person narratives to forward mental health education and recovery, agrees. She says, “A fundamental thing to remember is that your loved one is not the problem. This person is still the person you once knew – with strengths, aspirations, and gifts. Try to see the best in them, and accept them unconditionally.
Kay adds that recovery from depression is an ongoing process and can be a long journey. After all, depression is a complex disorder that affects all aspects of a person — physiological, mental, financial, social, emotional, and spiritual. “It requires a multi-prong strategy that can aid in recovery,” she says.
Supporting a Loved One Through Depression
So what are some practical tips when it comes to interacting with a person living with depression? Kay shares some of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to supporting your loved one through depression.
– Give them time and space to make their decisions, and be there for them when they need you. They trust you enough to confide in you about their condition, so do honour that trust by being present for them.
– Get others involved in supporting this person, such as another trusted family member or professional, if they are open to it.
– Force someone to see a medical professional, especially if they are not ready. Often times, this hesitation is due to uncertainty or denial. Give them time and space, but let them know you’ll always be there for them when they’re ready.
– Use “should” statements such as “you should be grateful” or “you should be more positive”. This is counter-productive and could make the person feel worse, like they are a burden.
Self-Care is Paramount
Even as you make strident efforts to better understand your loved one’s condition, one important thing to remember is to take care of yourself first. Very often, the person who takes on the role as caretaker burns out and grows distant and resentful. This is why it’s vital to take time out for self-care.
Remember how flight safety announcements always instruct you to put on an oxygen mask before helping others? By taking care of your needs first, it helps you be a better caregiver and source of support.