I AM so glad that in the past decade, steady progress has been made to create awareness about mental illness.
Discussions on mental health are now done openly, instead of being confined within the walls of the doctor’s office.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a year-long global campaign called “Depression: Let’s Talk”, which aims to encourage people suffering from depression to seek and receive the treatment they need.
According to the 2015 Global Burden of Disease Study published by The Lancet, the estimated number of people living with depression had increased by 18.4 per cent between 2005 and 2015.
In Malaysia, the 2015 National Health Morbidity Survey revealed that 4.2 million people aged 16 and above (29.2 per cent) were struggling with mental health issues, a worrying increase from 11.2 per cent in 2006.
Most of us have an idea of what depression is and, in fact, many of us often use the word “depressed” so casually to describe how we feel during brief moments of misery, like being stuck in after-work traffic.
To those with chronic depression, their misery extends far beyond waiting for the traffic jam to subside. In the worst-case scenario, depression can make someone feel that the only way to end the suffering is by committing suicide.
I believe one of the greatest obstacles in seeking help is that the sufferer, and the people around him or her, do not realise the urgency of treating the condition.
Depression may require medical intervention, just like any other physical ailment.
Many reject the possibility that they could be suffering from this very common form of mental illness due to the belief that it only affects people of a certain personality, age or even gender.
But the truth is, it happens to the best of us, regardless of our background.
There are two distinct types of depression—reactive depression and clinical depression.
Reactive depression is caused by the environment, such as the accumulation of external stressors like unhappy relationships, emotional abuse and work stress.
Clinical depression is caused by brain chemical imbalance, hormonal imbalance and the side effects of certain medications.
Contrary to popular belief, not all depressed people walk around with a permanent frown.
To hide their moments of weakness, depressed people are masters in disguising their emotions — even cheerful ol’ me.
I suffered from clinical depression for a great period during my teenage years, and it was further aggravated by being in a very competitive school environment.
Looking back at my old diary entries, I believe I suffered depressing episodes from age 14 to 20. However, I only started going for treatment at age 18 onwards.
The reason that I am willing to share such a personal insight into this dark period of my life is because, in retrospect, I wish so badly that someone had recognised that I was not acting like a normal teenager.
Had my symptoms been spotted in the early stages, I could have sought help much sooner and spared myself all those years of helplessness, self-hatred and low self-esteem, which truly felt never-ending at that time.
I was not normal when I no longer found joy in doing all the things that made me happy.
I experienced memory loss, I was lethargic most of the time and I would wake up every day not seeing the point of my existence.
Once someone is in the deepest pit of depression, it becomes almost impossible to differentiate between what is normal and abnormal — even destructive habits can seem perfectly healthy.
Being a spiritual person, it finally hit me that I needed professional help when I started entertaining ideas of self-harm.
In Islam, it is forbidden to purposely inflict harm on one self.
Muslims believe that our body is entrusted to us by God, therefore, we must take care of it to the best of our ability.
So, at 18, I decided to ask my parents to help me set an appointment with a psychotherapist.
They were initially startled and thought it was unnecessary.
After consulting with a few relatives, they agreed to seek professional care for me.
Recovery wasn’t a straightforward process. It took different types of therapies, not to mention therapists, to find out what worked best for me.
Some sufferers require medication and psychotherapy, while others can make great progress with regular counselling sessions or more holistic remedies.
There are many paths to recovery for those living in depression.
To the reader who is feeling depressed, your recovery may be far less complicated than mine — everyone’s journey is different, but seeking help is the first major step you need to take.
You are not a crazy person or a failure in life for recognising the fact that you have mental illness.
Nobody would ask for an illness, be it physical or mental. We can’t control a lot of things that happen to us, but we can choose how to overcome each hurdle.
In case you are curious, I can confidently say that I have been depression-free since I entered my 20s.
Alhamdullilah (praise be to Allah), I sincerely hope by sharing my personal account, I am able to give people the courage to seek the help they need.
RAJA SARINA ISKANDAR is a freelance writer, a blogger at www.dearsarina.com and is currently studying Arabic. She is a millenial trying to make a difference, starting with herself.