Shida, and her husband, Daniel, both 31, have been married for almost three years. They are happy and everything seems fine – at least, on the surface.
Daniel has been suffering from depression for a long time, and when he was 27, he attempted suicide. Fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful.
“At that time, he was in such emotional and mental turmoil that he felt it was the only way to end the pain,” reveals Shida.
Although those who were close to him knew he often had bad mood swings, they never realised how serious his depression was because he would always say that he’s “ok” or “just having a bad day”, she says.
“But one minute, he was ok and the next minute, a little thing like a disagreement with a friend could make him feel bad for days,” she recalls.
“And when he was in the throes of his depression, he often felt endlessly sad, hopeless and didn’t seem to have any interest in his usual activities such as hiking,” she adds.
Shida admits that at that time, she didn’t fully understand nor realise the extent of Daniel’s depression even though they were already dating. The couple had met through mutual friends during a gathering and started going out in early 2017.
There is a stigma attached to having a mental illness such as depression and often people don’t want to admit it or to get help – until something drastic happens, says Shida.
Daniel then started going for counselling and taking medication for his depression.
What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder characterised by a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in life or things one usually finds joy in, which prevents the person from doing their usual activities.
As such, it isn’t a weakness that someone can just “snap out of”, says Thrive Well (a social enterprise that offers mental healthcare services) clinical psychologist Anum Sofea Muhamad Fadzli.
“Well-meaning friends or even family members might often tell the person to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘I can’t believe you’re upset about this’ without realising that it is the worst thing to say to someone who has depression,” she says.
Instead, it’s important that the loved ones of the person with depression try to understand and see things from his or her point of view, she adds.
There are many causes for depression, and it can be triggered by several factors, including traumatic or stressful life events such as the loss of a loved one, illness, or financial worries. Certain medications may also cause depression and some even have a family history of depression.
It’s not uncommon for someone who has depression to feel overwhelmed with sadness or loneliness for no particular reason, says Anum Sofea.
Although clinically, it’s often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain, the issue is really more complex that that because there are many factors that cause depression. It can be caused by genetic vulnerability, faulty mood regulation by the brain, traumatic life events, illness and certain medications.
This is why two persons with depression might not respond in the same way to treatment, and the best treatment for each person might be different.
The two main types of treatment available are medication and psychotherapy (talk therapy).
A caregiver’s concerns
Although the couple hasn’t been too badly impacted by the pandemic – both of them still have their jobs and are working from home – at the back of Shida’s mind, there has always been the fear that being cooped up at home during the prolonged lockdown might once again trigger Daniel’s depression and suicidal thoughts.
“It’s been difficult during the MCOs, especially when there’s been news of people committing suicide because they couldn’t handle the stresses of the pandemic,” says Shida, admitting that she’s rather worried.
Being a caregiver to a loved one with depression isn’t easy. Firstly, you’ve to understand that depression is a condition where the person has a prolonged low mood and motivation, and they can’t easily snap out of it, says Anum Sofea.
“The depressed person may go to sleep at night but wake up extremely tired in the morning. Perhaps they may not be able to concentrate nor feel relaxed throughout the day because they’re always second-guessing themselves. And they’re only able to focus on the things that go wrong in their life and they also have a very difficult time acknowledging their strengths and talents.
“Just imagine a person who goes through such a high-strung life, unable to relax or to feel a sense of happiness or fulfillment, and always feeling they’re a burden to others, and thinking of a way to end the pain,” she says.
“Understanding this experience, and the psychological (mental and emotional) as well as physiological (physical) perspective of it, will help caregivers provide better support to their loved one who is going through depression,” says Anum Sofea.
Some ways to help a loved one going through depression include listening to them, supporting them through therapy, trying to understand them – for example when they cancel plans last minute, instead of getting upset, understand their mood change, offering a helping hand (for mundane tasks), being patient, keeping in touch constantly, and learning more about depression.
There are also things not to do such as taking things too personally, trying to “fix” them, giving advice (especially when they’re not ready for it), and trivialising their experience or feelings.
“Supporting them through their therapy, and providing understanding and patience, as best as you can, rather than judgement and criticism, will help the person going through depression to cope better with the situation,” concludes Anum Sofea.