By Jenise Jackson
Blog Content Contributor
“Oh you smile way too much, there’s nothing wrong with you.”
I hear comments like this all too often. Sure, I smile a lot. Why not show off these gorgeous pearly whites that took almost five years of braces to get somewhat straight? The truth is I use my smile more like a mask, a mask that hides my inner struggle. I have depression.
Depression could be described as a condition in which a person feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated or disinterested. But these feelings don’t just last for a short period of time, they linger and start to interfere with one’s daily life. People stop spending time with friends, enjoying their regular hobbies, etc. and a lot of the time they can’t explain why. I’m basically a living testament of this. Starting my first year of college, I began to experience differences. My room became the space that sheltered me, a place I rarely left. I stopped working on music, something that was once my passion. I distanced myself from my loved ones, the people who I knew cared for me but wouldn’t even begin to understand what I was going through. And I cried, the tears that never seemed to dry. I trapped myself inside my mind and lived under this dark cloud of confusion. Why was I like this?
It wasn’t until I finally decided to talk to my doctor that I understood what was taking place. I expressed to him the way I was feeling and that I had felt this way on-and-off for nearly two years. It was then that my doctor told me that he believed I had Persistent Depressive Disorder, or PDD. Now my suspicions were confirmed and I had an answer that I really wasn’t looking for. Here I was, a young black woman with depression. Too bad not too many people believed that I had it.
There are a couple of reasons why that is. There are these opinions that surround the idea of depression that make it hard for people like me to actually come out and say that they have it. I went two years without openly expressing my true feelings because I was used to being told, “If you’re black, you can’t have depression. If you don’t look sad all the time, you can’t have depression.” Along with that, there is this social stigma that suggests that it is the own person’s fault if they have depression. Society typically blames the person instead of the condition. I think opinions like these exist because people don’t really understand the severity of the condition or that it can affect people in different ways. You don’t have to be so-called goth or wear a frown constantly to claim depression. In fact, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell that majority of those diagnosed with depression had the condition unless they just flat out told you. But I think the stigmas that surround depression are the reasons why so many people go untreated. That leads some people to continually hide the fact that they have the condition and they end up in an even worse state. But since I am a person who lives with depression, I want to see people get the help that I am receiving and they deserve.
To assist people in coping with depression, I would ask that you start by learning not to shame the people who have it. If you want people to be open about how they feel, make a comfortable environment for them. Take the time to educate yourself on the condition. Some basic knowledge on depression will keep you from saying well-intentioned yet hurtful things. You can better help someone if you can somewhat understand what they are going through. Constantly remind them of their worth and strength. It might sound repetitive, but it can go a long way. Also, spread hope because it may be someone’s reason to go on. Lastly, always be an attentive listener. Whenever they want to express themselves, be the open ears that they need.
A lot of people like to make a mockery of depression, but for some people like myself, it is an everyday struggle. While I am slowly getting better, I have a long road to go. The small support system that I’ve had has made things alot easier, but I know not everyone is lucky enough to even have that. This is why I encourage others to be an open door for those with the condition. It is time that people learn to understand and accept depression. It is not a joke, it is very real.
Featured illustration by Joseph Bonney.