Living with Depression in Vancouver
As far as cities go, Vancouver is one of the most beautiful in the world — mountains, oceans, forests. Some might ask, “What’s there to feel down about with all this beauty around us?” But, there are many stressors (for instance that it’s strangely difficult to meet people here, never mind the financial pressures) that go along with living in a busy, urban centre like Vancouver. Depression can creep in when stressors become overwhelming or drag on for a long time.
Did you know that 25% of people, at some point in their lives, will meet the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder? That’s 1 in 4, which means that, in Vancouver’s population of just over a half-million, around 150,000 people will experience depression at some point. That seems kind of astonishing, doesn’t it?
What is depression?
When you think of the word depression, what comes to mind? We all have a “depression schema,” a mental image that pops up when we think about what a depressed person looks like. But, unless we’ve had a personal experience of depression or known someone with depression, it can be difficult to know exactly what it looks and feels like. There are some really good blogs that talk about this, written by people who have personally experienced depression (Allie Brosh’s ‘Adventures in Depression’ and Michael Denham’s Bipolarmichael are two examples).
The nuts and bolts are as follows: Depression has a variety of causes: genetic, physical, and/or situational. Major Depression is diagnosed when someone experiences either the first or the second symptom on the list below, and at least 4 or more of the other symptoms listed. The symptoms must have been experienced continuously over at least a 2-week period, and there must be significant distress or difficulties in everyday functioning (e.g., work, social life).
- feeling depressed or sad (or irritable) most of the day
- loss of interest or pleasure in doing things you previously enjoyed
- unintentional weight loss or gain
- sleeping too little or sleeping too much
- noticeably moving very slowly (or, conversely, quickly and agitatedly)
- feeling fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
- feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, or like you have let others or yourself down
- difficulty concentrating or with the ability to think clearly
- recurring thoughts of death or that you were better off dead, or thoughts of suicide
But, some people with depressive symptoms don’t meet all the criteria needed for a diagnosis, yet feel significant distress nonetheless. Others who have depression “fly under the radar,” putting on a smile or a brave face, and simply go about their lives attending work or school, working out, raising families, etc., and no one would guess how empty and depressed they feel. Still others with depression can’t sleep, can’t eat (or overeat), can’t get out of bed in the morning, feel completely numb, withdraw into isolation, and/or (mis)use substances to try to get some relief. Some experience other variants associated with depression (e.g., bipolar disorder, dysthymia).
How to Help Someone With Depression
So what is depression? Well, it is all of these things. And the bottom line is, you can’t tell just by looking at someone. So, when someone says to you, “I think I might be depressed,” try to be curious and supportive. It often takes a lot of guts for a person to speak up about how depressed they feel, because there’s still a lot of misunderstanding and stigma in our culture about mental health issues. So, please take it seriously if someone shares with you that they’re feeling depressed. They are telling you for a reason.
|Unhelpful responses:||Helpful responses:|
|There’s always someone worse off than you are.||I’m here for you.|
|No one ever said life was fair.||You are important to me.|
|Stop feeling sorry for yourself.||Would you like [to talk about it? a cup of tea? a hug? etc.]|
|So you’re depressed. Aren’t you always?||I’m so sorry to hear that. I don’t know what to say…|
|Try not to be so depressed. You’ll get over it.||I hear how sad you are feeling.|
|Believe me, I know how you feel! I had a bad day yesterday, too!||I feel concerned about you.|
|Aren’t you being a little bit selfish?||I’ll be here for you. Nothing can get in the way of that.|
|[silence]||I’m so glad you told me.|
One of the most important steps in overcoming depression is re-engaging in things that you used to like doing, even if you don’t feel like doing them. The depressive trap is when you decide to wait to do these things until you feel better, which you won’t until you start doing things again. It’s a vicious circle. So, choose one very small thing to do today that you used to enjoy (call a friend to say hello, walk your dog, paint your nails, choose a particularly aromatic coffee, have a long shower) — you will be actively taking a step towards feeling less depressed.
If you or someone you know in Vancouver needs help with depression, you can phone or email me to set up a free, 15-minute phone consultation.
Depression is treatable, and I’m here to help.
Are you or someone you know in crisis now?
If you are having thoughts of not wanting to be alive, or killing or harming yourself, you must get help immediately:
- Call a trusted friend or family member and tell them you need help
- Call the 24-hour Crisis Line (1-800-SUICIDE)
- Go to a hospital emergency room
- Call 911