October marks not only breast cancer awareness month, but the equally important mental health month as well.
In a recent study on the happiest countries, despite it being “more fun in the Philippines,” surprisingly (at least to me), the Philippines ranked 103 out of 155 countries in the 2012 World Happiness Report published by Columbia University.
The Philippines’ low ranking in the happiness index seems consistent with findings that the country also has the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia.
Health Assistant Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial said in a press briefing in Iloilo a week ago that only one-third of depressed people in the country seek professional help. This is perhaps due to the stigma attached to people who seek help from psychologists or psychiatrists.
Ubial also said that it is very important for the government to develop campaigns to increase awareness of suicidal behavior in the community. “Family members and friends of people suffering from depression are equally important. They need to know and understand the illness to enable them to respond and provide constructive support to their loved ones during the difficult times,” she said.
Depression is not something you deny or sweep under the rug because when it is not addressed early or properly, it could lead to life-threatening behavior by the patient.
In a statement released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on World Mental Health Day last Oct. 10, they highlighted the importance of fighting stigma as key to increasing access to treatment. The WHO statement said: “Globally, more than 350 million people have depression, a mental disorder that prevents people from functioning well. But because of the stigma that is often still attached to depression, many fail to acknowledge that they are ill and do not seek treatment.
“Depression is different from usual mood fluctuations. Depression induces a sustained feeling of sadness for two weeks or more and interferes with the ability to function at work, school or home. Effective treatments include psychosocial treatment and medication. The active involvement of depressed people and those who are close to them in addressing depression is key. The first step is to recognize the depression and reach out for support. The earlier the treatment begins, the more effective it is.”
The important thing to remember is that it is a sustained or profound feeling of sadness that has been going on for two weeks that affects the ability to function at work, in school or at home. I’ve always thought that there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help when it is needed.
Sometimes, the depression is clinical, in which case, early and proper diagnosis is crucial.
The first step is to see a counselor or a psychologist, and when talk therapy is not enough and the therapist or counselor sees the need for medication, the patient is referred to a psychiatrist—a medical doctor trained to diagnose and treat depression and qualified or licensed to prescribe sleep aids, anti-anxiety or antidepressants.
However, not all cases of depression will require medication. There are also steps that we can take to help ourselves.
Here are some things you can do to keep the “black dog” away, another term used for depression.
First, when you begin to feel sad, don’t wallow or sulk at home or under the covers. Go outdoors, or if you can’t drag yourself out of the house, find a sunny spot and stay there. Literally taking yourself out of the darkness (of your bedroom) into the light can provide an instant lift.
Next, don’t dwell. You cannot move forward if you keep looking backward. What’s done is done and there is no turning back the hands of time. Forgive yourself (yes, this is important), release whatever it is that pains you to God and the universe, and keep forging forward. If all you can manage are baby steps, that’s fine too, just keep moving.
Third, fear not. I read somewhere that courage does not always roar. Often, courage is that little voice within you that says, “Hey, tomorrow is a new day, and I will try again.” Courage, they say, is fear that has said its prayers. Seek divine guidance and do what needs to be done.
Fourth, do something nice for yourself each day. It can be as simple as eating your favorite ice cream, or taking off for an hour at the spa. Cupcakes are my happy food so when I feel a little blue, I usually buy myself a cupcake and have a cup of tea, spend some quiet time, then I’m fine. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by work or life, never forget to take a step back. It always helps.
Fifth, volunteer. Find a cause that makes your heart leap—babies, young children, the elderly, the sick, abandoned pets—there must be something out there that makes you want to help. In stepping out of your sadness, you help not only others, but also yourself.
The practice of sharing time, talent, wealth or performing acts of service for those who need help reaps a multitude of health benefits because giving is its own reward.
Lastly, find something to be grateful for, every day. No matter how simple, no matter how small, there is always something or someone to be thankful for.
When you want to complain about traffic, think of the person on the street who has no car or who has to wait countless hours in the sun or rain to get a ride. If you feel like pulling your hair out because your children are misbehaving, think of the parent who has lost a child.
The fact that you are awake and alive another day is not a privilege given to all. Remember to view each sunrise as a gift—as another chance to be better, kinder and more compassionate than you were the day before.
Follow the author on Twitter @cathybabao or her blog www.storiesbykate.wordpress.com