Depression can make a person feel sad, hopeless, unworthy, tired or guilty — overall, it’s a horrible feeling. It originates from a combination of predisposed genetics for depression, stressful life experiences, and a lack of dopamine production or reception in brain cells. It is a medical condition that needs attention (just like a physical illness) and it’s definitely not someone’s fault that they have depression. We should feel empowered to reach out and find the resources we need to enrich our lives. Mental illness is just as serious as physical illness. Asking for help is not easy, especially when depression gets in the way, but individuals should take care of themselves. When people get a sniffy nose, they blow it out or take some cold meds. If it gets worse, they go to the doctor. The same concept applies to depression.
Like recovering from a sickness or an injury, asking for help for depression ranges in a similar way. Just like someone would take care of themselves if they were ill, they can take care of themselves if they are depressed. Say a person hurts their ankle, at first, they think it is a roll and do the appropriate aftercare necessary for it to get better. If it does not get better, they proceed to go to the doctor and get an x-ray. The doctor then decides what is best for them to do — perhaps an ankle brace, perhaps a surgery. Asking for help when needed is accepted for physical illnesses, it should be the same for mental health issues. Based on what a person’s mental health situation is, they can ask for different levels of care. Telling a friend about their mental state is the first step. If that helps them feel like depression does not affect their day to day life, then great! If it doesn’t help them feel than their depression is more manageable, perhaps they need a more supportive level of care like a doctor or a parent.
It could seem like a student not asking for help when they need it is irresponsible, except for one reason, that the person is extremely depressed. They are unable to ask for help because they didn’t ask for help earlier. Depression brings a lack of motivation and hopelessness which, over time, can result in a lack of motivation to ask for help. At this point, depression has affected a person in a way the person cannot take responsibility for it. The key to tackling this problem is frequent and early intervention. Ask for help early and frequently. No matter how trivial you might believe your feelings are, reach out.
Asking for help is hard. It takes a lot of courage and self-awareness to ask for help with mental health. People must know a significant amount about mental health to be able to ask for help. For example, they must know what it means to be mentally healthy and the warning signs for when to ask for help. There must also be a surrounding culture that promotes self-care and mental health awareness rather than one that hushes or diminishes mental illness. There must be an environment that accepts, understands and advocates for mental health awareness and care rather than shaming those who have mental disorders or ignoring the existence of mental health issues. People also might need to have some financial means to be able to reach out for help. These are valid worries some have to deal with and asking for help can be easier from a privileged position. At Swarthmore, however, there are resources to make it easier, although they are not completely comprehensive.
By being at Swarthmore, we have access to an expansive education, which includes mental health resources. We get emails from faculty and classes that help us think about our mental health such as Study Breaks and Mental Health Forums. Swarthmore can be stressful with classes and extracurriculars, but I have been in many classes where the professor has acknowledged that folks should take care of their mental health first because that is important too, although not all professors might do that. These resources, however, may not be expansive enough for everyone.
We also have access to social media, where mental health is more openly and honestly spoken about. While there are negative stressors that come with social media, we can create a feed that is positive and search for mental health resources through social media (shoutout to “@themindgeek” on Instagram). Another positive aspect of social media is that it makes it easier to reach out to people. We live in a world where we are all connected to each other, we can use this connection to our benefit. Further, there are also free apps that are focused on mental health check-ins and support. For example, 7cupsoftea is a confidential listener service where people can speak to trained listeners about their problems. Moodpath asks questions three times a day about mental health and after 14 days, recommends what to do about it.
It is our responsibility to consider and question our culture and internalized beliefs about mental health, educate ourselves and come to a decision about our mental health — do we need support right now and how much support do we need? It is also the responsibility of those who do not have depression to educate themselves so they can support their friends and also know how to take care of their mental health. We also have access to multiple resources posted in most dorms and public spaces. We have C.A.P.S., which is a free and confidential counseling service. However, C.A.P.S. too, has its own limitations including not enough supportive care, appointment availability and lack of diversity in its counselors. We have DPAs and RAs and RCCs and our professors and friends and deans. At Swarthmore, we have many resources that make it easier for us to take responsibility for our own mental health.
It’s hard to reach out, it is hard to keep reaching out. Do it anyway. It is ultimately your responsibility to take care of yourself. So many people believe that nothing can be done about depression or wonder why they should change their depression because “it’s not their fault” they feel this way. It is not their fault; however, the right resources can enrich them to help themselves feel better because they are humans who fight for survival. Depression and other mental illnesses are a medical condition and should be treated like one. Asking for help for depression can give us agency over our recovery and reclaim the control that it feels like depression strips from us. Therefore, it is important to ask for help early and frequently. It is our responsibility to keep ourselves alive. Just like you would with a physical illness, take care of yourself.